Sadly, 65% of These Popular Cats Suffer From Health Problems

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

persian cat health problems

Story at-a-glance -

  • Persians are an extremely popular cat breed, in large part due to their luxurious coats and flattened faces
  • Unfortunately, studies show that these traits are responsible for many of the health problems Persians often develop
  • Recent research in the U.K. revealed that 65% of Persians in the study had at least one health problem
  • Persians are predisposed to over two dozen diseases, including eye disorders, brachycephalic airway syndrome, brain and neurological deficits, dental problems, skin and coat conditions, and urinary system diseases
  • Brachycephalic breeds — both cats and dogs — desperately need and deserve breeding reforms that will result in less extreme, healthier body shapes

Persian cats are a popular breed, especially in Europe, Asia, and here in the U.S. But sadly, a recently published study conducted by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of Edinburgh concludes that almost two thirds of an estimated 100,000 Persians in the U.K. suffer from at least one health condition.1

65% of Persians in the Study Had at Least One Health Problem

Two of the most popular features of Persian cats are their beautiful coats and unusual "pushed-in" faces. Unfortunately, many of the health issues the U.K. researchers uncovered, for example, haircoat disorders, dental disease, overgrown nails and eye discharge, may be directly related to those two features.

The study involved 3,235 adult Persians with a mean bodyweight of 3.9 kg (8.5 lbs.) and a mean age of 7 years. At least one health problem was reported in 2,099 (65%) of the cats. The most common disorders included:

  • Haircoat disorders (13%)
  • Periodontal disease (11%)
  • Overgrown nails (7%)
  • Eye discharge (6%)

Persians, like flat-faced dog breeds, are brachycephalic ("brachis" = short, "cephalus" = head); the degree of brachycephaly varies among breed lines. Since the Persian skull shape is associated with problems involving the eyes, face, and teeth, and the respiratory, neurological and reproductive systems, it's likely that cats with more pronounced brachycephaly may develop more severe forms of these disorders.

To Date, Research Shows Persians Are Predisposed to 29 Diseases

Prior studies of Persians suggest they are predisposed to 29 diseases (to date), many of which are the result of genetics or the way their bodies — especially their heads — are constructed.

Eye disorders — Eye problems are common in these kitties due to their brachy conformation, and include chronic tearing, non-healing corneal ulcers, corneal sequestra (dead pieces of corneal tissue), and entropion. Persians are also predisposed to the genetic eye disease progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Brachycephalic airway syndrome — This breed also suffers from brachycephalic airway syndrome just like their flat-faced canine counterparts. The syndrome describes a number of upper respiratory problems affecting the nose, mouth and throat as a result of abnormal skull structure. The issues start with the nostrils, which are often very small, scrolled tight and so narrow it can be hard to move air in through them.

There's also an elongated soft palate, which involves a big flap of skin at the back of the throat that causes a lot of the characteristic snorting and other respiratory sounds often heard in brachy breeds. Fortunately, unlike brachy dogs, Persians don't tend to have narrowed tracheas, which in dogs can lead to tracheal collapse and problems with anesthesia.

Brain and neurological deficits — The brachycephalic skull conformation predisposes Persians to cerebellar crowding and herniation. Persian kittens with extreme brachycephaly are at increased risk for hydrocephalus and associated neurological defects, deafness, pain, severe mental retardation, and death.

Dental problems — Malformed facial bones can lead to dental problems that result in difficulty picking up food with the mouth and also leading to a higher risk of secondary dental disease, typically malocclusion and/or crowding of the teeth.

Difficult deliveries — Pregnant Persians are more likely to experience difficult deliveries due to a combination of the kittens' large brachy skulls and the mother cat's narrow pelvic canal, which is typical of the breed. This situation frequently results in stillbirth, giving Persians the highest kitten mortality rate of all purebred cats.

Coat and skin problems — Persians have a dense long haircoat that contributes to an increased risk of coat and skin problems, including fungal infections. Skin conditions may be made worse by a lessened ability to groom related to other conditions such as dental disease.

Diseases of the urinary system — Persians are predisposed to diseases of the urinary system including autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), which can lead to kidney failure, as well as urolithiasis and congenital defects affecting the bladder.

It's Time to Improve the Health of Persians by Encouraging a Less Extreme Body Shape

In an interview with VetSurgeon.org, lead study author Dr. Dan O'Neill of the Royal Veterinary College made the following points:

"Welfare concerns over brachycephaly (flat faces) in dogs have been recognized for some years. Now, our new study of Persians provides evidence that cats with flattened faces are similarly predisposed to some unpleasant and debilitating conditions.

Hopefully this evidence baseline will kick-start demands to reform the Persian breed's health by breeding towards a less extreme body shape. Additionally, owners of Persians need to be especially alert to dental, eye and haircoat issues in their cats and seek treatment at the earliest signs of ill-health."2

Co-author Danièlle Gunn-Moore of the University of Edinburgh added:

"Along with growing health and welfare concerns for brachycephalic dogs, our studies raise the same concerns for brachycephalic cats. It is essential we recognize that brachycephalic cats have many of the same problems as brachycephalic dogs, with the most severely brachycephalic individuals having the most serious health problems.

We need to start breeding away from extreme brachycephalia before we cause even more harm to these gracious creatures."3

The researchers hope their study results will help breeders make better selections about which cats to breed, help veterinarians identify diseases earlier, help owners take appropriate preventive measures for common conditions in the breed, and help the public understand more about the welfare challenges related to caring for Persian cats.

If you love this breed but can't find an ethical, transparent breeder that tests for heritable diseases and is breeding to intentionally reduce these genetic flaws please consider adopting a Persian from one of the many local or nationwide purebred cat rescue sites where you'll find hundreds of adorable Persian kitties waiting for their furever home.