Brachycephalic cats

Brachycephalic is a term you may have heard of before. Dogs with flat faces such as pugs and French bulldogs are examples of brachycephalic breeds, and the health issues associated with these breeds are widely known. However, did you know that there are examples of brachycephalic cats, and that these breeds are on the rise? Breeds such as Persian cats and exotic shorthairs are considered brachycephalic cat breeds but they are a result of “human interference”. No cat breed is truly brachycephalic but due to a breeders desire to sell unique looking breeds, they have been overbred and their appearance has been modified over the years.

This leads us to the elephant in the room. Are these brachycephalic cat breeds healthy? Should these breeds be the face of so many cat adverts? And should media be forced to follow the rules surrounding advertising brachycephalic dogs?

International Cat Care (iCatCare) is partnering with European vet bodies to push brands to ban use of brachycephalic cats in their advertising to raise awareness of extreme conformation in cats so images of them are not used for advertising.

Veterinary professionals have seen an increase in the popularity of pedigree breeds with extreme body shapes and features, including flat faces or folded ears, with many owners unaware of the health issues. Numbers of owned cats with health issues has grown because of growing popularity among some celebrities and social media influencers who post pictures with these “expensive and rare” cat breeds. This creates a wave of demand for a similar looking pet, and this creates a wave of overbreeding and adding further issues.

A flat-faced Exotic Shorthair compared to a Domestic Shorthair

What are the health issues surrounding brachycephalic cat breeds?

This selective breeding has been highly detrimental to the health of the cats. Many different problems have been identified that have arisen directly from this selective breeding. These include:

  • Large protruding eyes with reduced ability to close the eyelids resulting in increased exposure of the cornea:  This contributes to exposure keratitis and probably contributes to corneal sequestrum development (to which Persians are predisposed).
  • Persistent epiphora (ocular discharge) – this occurs because the tear ducts which would normally drain tears into the nose (tears are constantly produced to help protect the eye) have become so deformed with the change of facial shape that it is impossible for tears to drain properly.
  • Dental disease – the abnormalities of the skull mean that not only is the nose extremely short, the jaws and teeth are affected as well. The teeth no longer align properly in short-nosed Persian cats so they cannot bite and chew properly, predisposing to dental disease
    Studies have shown that the degree of brachycephalic is also related to small pelvis size in Persian cats which will contribute to dystocia (difficulty giving birth).
  • Severe brachycephalic also causes excessive skin folds on the face – this may predispose to bacterial or fungal skin infections, and may also contribute to the development of idiopathic facial dermatitis in Persians (see Feline acne and stud tail)
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome – this is where affected cats have difficulty breathing due to a very narrow external opening of the nose (stenotic nares), narrow nasal passages or nasopharynx, and/or due to a relatively long soft palate – in some cases the breathing difficulties can be severe.

All of these consequences from breeding cats with marked brachycephalic are clearly very detrimental to the health and welfare of the cat.

We are a cat friendly practice with over 25 years of service to the Tyne Valley, Northumberland and North-East of England. Our experienced veterinary team are here to help. If you are looking at rescuing or purchasing a cat and would like to have a chat about the specific breed, or to discuss what you need to know for welcoming a cat into your life, book an appointment with us today.