According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), Persians are the fourth most popular purebred cat in the United States.1 Unfortunately, a research study in the U.K. also found that about 65% of Persians surveyed had at least one documented health problem.2 In this article, we’ll list seven common Persian cat health concerns. We’ll also let you know what steps you can take to keep your Persian as healthy as possible.
The 7 Most Common Persian Cat Health Problems:
1. Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome
|Symptoms||Noisy breathing, easily tired, collapse|
|Possible treatments||Weight loss, medications, surgery|
Brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome (BAOS) is common among flat-faced dog and cat breeds, including the Persian. Flat-faced animals have abnormally short skull bones and this results in other changes to the face structure. In the case of BAOS, those changes interfere with the cat’s normal breathing process.
Persians with BAOS may have several physical changes, such as narrower nasal passages or windpipes. These changes cause normal airflow into the cat’s lungs to be obstructed, hence the name of the condition. BAOS is usually diagnosed by a physical exam, sometimes while the cat is knocked out with a sedative. Persians with BAOS may be mild to severely impacted. The severity of the disease will play a role in how it is treated.
2. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
|Symptoms||Trouble breathing, lethargy, sudden pain in the legs, trouble walking|
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is another common health concern for Persians. Cats with this condition have abnormally thick heart walls, which causes their blood to circulate more slowly. It is believed to be an inherited condition, because it is much more common in certain purebred cats, including Persians.
Some cats with HCM can go for years without displaying symptoms. Typically, symptoms only happen when the decreased blood circulation starts causing other issues, like heart failure. Cats with HCM can also form blood clots in their heart and pump them to other parts of the body, potentially causing life-threatening blood blockages. HCM is usually diagnosed by an echocardiogram, a way of seeing the heart using sound waves. The success of treatment usually depends on whether or not the cat has developed symptoms yet.
3. Polycystic Kidney Disease
|Symptoms||Weight loss, vomiting, drinking a lot of water, lethargy, loss of appetite|
|Possible treatments||Medications, special diet, hospitalization|
One of the most common Persian health concerns is an inherited condition called Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Cats with this disease are born with small fluid-filled sacs called cysts in their kidneys. Over time, the cysts grow until they start interfering with the normal function of the kidneys. Eventually, this leads to kidney failure. The U.K. study we mentioned in the introduction, found that kidney disease was the leading cause of death for the Persians studied. PKD is caused by a specific gene in Persians, identified by a blood test. Kidney disease is usually diagnosed with blood tests. There is no cure for PKD. Treatment aims to support the kidneys and keep the cat feeling well as long as possible.
4. Eye Disorders
|Symptoms||Squinting, pawing at the eyes, eye discharge|
|Possible treatments||Medications, surgery|
Because of their flat faces, the Persian’s eyes bulge further out of their head than other breeds. This, plus the abnormal shape of their skull puts them at risk of a variety of different eye problems. Eye disorders were the second most commonly seen issue among the Persians from the U.K. study.
Some specific eye conditions Persians are prone to include entropion when their eyelids roll inward and their eyelashes irritate the eye. They are also prone to corneal ulcers, which are injuries to the surface of the eye. Many Persians have problems with their tear ducts, causing excessive tearing and eye stains. Most eye problems are diagnosed with an exam and specific tests, possibly by a veterinary eye specialist. Treatment varies depending on which problem is found.
5. Dental Disease
|Symptoms||Bad breath, trouble eating, bleeding gums|
|Possible treatments||Dental cleaning|
The shape of the Persian’s face also makes them more prone to dental issues. Sometimes, Persians have trouble getting their food into their mouths because their face is so flat. Persians often have issues with their teeth crowding too close together. All of these structural problems can make the teeth more prone to building tartar.
While bad breath is never pleasant, a more serious worry with dental disease is the number of bacteria that builds on the dirty teeth. The bacteria can be carried by the bloodstream to other parts of the body, potentially leading to infections in vital organs like the heart or kidneys.
6. Skin Disease
|Symptoms||Itching, hair loss, skin lesions|
|Possible treatments||Medications, medicated baths|
In the U.K. study, skin and haircoat issues were the most commonly reported ailment among the Persians studied. Specific genetic mutations make Persians more prone to getting ringworm, a fungal disease. They are also more at risk for skin diseases because of their long, thick fur.
Most skin diseases, including ringworm, are diagnosed by specific laboratory tests. While skin diseases are generally treatable, it can be a long and frustrating process. To make matters more complicated, Persians can pass ringworm to their humans, a particularly itchy and uncomfortable gift.
7. Trouble Giving Birth
|Symptoms||Vocalizing, unproductive labor|
According to the U.K. study, Persians have a high incidence of a pregnancy complication called dystocia, when the kitten becomes stuck in the birth canal. This occurs more often in Persians because their heads are extra-large and their hips are narrow. Unfortunately, this combination does not make for a smooth birthing process. If the kittens can’t come out the normal way, the pregnant Persian may need to have a C-section. Sadly, the study also found that Persians have the highest rate of losing kittens of any purebred cat, at 25%.
How To Keep Your Persian Cat Healthy
As we’ve learned, Persians are not the healthiest of breeds, and many of their common medical conditions are difficult or impossible to treat. The best way to keep your Persian healthy is to prevent them or detect them as early as possible. But how do you do that?
Start With The Healthiest Kitten Possible
As we mentioned, the PKD gene can be detected by a blood test. Cats can carry the gene and pass it on without ever showing symptoms themselves. Before buying a Persian kitten, ask if both parents have been tested and certified free of the PKD gene. It only takes one parent being a carrier to pass it on, so both males and females should be tested before breeding.
The flat face of the Persian is problematic, but it’s also part of their breed standard so there’s nothing you can do about that, right?
Actually, not all flat faces are created equal. Different breeding lines of Persians have flatter faces and therefore, more issues. Classic or Doll-faced Persians seem least impacted. If possible, look for a kitten of one of those types.
Keep Up With Preventative Care
As your kitten grows, make sure you are diligent about their yearly vet visits and preventative care. As we mentioned, many of these health concerns are easier to treat if caught early. Obviously, if you notice any worrisome signs between regularly scheduled appointments, see the vet sooner.
Sometimes, your vet may suggest extra screenings for your Persian. For example, to detect HCM early, your vet may offer yearly echocardiograms or visits with a veterinary heart specialist.
Keep Your Cat At a Healthy Weight
Obesity is unhealthy for any cat but for a Persian with BOAS, it can be life-threatening. Help your cat breathe easier by keeping them trim and fit. Your vet can help you calculate how many calories your Persian should be eating each day. They can also assist you in choosing healthy cat food to feed.
That same flat face that causes the Persian so many problems is also one of their most adorable features. When combined with their sweet, mellow temperaments, it’s no wonder that Persians are consistently as popular as they are around the world. If you’re considering getting a Persian, it’s important to educate yourself about the issues you could be facing. Hopefully, our list of 7 common health concerns for Persians was helpful to you during that process.
Featured Image Credit: choosangyeon, Shutterstock