Vicky Halls Cat Behaviour Counsellor

  • Mounting evidence to prove that flat-faced cat breeds are suffering

    There is growing evidence to show that flat-faced or brachycephalic cats (picture 1),

    including most modern Persians or Exotic Shorthairs, are suffering from a number of health

    problems, leading to lifelong suffering as a direct result of being 'designed' to have a very

    flat face. This includes breathing problems, eye inflammation, skin infections and difficulty

    eating.

    Amongst the latest evidence is a new scientific paper from the University of Edinburgh1

    which concluded that flatter-faced cats were more likely to have breathing problems and

    that the breathing difficulties were also associated with increased tear staining and a more

    sedentary lifestyle. This comes on top of a recent successful prosecution in Switzerland

    under the Animal Protection Act, brought against two people who bred extreme

    bracycephalic cats. The revised animal protection law in Switzerland has strengthened

    regulations against intentional breeding to produce specific traits that compromise the

    health and wellbeing of an animal.

    Brachycephalic animals have a shortened muzzle which constricts nasal passages and can

    result in respiratory and feeding problems. In addition, the tear fluid cannot drain normally

    from the eyes, explaining why such cats have permanent eye discharge and tear staining

    of the face (picture 2). The eye and facial abnormalities can result in chronic inflammation

    of the eyes and problems with skin infections in the folds around the flattened nose and

    across the face. Many affected cats also have difficulty in picking up food, as the jaw is also

    malformed, with teeth and jaw being misaligned.

    In extreme cases, brachycephalic animals will have serious respiratory disease, causing

    significant suffering. Shamefully this is a man-made condition (picture 3). In pursuit of a

    look or fashion, breeders of some cats and dogs are selecting ever-shorter muzzles that

    inevitably result in serious welfare issues. Impaired breathing in these animals – part of a

    condition called brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) – can lead to health

    problems throughout animals’ lives and is often life limiting. This has been a common

    problem in many brachycephalic breeds of dog such as the pug and bulldog, but there have

    been increasing calls from veterinary and welfare organisations to recognise the suffering

    this causes in both dogs and cats.

    The University of Edinburgh study, published in the journal PLOS ONE – saw hundreds of

    owners submitting photographs of their cats and completing a detailed health survey so

    that researchers could measure the facial features of the cats and assess breathing

    abnormalities (noisy breathing or difficulty breathing after exercise). The research

    confirmed that flatter-faced cats (of breeds such as the Persian or Exotic Shorthair), were

    more likely to have breathing problems and that the breathing difficulties were also

    associated with increased tear staining and a more sedentary lifestyle.

    A previous paper, published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS)2 showed

    dramatically, and graphically, how the skulls of brachycephalic cats are actually deformed,

    especially the nose and jaw (picture 4). These shocking images demonstrate the altered

    conformation and are a salutary reminder of how severely the normal skull structure has

    been changed.

    Unfortunately breeds of cat and dog with flat faces are becoming more and more popular,

    and extremes (of an already abnormal anatomy) can become instant internet celebrities.

    These breeds and individuals often have large or prominent eyes which are considered by

    some to be 'cute' because they are baby-like, and the flattened face often has an upturned

    or down-turned mouth, which gives it a human or cartoon characteristic of smiling

    or scowling, such as Grumpy Cat.

    Claire Bessant, Chief Executive of International Cat Care said, ’It is very depressing to see

    the life which has been deliberately dealt to some breeds of cats because of a human

    desire to develop a certain look. I urge cat lovers to speak out and help others to

    understand that this is not something we should be doing to cats, and not something we

    should be tolerating. One of the best and most beautifully naturally designed animals – the

    cat – would not normally have any of these problems; we have created them through

    selective breeding. We should not be encouraging people to breed these cats by calling

    them 'cute', by being amused at their facial characteristics, or by the fact that they snore –

    rather we need to understand that this is human intervention that is wholly detrimental to

    the welfare of the cats and is simply cruel. International Cat Care takes an ethical view of

    all cat breeds and our website (http://icatcare.org/advice/cat-breeds) outlines the

    problems that exist for some breeds, including very flat-faced cats in the Persians and

    Exotic breeds. Our stance is that we should never deliberately breed cats for any feature or

    characteristic that impairs their welfare.'

    References

    1. Farnworth MJ, et al. Flat feline faces: is brachycephaly associated with

    respiratory abnormalities in the domestic cat (Felis catus)? PLoS One 2016;

    11: e0161777. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161777

    2. Schlueter C, Budras KD, Ludewig E, et al. Brachycephalic feline noses: CT and

    anatomical study of the relationship between head conformation and the

    nasolacrimal drainage system. J Feline Med Surg 2009; 11: 891–900. DOI:

    10.1016/j.jfms.2009.09.010.

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