The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Persia into Italy in 1620 by Pietro della Valle, and from Turkey into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at around the same time. From France they soon reached Britain. The longhaired cats from Persia were interbred with Turkish Angoras. Their appearance then differed greatly from today's standard. Hundreds of years of selective breeding made Persians cobbier cats with drastically shorter muzzle. It's not clear when longhair cats (in general) first appeared, as there are no African Wildcats (believed to be ancestors of domesticated cats) with that kind of fur. There have been claims that the gene responsible for long hair was introduced through hybridization with Pallas cat. Recent research however refutes this theory.
Persian cats are noted for their gentle temperament and ease with which they adjust to new environments, making them ideal show cats. They are quiet and, although not shy, tend to be undemonstrative. They are quite loving and affectionate and make wonderful companions, and come in a variety of colors. The Persian cat has graced the show scene for more than 100 years. Judges and spectators have been impressed with their sweet, gentle nature and long flowing coats which occur in multitude of colours and patterns.
A show-quality Persian has an extremely long thick coat, short legs, a wide head with the ears set far apart, large eyes, and an extremely foreshortened muzzle. Due to their 'squashed' faces, it is not uncommon for Persians to have moderate discharge from their tear ducts. This is easily cleaned, and a Persian's eyes should be maintained consistently by its owner. The breed was originally established with a short (but not non-existent) muzzle, but over time this feature has become extremely exaggerated, particularly in North America.
The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia) suggested that the Persian is derived from the Pallas Cat, a belief prevalent at the time. A photograph accompanying the entry in the Encyclopædia shows a Blue Persian Cat, the conformation of which we would now call a "Doll Faced Persian" or "Traditional Persian". Early photographs and drawings from magazines show the Persian as a Traditional Persian Cat. The Persian was first registered with the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) in 1871 when the association first kept records.
Photographic records indicate that Persians, up until the 1960s, show a difference in appearance to cats of the early 1980s onwards (i.e., from the Traditional "doll face" to the "extreme", "ultra", "flat-faced" or "snubby" face of today). However, the Persian Breed Council's standard for the Persian had remained basically unchanged over this period. The Persian Breed Standard is by its nature somewhat open ended and focused on a rounded head, large, wide-spaced round eyes with the top of the nose leather placed no lower than the bottom of the eyes. They are a medium sized cat and the standard calls for a short, cobby body with short, well boned legs, a broad chest, and a round appearance. Everything about the ideal Persian cat is round.
It is generally accepted (and by the Breed Council) that through selective breeding, in an attempt to develop the ideal Persian appearance, the Ultra Face came about. This has been called ultra-typing. The Persian Breed Council's standard was changed during the late 1980s to limit the development of the extreme appearance. In 2007 the Persian Breed Standard was altered to reflect the flat face and it now states that the forehead, nose, and chin should be in vertical alignment.
Persian cats can have any color or markings including pointed, golden, tortoiseshell, blue, and tabby. Tipped varieties are known as Chinchilla. Point varieties are called Himalayan in the United States and Colorpoint Persian in Europe.
In the USA, there was an attempt to establish the Silver Persian as a separate breed called the Sterling, but it was not accepted and Silver and Golden longhaired cats, recognized by CFA more specially as Chinchilla Silvers, Shaded Silvers, Chinchilla Goldens or Shaded Goldens are judged in the Persian category of cat shows. In South Africa, the attempt to separate the breed was more successful: the SA Cat Council (SACC) registers cats with 5 generations of pure bred Chinchilla as a Chinchilla Longhair. The Chinchilla Longhair has a slightly longer nose than the Persian, resulting in healthy breathing and no tearing of the eyes. Its hair is translucent with only the tips carrying black pigment: a feature that gets lost when out-crossed to other colored Persians. Out-crossing also may result in losing nose and lip liner, which is a fault in the Chinchilla Longhair breed standard. One of the distinctions of this breed is the blue-green or green eyecolor only with kittens having blue or bluish purple eyecolor.
Since Persian cats have long, thick dense fur that they cannot keep clean themselves, they need daily grooming. To keep their fur in its best condition, they must be bathed regularly, dried carefully afterwards, and brushed thoroughly every day. Their eyes need to be checked for problems on a regular basis because some animals have trouble keeping them clean. Likewise, many Persians may carry the gene for PKD, Polycystic kidney disease which causes kidney failure in affected adult cats. However, cats can now be DNA screened for the gene that causes PKD, so these affected cats are gradually being removed from the Persian gene pool by responsible breeders.
Longevity is usually between 10 and 15 years on average.
The Persian cat is the most popular breed in the UK.