The price of cuteness: are cats the latest victims of our thirst for endless novelty?

BVA and International Cat Care are urging cat-lovers to avoid choosing pedigree breeds of cat designed to have extreme or unusual features, such as flat faces or folded ears. This is because of problems associated with these features which may not be immediately obvious, but cause suffering for the cats.

86% of the vets had treated conformation-related health problems in flat-faced cats

Figures released today, to mark International Cat Day 2018, show that on average, 28% of the flat-faced (brachycephalic) cats vets see in their practices have had or would benefit from having treatment for conformation-related health or welfare problems (problems caused by body size, shape and appearance). Vets also said that only a quarter of flat-faced cat owners were already aware of the potential health issues and just one in twenty were aware of the additional costs associated with the breeds before choosing their pet.
When asked by the BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey last year most companion animal vets (86%) said they had treated conformation-related health problems in brachycephalic cats, such as Persians and Exotic Shorthairs. The most common conformation-related treatments carried out by these vets were for:

  • Eye problems (69%)
  • Breathing/respiratory problems (60%)
  • Dental issues (45%) and
  • Skin problems (32%).

The Scottish Fold, thought of as ‘cute’ because of its folded down ears which give it a round, baby-like face, suffers from joint pain because the gene which affects the cartilage to allow the ears to fold forward, also affects cartilage in the joints causing problems such as arthritis in these cats, even from an early age.
BVA Senior Vice President Gudrun Ravetz said:
“Everyone knows that the internet loves cat photos and videos. But as time passes we’ve noticed a growing appetite for novelty creeping in – with quirky and unusual cat breeds proving increasingly popular on social media.
“Currently the UK population of pure breed cats is very small as most cat owners opt for regular non-pedigree ‘moggies’. However, we are worried that the popularity on the internet of breeds with extreme conformation, such as the very flat-faced Persians and Exotic Shorthairs, or gene abnormalities such as cause the ears to bend forward in the Scottish Fold breed, may prompt increased demand among consumers who are unaware of the potential serious health and welfare issues associated with such breeding.
“These figures show that many, many owners are choosing pets without understanding either the possible welfare implications of their extreme features or the potential cost of treating them. If you are considering getting a cat discuss your plans with a vet who can advise you on how to get a healthy pet that is well-suited to your lifestyle.  Avoid getting cats with extreme or unusual features and choose a healthier breed or a non-pedigree cat instead.”
Claire Bessant, chief executive of International Cat Care said:
“No owner wants to think that the cat which they love is suffering, and that the person who bred and marketed the breed did not have its best welfare at heart.  However, the reality is that, in the complex world of human needs and wants, the welfare of the cat is not always prioritised. We have the evidence for problems in these breeds and vets have ways to help owners to care for them.  The important thing is to recognise the problems and not perpetuate them.  People buying cats can make a difference if they are aware of the issues and vote with their buying power and for cat welfare.”
BVA has been campaigning to curb the growing popularity of flat-faced breeds of dog, such as pugs and French bulldogs, for some time due the serious conformation-related health issues experienced by the breeds. They are keen to emphasise that health and welfare issues relating to extreme conformation are not limited to dogs or to brachycephaly. BVA launched its position on Brachycephalic dogs in January and will be launching its wider position on extreme conformation in animals later this summer.
BVA’s #BreedtoBreathe campaign provides sharable content, including infographics and videos, to counter ‘cute’ images and draw attention to the serious health issues experienced by brachycephalic animals.