Among the most beloved and sought-after cat breeds are the Persian and the British Shorthair. Both of these cats are charming and fascinating, with their own very special physical and psychological characteristics. What are the pluses in owning a British Shorthair or a Persian? What are the downsides? What do you need to know about each of these cats before you take the plunge?
In this article, we´ll discuss these two special breeds and help you determine which one is right for you.
What you need to know about Persian cats
Persians are gorgeous and exotic long-haired cats, affectionate and (generally) calm. The Persian’s history is mysterious; the ancestor of all domestic cats is the African wildcat, a species with no known longhaired examples.
The earliest documented ancestors of the Persians we know and love today arrived in Italy in 1620. From there they spread to France and later to Britain, where they became a firm favourite with cat lovers. Persians were one of the cats exhibited at the very first cat show, at the Crystal Palace in London in 1871. Aside from their luxurious coats, Persian cats are notable for their brachycephalic skulls.
The degree ranges from snub-nosed cats, described as traditional or “doll-faced”, to the more dramatic ultra-Persian or “peke-faced” type whose nose is in a line with the forehead. Persians are usually a fairly placid cat with a loving nature but a few of them can be fussy and temperamental. Persians are also a little notorious for struggling with litter-box issues. They also require a lot of grooming if you want to keep that elegant coat looking its best; we’ll deal with this in a later section.
What you need to know about British Shorthairs
Also exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1871 was an early specimen of the British Shorthair. The line was bred with Russian Blue cats to create the now-familiar British Blue colouration, with blue-grey fur and deep orange eyes. The modern British Shorthair is actually a cousin of the Persian; the BSH population suffered a decline after the Second World War and the line was bred with Persian cats in order to introduce some fresh blood. British Shorthairs are large cats, solid in both physique and temperament.
They have a similar rounded, cobby configuration to the Persian but in place of the Persian’s glorious locks, they have a short, dense coat with a crisp texture. British Shorthairs are loyal and amiable companions, non-destructive and readily trainable.
They tend not to be lap-cats (although there are exceptions) but love being close to their humans. Many British Shorthair owners describe how their pets will trail them around the house, following at their heels.
The price of a Persian cat or kitten can vary wildly. The cost will depend on the age of the cat (kittens tend to be more expensive than adult cats), the cat’s features and whether she’s a pet quality or show quality kitty. Doll-faced Persians tend to be less costly than peke-faced cats. Some colours are more popular or rarer than others, . At the lower end of the scale you can find a charming pet-quality Persian kitten from around £500 in the UK, $600 USD in the US and a more modest $600 AUD in Australia. Show quality kittens cost at least twice as much.
For the very rarest kittens, such as chinchilla Persians, you could be looking at ten or twenty times the price for a pet-quality kitten. They can cost tens of thousands. Despite the high price, you should resist any temptation to get your Persian cat from an unlicensed breeder. You may end up spending more than you save on additional care for a sickly or traumatised cat.
British Shorthair cats are also rather a costly breed. For a show-quality kitten with all her papers, the most common price I’ve seen quoted is £1,200. The figure in the US works out to something similar, with show-quality kittens selling for around $1,000 to $1,500. In Australia the price is significantly lower, about $1,000 AUD. Pet-quality kittens are much cheaper, while some British Shorthair kittens with rare colours and especially good configurations cost upwards of £5,000.
As with Persians and other breeds, do not buy from backyard breeders. If the cost of a quality pedigree kitten is too much to bear, look for an older cat. Retired show kitties or former breeders who are being taken out of circulation are often a low-cost option. It’s fairly rare for pedigree cats like British Shorthairs or Persians to turn up as rescues but it does happen; keep your eye on the websites for local shelters in case a BSH turns up needing a loving home.
Persian kitties, as we’ve already noted above, are typically very gentle and quiet. If you’ve obtained your Persian from a reputable breeder she will be properly socialised and free of difficult behaviours. I have met Persians who were absolute drama queens but they’re not typical for this breed.
Persians are generally fairly cuddly and enjoy a certain amount of lap-time, although they’re not as clingy as, say, Ragdolls. I’ve found them marginally less smart and trainable than British Shorthairs but only by a whisker. They’re not especially talkative and have quiet little voices when they do meow. Persians are rather a low-energy breed and don’t enjoy running around too much; they tend to settle into a favourite spot and nap the day away. Destructiveness is fairly rare in this breed, although like any cat a Persian may act out if stressed. On the whole, I have to say that a Persian makes a charming feline companion.
The British Shorthair is hands-down my favourite breed in terms of character. They’re just unbeatable little companions, tremendously loyal and sweetly patient. I’ve only encountered destructiveness in this breed on the rarest of occasions, and always in response to a severe stressor. They’re not really keen on extended lap time; if you don’t like being pinned to the sofa by a sleeping kitty, this breed is for you. British Shorthairs are sometimes described as “aloof” or “stand-offish” but in fact they’re very affectionate — they simply have their own way of letting you know you’re loved.
The British Shorthair likes to take on a supervisory role, following your day-to-day activities with interest and often trotting from room to room at your heels. Expect to find your BSH kitty perched on top of shelves or cupboards, observing all the household goings-on from her lofty perch, or sitting beside you on the sofa when she’s feeling companionable.
British Shorthairs are generally a healthy lot, not prone to conditions beyond those that can affect cats of any breed. They can develop haemophilia but responsible breeders will test and control for this; females with the gene are generally removed from the breeding pool. The males in particular need to be watched for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that can be devastating if not caught early. Both genders can develop weight-related issues as senior kitties; their sedentary natures mean that both boys and girls will need to be monitored for obesity, especially after the age of seven or so when they start to slow down.
The good news is that with proper care this breed can live to a ripe old age; I believe the median is 12 but BSH kitties easily live to their middle and late teens. I’ve even run into one or two who made it past 20, although these are outliers.
The stereotype of the sickly, sniffling Persian is rather unfair; Persian cats can be perfectly healthy with the proper care. That said, they do suffer from certain breed-related issues. Much depends on whether you have a doll-faced or peke-faced type. The latter, unfortunately, tend to suffer from a number of health problems. Their eyes often do not drain naturally due to their shortened tear ducts, causing the fur nearby to become stained and the eyes themselves to become infected; they may also suffer from severe breathing difficulties and repeated respiratory infections.
Persian cats, in general, are prone to polycystic kidney disease. Like British Shorthairs, they can become sedentary in later life. Older Persians can be prone to obesity and may benefit from having their nutrition controlled. I’m not sure why but this breed seems to have urinary issues and may find it a bit difficult to keep everything in the litter-box.
The Persian is a medium-sized cat but looks larger. Her cobby configuration and long coat make her seem bigger than she is. I’ve found that cats of this breed tend to be a lot heavier when you pick them up than you’d expect; they’re quite a muscular little kitty, which makes them solid and hefty under all that lovely fluff. There’s a shade of sexual dimorphism between the genders but it’s not very pronounced; males and females have quite similar weights and heights. The average weight for a female Persian is around 3.1 kg to 4 kg (7-9 lbs) while male kitties can weigh from 3.6 kg to 4.5 kg (8-10 lbs).
While I’ve met larger-bodied Persians who were heavier than this, your cat shouldn’t go much above the upper limit for age and gender. Getting too heavy is bad for Persians, as for most breeds. Some breeders claim to offer miniature “teacup Persians” or “dwarf Persians”; be wary of these claims, as there’s not really a reliable dwarf gene in this breed and the cat probably has some health problems.
British Shorthairs are designated as a medium to large breed. They’re very solid, very brawny — both males and females — with a lot of muscle. Sizes and weights can vary dramatically, making is a little tricky to give a realistic estimation of the eventual adult weight of your BSH kitten. The degree of sexual dimorphism in this breed is quite pronounced, with males weighing in at anything from 5.5 or 6 to 9 kg (12-18 lbs) and adult females in the range of 4-5.5 kg (9-12 lb). British Shorthairs do a lot of growing in the first year of life; after the age of 12 months they slow down a lot, but don’t stop.
BSH cats generally go on growing for at least three years and may only get to their full size at five. While this breed of cat is supposed to be hefty and solid, they are prone to getting overweight. You will need to keep an eye on your cat’s weight, especially in later life.
The Persian is a fairly amiable breed who tolerates children quite well. Smaller children need to be supervised around cats, especially ones with long, soft and above all grabbable coats. Little ones need to understand that as wonderfully silky and touchable as a Persian cat’s fur may be, she is not a doll and needs to be treated with respect. Once they’re old enough, children can be fantastic allies in keeping Persian kitties groomed — little girls in particular often love to brush and comb that luxurious hair. With dogs — well, it depends on the dog.
A calm, well-socialised hound who has been introduced to cats at an early age will get along reasonably well with your Persian; a hyperactive or poorly trained dog might stress her out and cause anxiety problems. In general, Persians are quite accepting of dogs but do be careful and supervise their interactions. Persians are not scrappers and she won’t be able to defend herself if the dog decides to chase her.
British Shorthairs are one of the most child-friendly cats around. Their patient, stoical nature makes them a very good choice for households with little ones. No matter how provoking a small child may be, the British Shorthair would rather make a dignified exit from the situation than lash out. Younger kids do need to be supervised around British Shorthairs, however, at least until they know not to pull on tails or ears. This breed is also good with dogs. The British Shorthair’s larger size and imperturbable nature make them less likely to engender a prey response in a dog.
You do need, of course, to ensure that any dog you bring into a household with cats has been properly socialised; if the animal was not introduced to cats as a puppy, there may be a disastrous interaction where the dog reads the cat as a prey animal and acts accordingly. Introduce the two pets carefully and be sure that the dog is well trained. British shorthairs get on with well-behaved dogs like a house on fire — the cat provides a reassuring companion and the dog can provide play and stimulation.
Care and maintenance
As you’d expect, the Persian requires a significant amount of grooming. Her long fur needs to be brushed out daily as it will swiftly develop matts otherwise. Luckily this breed is fairly cuddly — Persians tend to enjoy the grooming process. Pay special attention to keeping the under-tail area clean; you may need to clip away the fur there to stop a buildup of dirt and worse.
Peke-faced Persian kitties also need the fur around their eyes wiped very carefully on a regular basis — at least once a day and preferably more. Their shortened tear ducts tend to cause their eyes to brim over and stain the fur if this is not done. Check your Persian’s long fur very carefully for fleas and other parasites. Encourage your kitty to play, using toys and games, so she doesn’t become lazy.
British Shorthairs are quite easy to care for. You’ll need to groom your cat at least once a week — their fur may be short but it is also dense and may get into quite a state if you don’t do this. Check your BSH kitty for signs of parasites such as fleas. While not especially prone to ear and eye problems, the British Shorthair has the same vulnerabilities as any cat and so needs to be checked weekly for signs of ear mites or eye infections.
As with the Persian, yearly vet checkups are necessary to ensure that your cat isn’t starting to develop health issues. Because this is a rather low-energy breed, you will need to make a special effort to keep your British Shorthair active. Set aside some time every day to play with her and make sure she gets plenty of exercises. Use fishing-pole toys, catnip mice, scratching posts and so on to ensure that your British Shorthair has the stimulation she needs to stay lively and happy. As she gets older, you may want to switch her to a lower-calorie, high-protein diet to avoid excess weight.
Either of these breeds would make a lovely companion — how can a cat lover choose between them? The British Shorthair is a handsome kitty with a calm nature. Persian cats are rewarding to own but can be challenging, not least because they have certain breed-specific health issues. They also need lots of brushing; if you’re not prepared to do this, don’t get a longhaired cat.
I often see Persians trundling around with great clumps of matted fur and it makes me so cross. There’s no excuse for this when the remedy is as simple as running a comb through the fur every evening. For a first cat I tend to come down on the side of the British Shorthair; they are healthy and long-lived, requiring little in the way of special treatment. Persians are a wonderful pet for the more experienced cat owner.