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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Battering the Breed

For some not-so-little time we've been having thoughts about a popular mantra which gets repeated ad-nauseam in the cat fancy : it concerns the tendency of cat breeders to motivate their reasons behind taking up the hobby (?) of cat breeding, with the words "I want to better the breed". It generally seems to be uttered by people who appear to have little idea of the implications of the enterprise upon which they are embarking.

I raised this topic on a chat list some time ago, and needless to say, the readership sat there with a mouthful of teeth and said nothing - a behaviour from cat fanciers to which I have become accustomed. Anyway, this is the blog version.

It seems to me to be impossible to be able to say you are "bettering the breed", if you are doing the following things :
  • not defining clearly upfront why you are trying to breed cats, what you are setting in the way of goals and objectives, and how you plan to go about achieving these - and then measuring and reviewing the results. 
  • which brings me to the 2nd point - not bothering to check back with all your pet homes (show and non-show) to see how a particular line is developing throughout its lifetime. Without this - you don't know your lines. Plain and simple.
  • not bothering to learn every aspect of the physiology, temperament and pathology of the cat, in a fair amount of detail - enough to hold your own in a sensible discussion with a medical professional.
  • not studying proper feline husbandry texts before making a decision to become a cat breeder
  • taking on cats from many different breeders - the more the merrier it seems, and from anyone who wants to make some space in their own cattery from some new bloodstock
  • totally disregarding vet professionals words of caution about the risks of overcrowding, since this elevates chronic stress and cortisol levels, which impair the immune response
  • refusing to discuss "touchy subjects" like stress, disease, overcrowding and the inappropriate reward systems in the cat fancy, which pay no heed to encouraging the right practices amongst breeders, but instead reward ever greater numbers of cats
  • selling off your studs and queens to other breeders when you are done with them - often because they are not giving you good enough kittens. So instead you sell them to other breeders who (of course) will not be able to "better the breed" with them either.
  • not early neutering/spaying kittens before they leave for their new homes
  • renting out your stud to other breeders, thus ensuring he comes back to you with communicable diseases,  other foreign pathogens and different corona-virus strains
  • not bothering to institute a testing regime in your cattery for viral and other pathogen loads
  • not bothering to do proper genetic testing. All the protocols are available and if not locally, these can easily be sent to UC Davis for analysis.   
  • making idiotic statements like "I just love to see what will come out", and other inanities. This indicates the brain inside the head from which this type of comment issues forth, is an unused brain with little practice in thinking or mental acuity. It is not a brain which can render its owner a proper breeder. 
  • putting cats together willy-nilly without bothering to do proper pedigree analysis beforehand. This is called "cat producing" and 99% of the cat fancy do it. Granted, there are one or 2 real scientific professionals, but they are very few and far between, and I don't know any of them. 
  • not bothering to play any part in furthering scientific study of your chosen breed, through co-operative partnering of vet studies and research. This can be easily done but no breeders do it, because their cats and cattery are all "perfect". Nothing bad ever happens in their catteries.
  • not having autopsies performed when their (or their pet owners') cats die. "What I don't know, I don't have to act on - so I can say the cat died of whatever I like, and nobody can call me a liar" - this is the majority mentality, and it is the mentality of a troll living under a dark rock. No possibility of bettering anything with that denialist mindset. But it's a mindset that is prevalent throughout the cat fancy.
So therefore, if the above list is at all representative of the way many- or most- breeders in the cat fancy operate, there seems to be little chance that the many domestic cat breeds are being "bettered" in any meaningful way at all. The evidence overwhelmingly to the contrary, is that the unnatural paths that these breeds have taken - thanks to the cat show scene and the inane judges who have encouraged breeding to extremes of ill-conceived characteristics - have resulted in "battering" breeds rather than bettering them.

Consider this list of some of the genetic deformities and inbred defects in the breeds. Note that it is often precisely a deleterous gene mutation that has been leapt on with delight by the cat fancy, and proclaimed "a new breed" - like hairless cats for example, or the Scottish Fold.
  • brachycephalia in persian and exotic breeds (flat faces)
  • the lethal head gene in the American Burmese (also as a result of the show scene deciding to shorten the face)
  • the Scottish Fold - the gene causing the folding ears is a naturally occurring genetic aberration which is autosomal dominant and which when paired with a similar gene results in osteochondrodysplasia
  • Tailessness - autosomal dominant gene with incomplete penetrance. Lethal in utero if the result of a tailless-tailless breeding. Hasn't deterred Manx Breeders who now breed Manx but not from tailless  - pairings. The problem is the incomplete penetrance - you could be breeding to an affected cat without knowing it. 
  • Ongoing polycystic kidney disease in Persians, British Blues, Exotics, Himalayans, Scottish Folds and persian outcrosses. The tests exist to eliminate this condition. Are you bettering the breed by not terminating it in entirety? 
  • Blood group incompatibility - one of the causes of "fading kitten syndrome"  - the kittens blood type being attacked by the mother's antibodies. Typical in the case of type B queens birthing type A kittens. Did anyone do any blood typing on the adults before mating? Nope. But we're bettering the breed. 
  • HCM - Genetic tests do not cover all gene variants of HCM. Are breeders using the known tests and are prospective buyers warned before outlaying the cash, and told to continue screening for the lifetime of the cat?
  • Hip dysplasia in cats - often in Maine Coons. Do all breeders screen for this, and again, are buyers warned? 
Because of our love for our Persian cats, Brachycephalia is close to our hearts. Consider the following piece:

"The Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB) and International Society of Feline Medicine are calling on vets to speak out about the extremes of conformation in cats. In a recent paper in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS), Claudia Schlueter and colleagues use a variety of techniques to illustrate clearly and beautifully 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.

Says Andy Sparkes, editor of JFMS. ‘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.’

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. 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!

Australian 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 Andy Sparkes also added: ‘.....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’.

I loved the Blog About Cats : Criticising the CFA. I particularly enjoyed the observation  "The CFA breed standard for these cats is almost an act of criminal conspiracy to cause animal cruelty. I am a bit surprised that no none has considered prosecuting the esteemed Cat Fanciers' Association under animal welfare laws." 

Indeed! And the other registries worldwide too.

Here's 120 years of Persian cat development, egged on by the whims of the cat fancy show scene. It should be mandatory in law that every breed council in every cat or dog registry should have permanent standing membership of 2 to 3 scientific professionals with formal genetic and veterinary qualifications, to advise and provide guidance (and veto if necessary) in the case of any proposed change to the breed standards. Heaven knows - the cat fancy has displayed clearly by their lack of progress (and worsening of the breeds) that they cannot do it on their own.  

And as an excellent footnote to this posting, the erudite and well considered article by Fredric Cornell of Artyk Siberians. The issues apply identically to cats. See Your true interest in the Breed? 

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