In FAB's Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery in November there is a superb paper written by Claudia Schlueter and her colleagues from the veterinary universities of Leipzig and Vienna. The researchers have not discovered a new disease or a new treatment. However, what they have done is given us the scientific evidence behind something which most people wouldn't think too much about and a problem which is accepted by many as just a 'characteristic' of a certain pedigree breed, especially the more extreme forms of it.
Cat encyclopedias are full of advice on what breed to choose and what to look for. When it come to Persians, potential owners are warned about the long and dense coat and how much work it needs (primarily because the coat is too dense for any cat to get to grips with) and how (because the face has been flattened severely) the eyes need to be wiped regularly because the tears overflow and stain the fur. This is standard advice and nobody has questioned it.
We all know that if a cat gets something on its coat, only a millisecond or two passes before it is groomed off and the hair placed so that it lies properly – that is one of the joys of a creature with so many touch receptors on its skin that it knows where every hair should lie and when one is out of position. It is driven to keep itself in immaculate condition – so driven that it will even groom off something poisonous. So imagine being a cat that has to cope, not only with an impossible coat, but with a continuous stream of tears down the face – it must be so frustrating that you give up or go mad! So why do the eyes overflow and why do we accept this as something normal for any cat?
The authors of this paper have used some very modern techniques and produced amazing images. Because of the changes we have made to the skull of the Persian and Exotic breeds to produce the very flat face, the anatomy of the skull is distorted very considerably. In these very flat faced cats the distortion of the skull means that the tear duct has to under take a hugely tortuous route. The tears do not drain away as they should and spill over the face.
Have a look at the pictures – they tell the whole story. But the question must really be – how have we let this happen? How can breeders who call themselves cat lovers produce something so deformed? We see it in our dogs but we are also doing this to cats. The editorial in the JFMS is written by Richard Malik, a very well known feline vet from Australia with a special interest in feline inherited problems – some of his editorial is quoted below:
‘The basic design of the domestic cat is fundamentally sound. Why mess with it? As da Vinci said – 'the smallest cat is a masterpiece'. It's a design that evolved through functionality. Cats needed 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 branchycephalic cats are a bastardisation of all 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 a tendency to exposure keratitis and growth of corneal sequestra. The tear film just can't stretch that far! Their teeth erupt at such bizarre angles that they cannot masticate properly; the resulting propensity for food to accumulate between the teeth leads to accelerated plaque formation and periodontal disease. Stenotic nares and a soft palate too long for the length of the head cause upper airway obstruction, stridulous breathing and possible obstructive sleep apnoea. Their brain is crammed into the wrong-sized cranial vault, so conceivably we may soon be seeing syringomyelia, just like in Cavalier King Charles spaniels. They have a longer coat but are not as efficient at grooming as a normal cat and there are all sorts of adverse gastrointestinal sequalae that result from excessive ingestion of hair. We have to change the breed standards. Now. Not next year.'
We can only agree with him. As cat lovers all of us should speak out about these extremes. They are not acceptable and moderating them slightly is not the answer. It is not the breed or the line which is important – it is the cat inside.
To read the article in its entirety click here...
Brachycephalic – having a head disproportionately short
Nasolacrimal – belonging to the nose and lacrimal apparatus (tear producing)
Exposure keratitis – inflammation of the cornea (the protective outer layer of the eye) because the cornea cannot be covered by the lids. The surface dries and cracks leaving the way open for bacteria to enter.
Stenotic nares – constriction of the nostrils
Stridulous breathing – noisy breathing associated with partial obstruction of the larynx or trachea
Sleep apnoea – Cessation of breathing, unable to draw breath when asleep
Syringomyelia – spinal abnormality resulting in obstruction of flow of cerebrospinal fluid