BREED PROFILE:
Getting to Know the Persian

By Colleen Power
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book Himalayan-Persian

The judge lifts a black Persian from its' cage and drops it dramatically on the table. The audience gasps as he turns the coat and the dramatic contrasting white undercoat shimmered in the light, slipping through the fingers like the rarest of silks.

Despite the general notion of the Persian as a longhaired white cat, the principle characteristic of the Persian should be the remarkable conformation possible by one hundred years of selected breeding. Most incredible are the eyes, huge and mesmerizing, the nose, shortened and tilted, even with the eyes. There is a sense of soft roundness to this breed, an impression not shared by Turkish Angoras, the breed most often confused by the general public with Persians.

Round head, round body, round eyes, round muzzle, the observer should see circles when looking at a Persian. Even the eight-inch long tail fur creates the illusion of a rounded tail, as wide as it is deep and long. The ears should be small, rounded and set to the side of the head, and the eyes widely set straight. The body is broad in the chest, broad in the hips, giving the appearance of a sturdy and solid standing cat. The paws are large, well rounded and set straight ahead, without toeing out. The tail sweeps downward, with no sign of curl or kink tail faults.

One of the most important rules of breeding and judging Persians is that the house must be built properly before painting it. Which means that the structure of the Persian must be regarded first and foremost in judging and in breeding, before color. As the judge lifts the cat from the cage, the observer will note the cat rests firmly on the judge's hands or in his or her arms, is not stretched out, and is set upon the table with all four legs squarely planted. Often the judge will stand back to observe the overall square stance, and examine the proper structure underneath, and then the grooming. The judge moves to the head, nearly 50% of the total point count is on the structure of the head, eyes and ears.

The judge will check the forehead for a smooth rounded forehead, called "doming." The forehead should be on an even line with the nose and rounded chin, as the judge studies the profile. The standard calls for the eyes to be even with the nose break. Disqualification at this point includes asymmetrical skulls or face, or incorrect eye color.

Most Persians remain standing or sitting on the table, often ignoring the toys flicked in front of them. Persians are noted for their sensitivity to humans about them, and are eager to please. The calm stance on the judging table usually results from hours of encouragement by the breeder with kittens as young as four weeks to begin enjoying the necessary hours of grooming for show. These hours of training combined with the long history of breeding for personality makes the Persian one of the favorites for advertising campaigns and show campaigns alike.

There are now more than more than 100 coat colors and patterns; a tremendous variation in coloring is recognized in the Persians. In fact, there are so many colors of Persians in CFA, that for purposes of show, the breed is now separated into several divisions. Based upon these color patterns: solid, tabbies, silver/golden, shaded/smoke, particolors, bicolors/calicos and Himalayan, the Persian Divisions at the shows indicate a remarkable diversity.

There are three types of hair on the cat, guard hairs, down (wool) and awn (bristle). The guard hairs are straight and usually rather stiff. The awn is thinner, and tapers to the tip. The down is usually somewhat shorter, very fine and sheds readily. The Persian has all three types of coat classifications, and in the very finest specimens, the three elements are of the same length. The guard hairs do tend to become darker with age, stiff, and most noticeable. These are frequently "tipped" off in the solid color show cats. However, the down is very fine and often crimps, it is what gives the Persian cat the lift to the coat and is the most often to be damaged by faulty combing techniques.

The density of the Persian coat is a variable selected for over a century of breeding, resulting in very dense coats that often cannot be seen to the skin. Cats with this very wooly texture, which is highly desirable for the show ring, are usually kept shaved once their show careers are completed. The density of the coat will affect the appearance of the various patterns, creating blurred tabbies, without strong markings, and grayed ruffs on blacks.

Their Personality

Persian

The Persian looks like a kitten all of its life, with its very round head, and large eyes. The placid personality makes for a breed that trusts its human implicitly, and suggests a home that does not release the cat to wander. A cat with such a placid and trusting personality is very likely to be scooped up by strangers and carted away. Preferring cuddling and people about them, most Persians seems to blossom when given the attention its coat demands of the owners. Early training when six to eight weeks of age is needed to make them accept the grooming needed in later life.

With the short legs and heavy body, the typical Persian is not made to climb the drapes, sit on the top shelf of the bookcase, or walk the curtain rods. However, it will often try to mimic its more svelte cousins, the oriental breeds, in these pursuits.

The desire for human attention makes the Persian very responsive to positive re-enforcement. They may spend hours following the owner from room to room, watching for the opportunity to jump into the next available lap. Despite the teasing of the judges about "nobody home" when the Persian is sitting on the judging stand, Persians are readily bored with most toys. Most are bright, extremely tractable, and will learn their names quickly. They are often notorious for teaching their owners the game of fetch, and perhaps understand and obey the "no" command most readily of any cat breed.

The Persian Coat

Two tools are essential for living with a Persian, a very good vacuum cleaner, and a steel comb with very fine long teeth. Imported long toothed steel combs, called Belgian or Greyhound brand, are highly effective in separating and preventing the thick Persian coat from tangling and rapidly matting. Additional useful items are a small wire rake, often referred to as a slicker brush, which is useful for picking up stray tuffs of hair, and cotton balls for cleaning up eyes and ears.

Changes in diet may result in intestinal upsets and messy "pantaloons." Bottom baths are recommended when this occurs. If this messiness is a regular occurrence, consider clipping the bottom fur very closely. It is also recommended to keep the Persian on the same food, and not switch quickly from one food to another. This will reduce the incidence of bottom baths.

Some Persians are notorious for water soaked ruffs. If not being shown, consideration should be given to keep the ruff clipped short about the face and chin. Beyond regular grooming is the magnificent show grooming made famous in all the pictures.

Typically, the show groom consists of twice-weekly bathing, as a minimum, with at least three to five separate shampoos and conditioners, and even hot oil treatments. The coat is trimmed about the face to round the face as much as possible. Cheek fur is evened up with thinning sheers, and the "horns," spikes of hair extending up from the top of the forehead, between the ears, are trimmed to accentuate the well-rounded dome. Hair on the tips of the ears is trimmed to round off the ears, as are hairs, which fall over the eyes, blocking a clear view of the eyes.

The coat is then hand dried with professional grooming dryers for two to four hours to obtain the maximum volume, and minimize coat curling. Some of the messier cats are hand fed to keep from dirtying the ruffs, or small bibs are used. At the shows, a variety of protective devices are used to minimize self licking, including, bibs, coffee filters and paper plates cut to fit about the face. The cat may be bathed again each day of the show. This is not for the fainthearted.

The cats seem to endure this grooming with a great deal of aplomb. Exhibitors are constantly sharing recipes for more successful coat volume, the best dryers to use, or the latest rinse to give just the desired feel to the coat. The judges do not look upon powder favorably, since unless it is blown out in the grooming process, might be regarded as intent to deceive, by lightening the color or changing the hue.

Breed History

As for the Persian history one must ask, "Where did this remarkable cat originate?" No one knows for certain. The romantic tale is that the first longhaired cats came from the Middle East with the Crusaders and their ladies, carrying the name Angora, after the city of Ankara in Turkey. More likely they did come from Turkey or Persia, but likely in wicker baskets with traders, eager to fill the traditional demands of the European nobility for unusual specimens in their menageries.

Theories that postulate a wildcat origin, such as the Pallas Cat (Felis manul), the Sand Cat (Felis margarita) or the European Wild Cat (Felis sylvestris) are highly improbable from two perspectives. Biologically, most wildcat domestic crosses are sterile, and behaviorally, the most docile of domestic cats is the Persian, suggesting a very long period of domestication.

In 1626, Italian trader and explorer, Pietro della Valle returned from his trips to Persia and India, bringing with him an impressive heavily coated cat breed from Persia. This cat became very popular and was rivaled in popularity only by an equally elegant longhaired cat, called Angora, from Turkey. Another explorer, the Frenchman, Nicole de Pereise, a century later, brought longhaired cats from Turkey to France, only to be crossed with the earlier Persians originating with Della Valle. Long nosed, long tailed, and long coated, these dainty cats were white. Bred with local cats to create a sturdier cat, with thicker coats, shorter noses and ears, the crossbreds were more enduring of the European winters. Colors other than white began to appear as a result of these matings.

Regardless of the origin, by the turn of the eighteenth century, illustrations and paintings began to reveal a pampered new pet added to the menagerie of the wealthy and the royals. A cat with hauntingly large eyes, a full long coat and unusual coloring is seen luxuriating in the lap of many a ladies portrait. These are the earliest suspected Persians, although no registry was developed for pedigreed cats until the 1870s. The chubby, thick-coated Persian-originated cats gradually replaced the longer leaner Angoras in popularity during the early twentieth century.

The first known Persian imports into the United States were in the late 1880s. Several sources note that a Mrs. Locke showed a beautiful imported blue Longhair by the name of The Beadle, who was awarded first prize in an 1896 Chicago cat show. By 1906, cat clubs had formed on the West Coast. Persians had reached California. One can only imagine these pampered Persian cats coming across country by train or around the Horn by ship.

An examination of the Cat Fanciers' Associations' studbooks indicate in the early years of the twentieth century, "Longhaired" was the term used in all the registries for the Persians and Angora breeds. There was no distinction made between the two breeds in the registration numbers. The first listed Grand Champion in Cat Fanciers' Association competition was a red tabby imported Longhaired male born in 1929. Additional American bred Longhairs were issued Grand Champion certificates soon after, during 1931. The breed designation "Longhair" was replaced officially in the studbooks with the heading "Persians or Angora" in the year 1958.

Angora cats were recognized as a separate breed, with distinctively different, longer, more svelte appearance. The heavy set, round faced Persians continued to grow in numbers and popularity. Today, more than sixty percent of the cats registered by CFA are of the Persian patterns and colors, each with particular eye color requirements.

The well bred show Persian is a sturdy, gentle cat with generally long life. A recent survey showed that stud cats may sire beyond the age of fifteen years, and breeding queens until twelve years of age. Maturing slowly, with a show life extending up to ten or twelve years, and an expected lifespan of eighteen to twenty years, the Persian is an ideal playful and affectionate companion at any age.

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