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

07 August 2018

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

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.

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

“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.