The Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB) and European Society of Feline Medicine are calling on vets to speak out about the extremes of conformation in cats.

The Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB) and European Society of Feline Medicine are calling on vets to speak out about the extremes of conformation in cats.

Brachycepalic cats facesIn a recent paper in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS), Claudia Schlueter and colleagues use a variety of techniques to illustrate how distorted the cranial skull anatomy has become in extreme brachycephalic cats such as Persians and exotics. Looking at several different degrees of brachycephalia they also show how the tear ducts have a diabolically tortuous path, and most tears do not drain into the nasal cavity at all.

Fortunately, to a large degree, pedigree cat breeding has not seen such a plethora of damaging extremes as exists among dog breeds. However, for anyone genuinely concerned for the true health and welfare of cats it is impossible to ignore this situation, claims FAB.

According to the organisation, it is time to take a firm stand against breeding of extreme types (not just Persians) where the health and welfare of the cat is compromised.

A spokesman said: “The extreme flat-faced Persians are a great example of how we have got things terribly wrong – let us do something now to change this and to breed cats in an ethical way that genuinely has their welfare as our first priority.”

Andy Sparkes, editor of JFMS, said: “As a scientific profession we rely heavily on published evidence to determine the best course of action. However, sometimes common sense should tell us this is not the way to go, and what should have been intuitive has been highlighted as a truly grotesque problem by this study. While brachycephalia is not a ‘new problem’ the recent study has highlighted to what an appalling extent we have deformed the faces and skulls of these ‘extreme type’ Persian cats. It should not really have taken a study of this nature to make us all wake up to this problem, but when you see so clearly just how much damage we have done to these cats by distorting the normal facial anatomy, the magnitude of the problem simply cannot be ignored.”

FAB will be working with vets, breeders and pedigree registration bodies to push for serious change in the breed standards for these cats and the way in which they are judged at shows. More information is also hugely valuable. Veterinary surgeons in practice are invited to send comments, or brief case details of any conformational disorders of Persians needing surgical or medical treatment they encounter, to the chief executive of FAB, Claire Bessant, on
Brachycephalic cats skullsAustralian feline specialist Dr Richard Malik writes in an editorial for JFMS: “The basic design of the domestic cat is fundamentally sound. Why mess with it? It’s a design that evolved through functionality. Cats need to hunt, kill prey, in turn avoid being killed by predators, reproduce and lead a vigorous athletic life. The result is a fit, elegant, lithe animal that should, if fed and housed properly, have few health issues and live a long life.

“In contrast, severely brachycephalic cats are a bastardisation of all the things that make cats special. They have a nasolacrimal system that doesn’t work properly, so tears stream down the front of their face causing staining and secondary dermatitis. It doesn’t help that they often have excessive folds of skin that rub against the cornea. Their orbit is shallow, leading to exophthalmos, the tendency to exposure keratitis and growth of corneal sequestra. Their teeth erupt at such bizarre angles that they cannot masticate properly. But it doesn’t stop there. Stenotic nares, stenotic nasal cavities and a soft palate that is way too long for the length of the head cause upper airway obstruction, stridulous breathing and possibly obstructive sleep apnoea. The brain is crammed into the wrong-sized cranial vault, so conceivably we may soon be seeing Budd Chiari-like malformations and syringomyelia, just like in cavalier King Charles spaniels.
“There is more than enough diversity in coat colour, coat length, size and personality in domestic moggies and sound pedigree breeds.  There is no need whatsoever to perpetuate the breeding of bizarre mutant cats that could not exist without veterinary interventions. We don’t want to go down the path of the canine world.”
Dr Sparkes concluded: “As editor of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery I am delighted that we have been able to publish this valuable paper and I am grateful to the authors for the care in which they undertook the study. Let us hope that their hard work will not be in vain, and that we will see serious changes to breed standards as a result of this. We need to do it now, not next year.”
For further information, visit or read the full JFMS article, Persians: time to put things right?.


Images courtesy of JFMS ‘Clinical practice’, Schlueter et al 2009, JFMS 11, 891-900
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