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The Persian is generally considered to embrace all varieties of full longhaired cat, although since the 1980s the Persian sections at British cat shows have also included a shorthaired version called the Exotic, a cat of typical Persian look in exactly the same colours, but with a short, plushy coat, and affectionately referred to by breeders as being 'Persians in short jackets'! Persia refers to the former name of Iran, where this cat is thought by many to have originated from, and the breed has been recognised in the UK since the end of the nineteenth century. At one time the Persian was the best known and most popular of all the pedigree cats in Britain, but with the advent of many new breeds in the past twenty years or so, popularity has declined slightly, although most people when asked to name breeds of pedigree cat will immediately think of the Persian. This breed is much quieter than many other pedigree cats, with a placid and affectionate nature, although it can be fairly high maintenance due to the long flowing coat which needs daily care and attention.
There are many different accounts of the origin of this breed, although one of the most popular and best documented is that they were imported from Persia into Italy in 1620 by Pietro della Valle, along with jewels, silks and spices. At about the same time, Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc imported longhaired cats from nearby Turkey into France, and although they were originally known as Angoras (after Angora, now Ankara, in Turkey), it is now thought that they were the same breed. It is also believed that the longhaired coat came from crossbreeding with cats of Egyptian descent (and certainly cats of Persian type appear in early Egyptian hieroglyphics), and this feature would have suited the often-colder climates of Persia and Turkey. It is uncertain exactly when the first Persian cats appeared in the UK, although they were exhibited at the first British cat show at Crystal Palace in 1871, and have remained popular ever since, with more colours and coat patterns gradually being added to the palette.
Despite the differences in coat colours, markings and eye colour, Persian cats all have the same basic shape and are big, solid cats with a cobby body, sturdy legs, a short tail and a broad, round head with a short nose. They have small ears set wide apart and large round eyes; the effect is one of roundness and substance, enhanced by the beautiful coat, which should be long, dense and silky, and forming a huge ruff between the front legs of the cat. The modern Persian cat is bred in a wide range of recognised colours in five main patterns - Self (all one solid colour), Smoke, Tabby, Tipped and Patched. The 'Tipped' group comprises chinchilla, shaded silver, cameo, golden and pewter. Chinchillas (once famously known for advertising Kosset carpets) are a little like the British tipped cats and rarely have the short head type seen in the rest of the Persian breed, nor the body size. The 'Patched' group includes all colours of tortoiseshell, blue cream and lilac cream, as well as Bicolours (all the self colours together with white) Tricolours (dominant tortie and white, dilute tortie and white, tabby/smoke/cameo and white), and all the colourpointed Persians that appear in similar colours to those found in the Siamese as a result of longhairs first being mated to Siamese in the 1920s. Eye colour differs enormously, depending on coat colour, and can be varying shades of green, copper/gold, or blue, or in the case of the odd-eyed white Persian, one blue eye and one orange eye.
The Persian is considered one of the quietest and least active of cat breeds, and said to be one of the most likely to accept other cats into its home without making undue fuss. They are generally a calm and gentle breed, with an affectionate nature, and settle in easily to new surroundings. They chat quietly in a soft non-abrasive voice, and form a strong attachment to their owners.
Persian cats are generally very healthy, although specific problems sometimes associated with the breed include polycystic kidney disease (which can be screened for) and a high incidence of crypt- or monorchidism. The latter is when one or both testicles of the male do not descend properly, although for a kitten that is to be a neutered pet, this does not make much difference except insomuch as the neutering operation is a little more complicated. Where the Persian has been bred with an increasingly shorter, flatter face, this can sometimes make the breed more prone to breathing difficulties, skin and eye problems and birthing difficulties in very extreme cases. Persians need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
Since Persian cats have long, thick dense fur that they cannot effectively keep clean by themselves, they need regular grooming to prevent the hair from matting. Once a coat has matted, not only will the cat often become very distressed, but it will often take the services of a vet to restore the situation. Persians should also be bathed occasionally, dried carefully afterwards, and brushed thoroughly every day. Their eyes may require regular cleaning to prevent crust buildup and tear staining, and a proprietary cleaning product for this can be purchased from good pet stores. Time and commitment is needed to look after a Persian cat properly, but both cat and owner will enjoy the close time spent together, and Persians do not generally object to being groomed, especially if they become used to it as a kitten. This breed will eat most good quality brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available.