Through Persian cat selective breeding the appearance of the cat that you know (probably the extreme Persian look) has been altered over a period of time (substantially over the last 30-40 years) resulting in a facial appearance that has been described as “pansy-like” by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), and “peeked”, “peke-faced”, “extreme”, “ultra”, “pig-faced” and “punch-face” by cat fanciers. The latter term is used by sellers of the Persian in India. It’s a particularly unpleasant term in my mind. I get the point of it but you don’t want to put the idea of punching a cat into the minds of anybody.
- “Peeked” “peke-faced” appearance occurs as a spontaneous mutation it is or was said, which is entirely incorrect. The unnaturally flat face is a creation of selective breeding over many decades.
- “extreme” “ultra” “pig-faced” “piggy” “smushed” (slang) “smoshed” (slang) are interchangeable terms for the extremely flat-faced (brachycephalic skull – broad and short – see cat head shape) Persian that has been bred that way.
- The Persian cat has also been bred for short hair which is combined with the “ultra” face. See Exotic Shorthair.
The traditional cat has a more usual appearance with a particularly endearing and attractive face:
People take a different stance on the breeding of Persian cats. There are those, like me, who dislike the extreme breeding mainly because it’s a natural and because of that it predisposes the cats to poor health which is in direct conflict with the CFA policies. And there are those who like the extreme look which is exactly why for many years it was the number one registered cat under the CFA.
Shortened muzzles on purebred dogs
And this popularity for the shortened muscles of cats extends to dogs, too. In the UK the French Bulldog is very popular for that reason. Although in the UK the Kennel Club have specifically altered the breed standard for the French Bulldog in order to improve the animal’s health. There has been a lot of criticism about the are naturally foreshortened muzzle of dog breeds such as the French Bulldog which causes breathing problems in the same way that it causes breathing problems in cats. This change to the breed standard by the kennel club occurred in 2021. After many years of pressure from veterinarians and a concerned public.
There is a shift away from this extreme appearance currently in the UK. And I would hope and I think that you will see the Persian cat in America reverting back to its more natural appearance before selective breeding went too far. This may occur over the next, say, 10 years.
TICA (The International Cat Association – a competing cat association) say that there is ample evidence to support their argument that peeked Persian cats were not part of the breed. They also say that the traditional Persian has a normal nose in respect of its position on the face and appearance. They also say that the traditional Persian is a healthy cat (implying that the peeked Persian isn’t)
In contrast the Persian CFA Breed Council says that Persian cat breeding has been astute over a century and the breeding program has improved on nature. They say breeders have maintained a balance between health and vigor while maintaining the gentle temperament. This, however, is not supported by well-known facts about the relatively poor health of the extreme-bred Persian cat with breathing problems, tear duct overflow, and a high incidence of polycystic kidney disease. You can read about the health of the Persian cat by clicking on this link.In 2020 I recall an airline or some airlines banning transporting Persian cats in the hold because of their breathing problems.
The council would seem to have responded to a drift by breeders during the 1980s to developing a “piggy” look. This may have been the end of the gradual development from “traditional” to “extreme”, which reached its zenith in the late 80s. The breed standard, the breed council says, remained unaltered over the lengthy period of Persian cat breeding. This means, I would suggest, that the change was due to the interpretation of the breed standard, perhaps with the co-operation or encouragement of the show judges.
A change has taken place recently (2008) to the face “profile” in the breed standard. This would seem to reflect the change over time due to Persian cat breeding, as the desired face profile is now flat (vertical alignment). None of the early Persian cats had the facial elements in vertical alignment. Persian cat breeding will be modified to take into account this standard or is it that the standard is following Persian cat breeding? I think that it is a bit of both.
The breed standard for 1979 is illustrated in this picture taken from the CFA breed council manual. You can quickly notice that you are looking at a doll-faced Persian cat. That was what was expected back in 1979. This confirms that selective breeding has altered the facial appearance over the intervening 30 years.
Vertical alignment – CFA
The CFA Persian breed council standard currently states that the eyes should be prominent and the elements of the face (forehead, nose, chin) in vertical alignment The nose as we know should be short, snub and broad with a break between the eyes.
As can be seen, the target appearance is very much of a rounded cobby body combined with a rounded head and a flat face requiring an extremely foreshortened muzzle. As we all know cats’ faces are not generally as rounded as that, but a little elongated at the front.
PetsPlace.com says that the Persian cat’s face is very flat. The nose is short with the “break” between the eyes. The nose is nearly as high as the eyes.(PetPlace.com, is a resource recommended by Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine).
The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) the major UK registry declined to comment on the development of the modern Persian when asked by me and referred me to one of their longhair cat clubs on this matter and (surprisingly) on the matter of the breed standard. The GCCF sets “The Standard of Points” for registered breeds so I am surprised that it can’t supply me with the document.
There would appear to be a debate at the GCCF about the Persian standard (as at 2010). Is there a move by Great Britain’s Governing Council of the Cat Fancy to eliminate what is known there as the “Ultra” Persian?
As far back as 1985 the GCCF list of “defects” (for the Persian) included descriptions of elements of the current peeked Persian face. In other words the peeked face was (if bred beyond a certain limit) defective in respect of the breed standard.
Although, Persian cats were originally developed with a short muzzle, the muzzle has become extremely exaggerated, particularly in North America.
Persians with the more extreme head type are prone it seems to a number of health problems (specifically affecting their sinuses and breathing and tear duct drainage) caused by it. Breeders eliminate this by careful choice of breeding stock with more moderate head type. Good Persian cat breeding means cats that are as healthy as possible.
What about the appearance of the rest of the Persian cat? The lovely photographs of Helmi Flickgives you the answer. Just a few words in support. In addition to the “creation” of a peeked face Persian cat breeding has had the objective of longer fur, shorter ears, and a boxy design.
The thick fur supports the roundness of the body of Persian cats. The ideal is a heavily boned cat, solid with shortish legs as a result of successful Persian cat breeding.
RELATED: Californian Persian cat rescue AND UK Persian cat rescue. Please note that both these articles that are linked to here were written about 12 years ago and therefore some aspects of them may be out of date but I believe that they are still useful.
What about the character of Persian cats? This list sums it up:
- like human companionship
- like resting between play
- ideal indoor cat (which a Persian cat needs to be because of its long coat).
- quiet, with soft voice
- like secure peaceful surroundings
- devoted companion
- Note: 1 in 3 Persians goes to the toilet in inappropriate places in the home (source: Capel House Persian rescue center UK)
A major feature, of course is, the Persian cat’s coat. You can read about it and how to maintain it by clicking on this link
Here is a potted history of the development Persian cats.
|History of Persian Cat|
Copyright © by Anna Sadler
CFA Breed Council except where indicated
|Possible mating between the European Wild Cat or the Pallas Cat (longer dense coat) the earliest domestic cats, introduced longhair to domestic cat gene pool||not stated|
|Humans brought Persian cat from Middle East (Persia – now Iran) to Europe||Mid 1800’s or 1500s (conflicting information)|
|Interbreeding of Angoras with native British domestic longhairs in the 19th Century makes the true origin of the breed unclear. (source: Wikipedia)||19th Century|
|The world’s first cat show was held in England at the Crystal Palace in London in 1871 and Persians featured||July 1871|
|Persians imported to USA||1869-1875|
|Persians and Angoras were freely inter-bred – “The Persian as it originally existed became lost in the amalgamation of breeds that maintained its name”||early 1900s|
|During the period 1980 to the present day the breed standard changed to the peeked “pansy-like” face of the extreme Persian cat (this is not actually stated by the CFA Breed Council but must be the case)||1980 to present|
RELATED: Persian Cat Rescue – A list of rescue groups and notes on the subject. A carefully prepared list designed to simplify the search for a rescued Persian cat in the USA & World
Did you find this article useful and interesting? Can it be improved? Please tell me in a comment. I am always keen to improve the site for animal welfare and reader enjoyment.