23 June 2013

Cats: Persian Faces

The Persian breed had always been known for long coats and a slightly shortened face.  Over the last 50 years, the faces of Persian cats have undergone a dramatic change. Today there exist almost two different breeds of Persians -- the doll-faced Persians and the extreme-faced Persians.

Kami -- Doll-faced Shaded Cameo
The doll-faced Persians are similar to the Persians of many years ago.  While they do have a shorter nose than a typical cat, they clearly have a nose.  Most doll-faced Persians do not have breathing or eye problems.  Their teeth are better aligned.  They have a cute round face.  In some ways, they are a healthier cat because their skulls are closer to a mixed breed cat's and because many do not have the genetic problems that the more extreme-faced Persians do. There are some doll-faced breeders who do care and prefer the less extreme face. In other ways these doll-faced Persians are not healthy.  Because doll-faced Persians are not accepted in the cat shows, some (not all) cat breeders who breed doll-faced Persians are clearly backyard breeders who breed only for the money and who care little for the animals involved.  Many of the Persians in shelters are doll-faced.  Because the prices are lower, in general, for this type, they are more disposable to some.

Extreme-faced Persians are the new version of Persians, with, as the name implies, an extremely flat face.  (These are the show cats!)  The nose leather sometimes does not extend passed the eyes in profile.  To get their nose so short, the internal structure of their skulls has had to be modified and compromised in many cases. (The veterinary term is brachycephalic skull.)  This shortening does come with many potential problems:

  • breathing problems because of small nostrils
  • breathing problems because of internal sinus structures
  • breathing problems because the soft palate is not reduced in length
  • frequent sinus infections
  • blocked tear-ducts
  • mild URI (upper respiratory infection) becoming very serious URI
  • misaligned teeth leading to poor chewing
  • misaligned teeth leading extreme tartar build-up and tooth decay
  • overshot jaw because it was not reduced in length
  • more frequent eye injuries
  • diminished mental capacity due to smaller cranium
Peaches  -- extreme-faced shaded cameo
Now, some extreme Persians have few of these, some have many of these -- a lot depends on the internal structures in the skull.  

So why make a Persian nose so short?  Interesting question to which I have never received a sound answer. The most frequent reply is because this is what the cat breed guidelines say, but that is a bit circular.  The breed standard would not say a shortened nose if people didn't want it.  I personally feel there are two reasons.
  1. When the breed standard began to emphasis a shortened nose, the cats with the shortest noses did better.  As more short-nosed Persians won, the race was on to breed even shorter noses in the hopes of winning.
  2. The short nose with the big eyes and round face is a 'baby face'.  There is a term for this, which I can't recall, but researchers have shown we humans are hard-wired to have loving feelings for large eyes and round faces.  An extreme-faced Persian is much closer to this 'baby face' than a doll-faced Persian.  They are more appealing to us.
So what will the future bring?  Some of the non-US cat federations, such as in the UK, are moving away from the extreme-faced Persian to somewhere between extreme- and doll-faced.  They are doing so mainly on health reasons.  Will this trend happen in the US?  I don't know -- only time will tell.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful article Linda as always. I have both types and love both looks. My favorite Persian look is called "Moderate" and I admit, I gush over large eyes with beautiful eye color! Silvers and goldens have gone over to a more extreme look the past few years I have noticed. There is a fine line for me of being too extreme because I feel Persians lose that "sweet" expression I so love to see. Joane

L.M. Hornberger said...

I've noticed that even in the last 5 years, the silvers have gone to a much more extreme face. Honestly, I don't like it. The extreme works okay on some Persians, like Peaches (she has a bit of grumpy face). One of the silvers from the Palm Springs Show was an extreme and it looked 'wrong'. You are so right, they lose the 'sweet' expression.

Anonymous said...

I was taught to draw an imaginary line from the Persian's forehead to nose to chin. A straight line is what the breed is aiming for. I really do not care for the concave look--the ultra extreme cats. A good thing can certainly be taken too far! Your Peaches is very beautiful Linda!