Disclaimer: Often the health of Persian cats is a very controversial topic and information is dependant on which breeder/organization you ask. Our data is supported by extensive veterinarian research; in particular the research of Dr. Danièlle Gunn-Moore who is 1 of 5 leading world experts in the health of domestic felines, and Dr. Karen Becker who is a proactive holistic veterinarian.
All cats have the potential to inherit or develop health problems; just as all humans are predisposed to certain illnesses or may contract diseases through their environment. Breeders may claim that their line has never expressed a genetic disease but anyone who claims that the breed is 100% healthy is either lying or not knowledgeable about the breed. Be critical of anyone who offers to sell you a pet without a health guarantee, mentions that their kittens are separate from the main part of the household for health reasons, or does not allow you to visit their cattery. Healthy persians generally live an average of 15 years and should not suffer from more than morning bed head and possible minimal tearing due to the nature of their shortened faces. Their luxurious, long coat needs regular grooming and bathing in order to remain unmated and their skin healthy. They should not snort, wheeze or have excessive tearing. It is the responsibility of breeders to conduct the proper available genetic testing on all breeding cats, and to maintain health records. Foremost, breeding should be conducted ethically, and not purely for aesthetic reasons. Please keep in mind that most health problems are incurred by bad breeding habits and are preventable.
For centuries, Persians have been selectively breed to propagate desirable qualities; ie. fur length – standard vs extreme, body type – slender vs cobby, color, and facial conformation. In the past few decades, this breed has experienced extraordinary pressure from artificial selection, mostly in the form of inbreeding, to make the breed nearly unrecognizable from what it used to be: traditional doll face persians vs extreme face persians. While the plusher coat and the shorter, stockier body are distinctive qualities that do not compromise health, breeding for the pig-like extreme face often times compromises the nasal-acriminal system, leading to heavier eye drainage and possible breathing problems. Despite the obvious rising health problems, cat fanciers became obsessed with the shortened face and registry organizations in the U.S embraced it. In the mid 1990’s, the peke-face persian (known as an extreme type Persian in scientific literature) became more competitive than the doll-face persian in the show hall.
Flat faced persian quickly became the dominating look in American pet homes. Meanwhile, registry organizations in Germany recognized the increased health detriments of breeding for flat faces and banned the breeding of any cat whose tip of the nose is higher than the lower level of the eyelid. Since I live in the U.S and so do most of you reading this, I feel inclined to mention that just because a trait is common does not make it healthy. It should be noted, however, that it is possible for a flat faced cat to have minimal tearing and no difficulty breathing. Good breeding practices involve understanding feline diseases, gene linkage, optimal diets, genetic testing, and above all, continually learning. To me, the worst breeder is the one who propagates low-functional traits such as stenotic nares or huge leaky eyes. Health consequences include but are not limited to:
Brachycephalic (Greek: brachy = shortened, cephalic = head) Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) is the most common ailment to afflict the Persian breed in the USA. The issue arose during the transition from doll face persians to extreme face persians. Many cat fanciers consider the higher maintenance incurred by BOAS a suitable tradeoff to preserve the aesthetic charm of the extreme persians. Many new breeders in the field do not realize BOAS symptoms can be eliminated in extremes, consider it normal, and continue to propagate the problem. Fortunately, brachycephaly is a hereditary condition that is well understood in the veterinary field and its symptoms are proven. As defined by the Veterinary Association, Brachycephalism is a chronic condition characterized by changes in skull shape that produce a shortened muzzle. While all Persians express some degree of brachycephaly there are 4 different levels, often categorized into 3 by CFA show judges – doll face, flat face, and peke-face. While a doll face Persian is cute and relatively healthy compared to mesocephalic cats (a cat with a protruding snout of regular length), flat face and peke-face Persians are normally afflicted by many snout – associated health problems. There are 4 levels of brachycephaly:
Type 1 (mild) brachycephalic persians are doll face Persians. Their nose falls far below the lower lever of their eyes and has a distinguishable nose ridge with a protruding snout. The lower jaw is even with the top jaw and the teeth properly align.The shortness of their muzzle has no significant health detriments when compared to mesocephalic cats.
Type 2 (moderate) brachycephalic cats are a transition between a doll face and a flat face. Like type 1 cats, their nose falls below the lower level of their eyes, but unlike them, they have a more defined stop and very little nose protrusion. Upon closer inspection, a small nose ridge should still be present. Their lower jaw may sometimes excede the legnht of the top jaw.
Type 3 (profound) brachycephalic Persians have a flat face. Their nose meets the lower level of their eyes and they have a concave nose ridge where skin folds touch (CFA defines it as a “break”). The lower jaw protrudes further than the top jaw and points slightly upwards causing dental cramming. Their facial bones are disproportionate when compared to mesocephalic cats.
Type 4 (severe) brachycephalic Persians are extreme type or peke face Persians. Their nose is almost even with the upper level of their eyes and it looks like their snout is being eaten by their face, starting at the nose ridge/break. Their lower jaw significantly protrudes out and above the upper jaw. Facial bones are significantly deformed and unnatural.
Skull images taken from the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2009) 11, 891 – 900.
HEALTH EFFECTS OF BRACHYCEPHALY
DEFORMED TEAR DUCTS OR PERSISTENT EPIPHORA
Nearly all type 3 and type 4 cats have a nasolacrimal system that doesn’t work properly, resulting in weeping eyes, tear staining, and facial dermatitis. Weeping eyes occurs because the tear duct is too short for the tears to drain out through the nose, which normally results in tear staining. A cat with brown or orange scab-like-crust on the face never looks at its best. Chronic tear staining, especially in skin folds near the eyes, results in facial dermatitis. Because tears are constantly being produced to moisten and protect the eyes, daily eye care needs to be administered to control tears from crusting on the face. This condition is a double edged sword because all aspects of it are uncomfortable for the cat; cleaning from the owner, running eyes, and crusted tears. Inevitably, the aesthetic beauty of the cat is compromised revealing its chronic condition.
DENTAL DISEASE, FEEDING DIFFICULTIES & PROBLEMS OF BRACHYGNATHIA
Brachycephalic cats, of type 2 – 4, are often impacted by Brachygnathia – an abnormal recession of the mandible or jawbone which protrudes passed the top jaw and points upwards. Consequences include misaligned teeth and increases in severity with more typed cats, and age. Affected cats have difficulty eating and often express behavioral modifications such as lifting their face to swallow and not accepting chunks of food which they have to chew. There is inevitable friction between teeth and mouth matter that would otherwise not touch. Overcrowded and distorted teeth also result in the accumulation of food in crevices that trap it, causing plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease. Teeth extraction and weekly brushing are recommended for cats with severe jaw malformations.
BRACHYCEPHALIC AIRWAY SYNDROME (BAS)
Brachycephalic airway syndrome (BAS) is the term used to describe chronic respiratory problems characterized by wheezing, snorting, breathing through the mouth, sleep apnea, inability to maintain ongoing play, and others. This is normally a result of several factors put together such as abnormally narrow nostrils (stenotic nares), narrow nasal passages and an elongated soft palate, requiring much more effort to nose-breathe and causing chronic suction around the pharynx. Inflammation do to muscular stress causes further constriction of airways. Persians who suffer from BAS are unable to play like regular cats because it requires too much breathing, and they may sometimes snort as they sleep, and have difficulties staying asleep because they cannot gather enough oxygen (sleep apnea).Cats with BAS are under higher risk when being sedated with anesthetics because of the depression in breathing; some can’t tolerate it at all. If you think cats with flat, pushed in faces are cute, I can assure you they don’t feel the same!
HEADACHES & MIGRAINES
Because there are no tests to prove that a migraine is happening and animals cannot simply tell us, we must rely on transferable comparisons between humans – animals, and behavior. Anatomically, brachycephalic animals have a smaller cranial size than normal, some facial bones are underdeveloped and others are over expressed. Much like teeth develop in the mouth without consideration of jaw size or orientation, the size of the brain does not change to conform to its enclosure. This means that cats with profound and severe brachycephaly must cram a brain into a comparatively small vault. Some vets, such as Dr. Gunn-Moore, have hypothesized that this leads to unsuspected headaches and migraines for the cats. In addition, environmental trauma to the head is likelier to cause a concussion or pop out an eye (because other facial bones such as the eye sockets are shollower).
SPECIAL NEEDS OF BRACHYCEPHALIC BREEDS
– DR. KAREN BECKER
Proactive veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker discusses the special needs of Brachycephalic Breeds.
THE ETHICS OF BREEDING BRACHYCEPHALIC CATS
– DR. DANIELLE GUNN-MOORE
Professor and researcher at the university of Edinburgh. One of 5 world leading experts on feline health.Danièlle Gunn-Moore joins Sciencevideos.org to discuss her research and recent PLOS ONE publication: Flat Feline Faces: Is Brachycephaly Associated with Respiratory Abnormalities in the Domestic Cat (Felis catus)?
There is no evolutionary benefit for cats to have an extremely shortened muzzle other than melding to the fancy of ignorant breeders and competition appraisers who prioritize this characteristic in breeding programs. From the perspective of the functional species standard set by nature, extreme brachycephaly is not a trait that works, promotes survival or reproduction without our help. From our perspective at Ethereal Persians cattery it is just plain cruel; they are born and live handicapped by no fault of their own.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Money talks. Caring pet owners can refuse to buy a cat afflicted with profound or severe brachycephaly. This incentivizes breeders to only produce doll face cats.
If you would like to go above and beyond, inform others about the condition of these cats, and try to make them realize that it is not cute** or normal; it is abnormal and the cats are suffering.
If you are part of a cat fancy group or plan on becoming one, push the CFA standards to change. In 1991 the standard demanded that “Nose should be very short and depressed, or indented between the eyes. There should be a decidedly wrinkled muzzle.” In 2017, it states, “nose should be short, snob, and broad, with break centered between the eyes.” This is an improvement because it does not state that the nose needs to be “depressed,” so being sucked in by the face is no longer a requirement, but judges are still using these old criteria when finalizing the scores. Titles of Grand Champion and Best of Breed do not belong to deformed flat or peke-faced Persians.
Following, the second most common inherited disease is polycystic kidney disease (PKD). In 2014, this progressive, irreversible disease was estimated to affect up to 50% of all Persians. PKD is a renal disorder characterized by the progressive formation of fluid-filled ulcers or cyst in the kidneys of cats, but it can also affect the liver and pancreas. It is an autosomal dominant disease, meaning that only one copy of the defective PKD gene needs to be inherited by the offspring for the effects to present. Onset of symptoms begin around 3 – 10 years of age and are insufferable. It normally claims the lives of its victims by 7 years of age. While there is no cure for PKD, supportive care may be provided through the use of medication(s) and diet restrictions. Because PKD is a hereditary disease, problems of this sort may be easily prevented by conducting DNA tests for the defective PKD1 gene in conjunction to monitoring the health of the parent and grandparent cats. As time and good breeding practices continue, this disease may be eliminated from the gene pool once and for all.