Former president of Cat Fanciers’ Association says that Persians are overtyped in America

This is an interesting admission to what is obvious to nearly all observers of the American-bred Persian cat, namely that it is “overtyped”. I’ll explain what that word means in this context and also tell you that the past president concerned is Richard H. Gebhardt. He was an international all-breed judge and a highly regarded cat breed expert. He was president of the Cat Fanciers’ Association from 1968 to 1980 and a member of the Board of Directors from 1962 to 1981. He has a string of other qualifications perhaps too numerous to mention here and became interested in cats in 1945. He first became a CFA judge in 1953 at the age of 22. He was the first American judge to judge at cat shows in continental Europe. You won’t find a more experienced and knowledgeable cat expert.

Punch face Persian
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“Punch face Persian”. Indian afficionados of the Persian call the cat the “punch face Persian” for the reason as illustrated. Collage by PoC. Image of fist in public domain. Image of cat unattributed.

Writing in his book The Complete Cat Book, published in 1991, he writes (and I will quoting verbatim if I may for accuracy):

“Since the Persian Standard [breed standard] in this country [America] has always been very progressive, there has been little change in it over the years, but there has been a tremendous change in the cat it describes. Beginning in the early 1970s American Persians have grown increasingly overtyped compared to longhairs in Great Britain. Yet we must remember that English breeders are renowned for producing many of the finest animals in the world. Their Persians remain less extreme than American cats because that is how the British prefer them.”

An original Persian cat from the early 1900s

An original Persian cat from the early 1900s. Photo in the public domain.

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Comment: “overtyping” means selectively breeding purebred cats to the point where it is clear that the appearance is exaggerated (see Persian cat breeding). So the breeders take the breed standard which contains the guidelines as directed by the cat association and gradually, over decades, exaggerate that appearance. They don’t do this intentionally but they want to win awards at cat shows so they try and enhance the features that the breed standard states and in doing so they compete against each other and gradually overdo it to the point where the animal is overtyped. The word “type” in this context means the classic type or appearance of a specific purebred cat breed as stated in the standard.

Mr Gebhardt implies that American people prefer a more extreme look in their domestic animals. He therefore also implies that the Cat Fanciers’ Association feels a need to satisfy this attitude by specifying in their breed standard an already extreme and unnatural appearance for the Persian cat which is added to, as mentioned, by breeders.

He implies that the British attitude is preferable which is obvious when you think about it because the problem with overtyping is that it ends up creating health problems in the cat concerned – see Persian cat health problems. This is a clear symptom that something has gone wrong and yet the CFA does nothing about it or apparently this is the case. Perhaps they’ve tried to curb this behaviour in breeders or perhaps they’ve not bothered. Either way it has to change as the Persian is losing popularity in my view.

P.S. There is a more normal variant of the Persian: the doll face Persian. This cat breed is similar to the original Persians.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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