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Alan Robinson, Animal Photography
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The Persian is the glamor puss of the cat world. His beautiful, flowing coat, sweet face and calm personality have combined to make him the most popular cat breed. He is high maintenance and he has some health issues, but for many his looks and personality overcome those drawbacks.
Persians have always been bred to have a round head, short face, snub nose, chubby cheeks and a short, cobby body, but over time those features have become exaggerated.
The Persian is the most popular pedigreed cat in North America, if not the world. He first came into vogue during the Victorian era, but he existed long before then. Little is known about his early history, though.
The Persian comes in two types: show and traditional. The show Persian has a round head enhanced with a thick ruff, small ears, a flat nose, big round copper eyes, a broad, short body with heavy boning atop short tree-trunk legs, and a thick, flowing plume of a tail. The traditional Persian, also known as the Doll Face, does not have the extreme features of the show Persian, and his nose is a normal length, giving him a sweet expression. Both types have a long, glamorous coat that comes in many colors and patterns, and both share the same wonderful personality.
The Persian’s sweet, gentle face turns up to gaze at his favorite people the way a pansy turns its face to the sun. He communicates with his expressive eyes and his soft, melodious voice. The Persian is the epitome of a lap cat, with a restful and undemanding personality. He loves to cuddle, but he’s also playful and curious. He’s not a jumper or climber, instead posing beautifully on a chair or sofa or playing with a favorite feather toy. Persians prefer a serene, predictable environment, but they can be adaptable enough to weather a loud, boisterous family as long as their needs are understood and met.
Most people carry an image of a white Persian in their heads, but the Persian comes in numerous striking colors and patterns. The long, flowing coat must be combed daily to prevent or remove mats and tangles. The Persian needs regular baths to stay clean and sweet-smelling. Introduce a kitten to bathing as soon as you bring him home so he will hopefully learn to accept it readily.
Persians take their name from the country where they are thought to have originated. They became popular pets in animal-mad Victorian Britain and were seen at the very first cat shows in that country. Persians have always been bred to have a round head, short face, snub nose, chubby cheeks and a short, cobby body, but over time those features have become exaggerated. The result is that the Persian now comes in two types, show and traditional. Traditional Persians do not have as short a face as show Persians and look more like the earlier examples of the breed, but both have the same sweet personality. Today the Persian is the most popular cat registered by the Cat Fanciers Association.
Persians are gentle, quiet cats who like a serene environment and people who treat them kindly. Unlike more athletic cats, they prefer lounging on a sofa to scaling the heights of your bookcase or fireplace mantel. Children are acceptable to the Persian as long as they are content to simply pet him and not drag him around or dress him up. On the other hand, the Persian may be a welcome guest at a little girl’s tea party and will bat decorously at a peacock feather before returning to pose beautifully on his sofa. In general, just make sure children treat this cat with the gentle respect he deserves.
The Persian may greet you with a quiet meow, but in most cases he lets his eyes do the speaking for him. He doesn’t mind spending time alone, but your presence will always make him happy. When you go on a trip, it may be better to have a pet sitter come in and care for him in his own familiar surroundings than to board him in a strange place.
All cats have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Any breeder who claims that her breed has no health or genetic problems is either lying or is not knowledgeable about the breed. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.
Persians have hereditary health issues that can be a concern. They include polycystic kidney disease (PKD), progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), bladder stones, cystitis (bladder infections), and liver shunts. Responsible breeders take steps to avoid these problems.
Polycystic kidney disease is a hereditary condition that causes cystic degeneration of the kidneys and eventual kidney dysfunction. It can affect one or both kidneys. Signs of illness initially appear between 7 and 10 years of age, although it can appear much earlier in some cats. Reputable breeders are working to establish PKD-free breeding programs. Ask the breeder for proof that both of a kitten’s parents are free of kidney cysts, which can be detected on ultrasound.
A hereditary form of progressive retinal atrophy occurs in Persians, although its prevalence is unknown. In Persians, PRA causes vision problems early in life, at four to eight weeks of age, and progresses rapidly. Cats can become completely blind by the time they are 15 weeks old. You may have heard that PRA in Persian cats is limited to those from chocolate or pointed (Himalayan) lines, but in a recent study, no such associations were found. That means that PRA may be more widespread in the breed than is currently believed. A study is under way to determine which gene causes the disease and to develop a genetic test to identify cats that are carriers of this disease. Because many other breeds use Persians as outcrosses, health problems such as PRA can spread quickly and widely to other breeds.
Persians should be healthy and vigorous, able to breathe normally and produce only normal amounts of tears.
Even if Persians do not have any overt breathing problems, flat-faced breeds are sensitive to heat. They need to live in air-conditioned comfort, protected from hot weather. Keep in mind that many airlines will not transport them in the cargo bay (which isn’t recommended for other reasons, as well) because of their potential for respiratory distress or even death in stressful conditions.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new kitten into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Persian at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier cat for life.
There’s no getting around it: a Persian cat is high maintenance. The coat must be groomed daily with a stainless steel comb to remove mats, tangles and loose hair. Mats and tangles can be painful to a cat, and loose hair gets all over your clothes and furniture, so you can see the benefit to spending the time needed to care for the coat.
Depending on its color, a Persian can have a silky, shiny coat or one with a soft, cottonlike texture. The drawback to the soft coat is that it tangles more easily and requires additional grooming time.
In addition to daily combing, the Persian should be bathed weekly. Start this practice as soon as you get your kitten so hopefully he will come to look forward to it as a special part of spending time with you. Blow the coat dry (using the lowest heat setting to avoid burning the cat), combing as you go.
Because of his pushed-in face, the Persian’s eyes can have a tendency to tear. To prevent ugly staining, wash or wipe his face daily, particularly beneath the eyes. Trim the nails as needed, and don't forget to brush the teeth regularly with a vet-approved pet toothpaste.
You want your Persian to be happy and healthy so you can enjoy your time with him, so do your homework before you bring him home. For more information on the history, personality and looks of the Persian, or to find breeder recommendations, visit the websites of the Cat Fanciers Association, the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, The International Cat Association and American Cat Fanciers Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens. Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Be patient. If you want a particular color or pattern, you may have to wait six months or more for the right kitten to be available. Many breeders won’t release kittens to new homes until they are between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
Before you buy a kitten, consider whether an adult Persian might be a better choice for your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach a more sedate adulthood. If you are interested in acquiring an adult cat instead of a kitten, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat or if they know of an adult cat who needs a new home.
A breeder is not your only option for acquiring a Persian. Although Persian kittens are almost never found in shelters and rescue, adult Persians, both pedigreed and mixed, are not so fortunate. They may end up in shelters or rescue groups through no fault of their own. You may find the perfect Persian for your family through Persian Cat breed rescue groups or by checking your local shelters or the listings on Petfinder or Adopt-a-Pet.com.
Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “pet lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Kitten or adult, take your Persian to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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