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10 Fancy Facts About Persian Cats

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With their trademark round faces, stocky bodies, and sumptuous coats, Persians are one of the most recognized cat breeds in the world. Here are a few facts about the fancy feline. 

1. THEY WERE A TRAVELER'S SOUVENIR. 

Like many breeds, the Persian cat’s origins are a mystery. According to some sources, longhaired cats have existed in the Middle East for thousands of years—although research indicates that the kitties have genetics in common with cats from Western Europe.

Although nobody quite knows when—or how—the rest of the world discovered Persian cats, one popular version is that the luxuriously-furred feline was introduced to Western Europe by an Italian named Pietro della Valle. Della Valle was a famous nobleman who journeyed extensively throughout the Holy Land, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and India. In 1620, della Valle passed through Persia—now known as Iran—and took a liking to the exotic, longhaired gray cats he spotted at a bazaar. He purchased four pairs of them, and brought them home with him to Europe. Of course, sailors, travelers, or merchants might have also carried Persians with them from the Middle East to the Continent.

2. THEY WERE IN THE WORLD'S FIRST CAT SHOW. 

More than 250 years later, Persians took London by storm when the breed was showcased in the world's first organized cat show in 1871 at the Crystal Palace. The day-long exhibition also featured Siamese cats, a Scottish Wild Cat, and Manxes, among other exotic felines. Proving that cats were popular long before the Internet, the event drew more than 20,000 visitors. It also shouldn't surprise anyone that a Persian kitten won "Best in Show." 

3. THEY'RE BELOVED IN AMERICA ... 

Sometime after 1895, Persians were brought to the United States. In 1906, the Cat Fanciers' Association was formed in America, and a Persian was one of the first cats registered. Today, the Persian is one of the most popular cats in the United States.

4. ... AND BY FAMOUS HISTORICAL FIGURES. 

Throughout history, many famous individuals have owned Persian cats. Florence Nightingale had 60 cats in her lifetime, and doted on a large Persian named Mr. Bismarck. Marilyn Monroe owned a white Persian cat named Mitsou. And Raymond Chandler reportedly read the first drafts of his novels to his most discerning critic, a black Persian named Taki. 

5. THEY'RE LOW MAINTENANCE.

Persians might look prissy and aloof, but they’re actually considered to be one of the most low-maintenance—and friendliest—cat breeds.

6. THEY COME IN MANY SIZES, COLORS, AND VARIETIES.

While iconic pop culture Persians are usually white or silver (think the Fancy Feast Cat), the breed comes in a range of colors and shades. From tortoiseshell and calico to orange, grey, and black-and-white, the varieties are plentiful. Other sub-variants of the Persian include toy and teacup sizes, Himalayans—which are a cross between a Persian and a Siamese—and Chinchilla Longhairs, which have pointy noses and black-tipped fur.

7. THEY’RE POP CULTURE ICONS.

Speaking of Mr. Bigglesworth and the Fancy Feast cat, the Persian is perhaps one of the most well-represented breeds in popular culture. James Bond supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofield and his parody alter-ego, Dr. Evil, both love stroking their white, blue-eyed Persians. (Spoiler alert: Mr. Bigglesworth’s lush fur freezes off in a sad—yet hilarious—plot twist.) The 2001 movie Cats & Dogs features a diabolical Persian named Kitty Galore. Also, a species of Pokémon is named after the Persian.

8. THEIR FACES HAVEN’T ALWAYS BEEN—AND AREN’T ALWAYS—FLAT.

After its coat, the Persian’s most distinctive characteristic is its flat face. However, the breed hasn’t always had a squished visage. Persians once had a more pronounced muzzle, but in the 1950s a genetic mutation caused a batch of kittens to be born with scrunched features. Breeders liked the aesthetic, and over the years they used selective breeding to taper down the cat’s silhouette.

Some kitties, called “traditional” or “doll-face” Persians, still look like their pointy-featured ancestors. Others have a “peke-face,” or an “ultra face,” which describes the kind of smushed-in mug the Persian is known for today. The Cat Fanciers' Association views the peke or ultra-faced Persian as the breed’s modern standard [PDF]. However, it comes with a price: Persians with this feature have runny eyes, labored breathing, and often struggle to eat their food.

9. THEY'RE SIMILAR TO TURKISH ANGORAS.

Persians look a lot like Turkish Angoras, which are another breed of fluffy feline that arrived in Europe from the Mediterranean in the 1500s. The two were cross-bred over the years to improve the Persian cat's coat—so much so that the breed nearly went extinct. Turkey set up breeding programs to help save the Angora. Persians have a stockier build, a larger head, rounder eyes, and a slightly longer coat, whereas Turkish Angoras have lithe bodies, pointed ears, and a plume-like tail.

10. THEY’VE BEEN IMMORTALIZED IN ART.

Recently, a 6-by-8.5-foot artwork that’s purported to be the “world’s largest cat painting” sold at auction for more than $820,000. The late 19th-century oil portrait is called My Wife's Lovers, and it once belonged to a wealthy philanthropist who commissioned an artist to paint her vast assortment of Turkish Angoras and Persians. Other popular Persian paintings include White Persian Cat by famous folk artist Warren Kimble and Two White Persian Cats Looking into a Goldfish Bowl by late feline portraitist Arthur Heyer. 

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Authorities Want This Roadside Bear Statue in Wales Removed Before It Causes More Accidents
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There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

Wooden bear statue.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.
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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

Woman doing yoga with her dog.
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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

Person running in field with a dog.
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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

Woman cuddling her dog.
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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

Large bulldog licking a laughing man.
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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

Woman working on a computer while petting a dog.
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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

A young boy having fun with his dog.
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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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