The truth about 'designer' cats

Bonnie, a Munchkin rescued by The Gatehouse Veterinary Centre

At International Cat Care we are once again on the case of so-called 'designer' cats. There is a worrying trend for cats to be bred based on genetic defects to produce a particular 'look', (ie. have short legs such as the Munchkin breed, or no tail such as the Manx). Although these cats may look appealing to prospective cat owners, what they may not realise is that many of these cats are suffering, living a life of reduced mobility and pain, plus frequent trips to the vet to help manage their conditions. Most cat lovers would be appalled if they realised that these 'designer' cats are condemned to a life of suffering. 

The Munchkin (pictured right) – a short-legged cat – is the latest breed to have hit the headlines, in part due to celebrities such as Paris Hilton owning one. However, International Cat Care feels strongly that these cats should not be bred. The Munchkin is bred based on a genetic defect. People take a litter of kittens which has been born with such deformities and by perpetuating them create a man-made ‘breed’.

For some of these breeds, if two cats with the deformity (or ‘desired look’) are bred together, a proportion of kittens will get a ‘double dose’ of the gene which can be lethal, resulting in death of the kittens before they are born (which may be resorbed, mummified, aborted or stillborn). The kittens which do survive and have the deformity are likely to suffer long-term as a result. This appears to happen with the Munchkin, but also the Manx and Scottish Fold cats, two other breeds which International Cat Care has been outspoken about. Although there is a paucity of good scientific data on Munchkin cats, the knowledge that the genetic defect is potentially lethal, and the obvious deformity of the cats (which apart from deformed and shortened limbs has been reported to include abnormal curvature of the spine and flattening of the rib cage in some affected cats) suggests that many (if not all) of these cats are likely to suffer pain and/or compromised welfare. 

The Gatehouse Veterinary Centre in Wrexham, has first-hand experience of how difficult and painful life can be for Munchkin cats, having rescued two Munchkins in desperate need of a new home. The cats in question, Bonnie and Clyde, needed a home with no stairs or outdoor space, due to their lack of mobility and arthritis. Kelly Eyre, one of the veterinary centre’s nurses, who also has a background in cat welfare, recognised that they would be virtually impossible to rehome and provided them with a home at the veterinary centre.

Kelly said of the cats: ‘They are both on long term pain relief and have joint supplements. We have also just started them on supplements to improve their fur as Bonnie is struggling to maintain her coat condition now. They can have days where they appear grumpy and unsociable, and sometimes Clyde doesn't get out of his bed until the afternoon. That's when we know he's not feeling too good. It must be exhausting to be in chronic pain. If they didn't live with us at the practice, who knows what their lifestyle would be like elsewhere. Here we can monitor their pain, monitor their bloods where money isn't an issue and have professionals keeping a close eye on them.’ 

The Manx CatThe Manx breed, famous for coming from the Isle of Man, is tailless because of a genetic deformity which means that the tail and spine do not form properly. Cats can suffer from many issues resulting from a malformed spine including problems with constipation, rectal prolapse, a hopping gait caused by skeletal and nerve problems, and arthritis in the joints. Manx syndrome is actually used as a model for the human condition spina bifida – bizarrely, cats are thus being deliberately bred by people to create a tailless (or very short-tailed) look, but with the result that these cats are affected with spina bifida.

Scottish FoldAnother cat breed which is used as a model for a human disease (in this case a type of arthritis) is the Scottish Fold. This breed was created to have ears which fold over and which give it a ‘baby-like’ face which some people consider appealing. Unfortunately, the genetic abnormality involved affects not just the cartilage in the ears (causing them to fold forward), but the cartilage in the joints as well, and cats can suffer from crippling arthritis that can develop very early in life. See:

Recently the Kennel Club has reported a surge in the registration of brachycephalic dog breeds – those with flattened faces (eg, pugs, bulldogs, French bulldogs) which are known to suffer from a variety of health issues such as breathing, eye and skin problems. International Cat Care has recently highlighted the mounting evidence to prove that flat-faced cat breeds are also suffering. See:

Claire Bessant, Chief Executive of International Cat Care said: ‘Our position on breeding cats is that first no harm should be done. If there is even the smallest chance that having a particular ‘look’ causes problems, then we should simply not be accepting of the breed and all of us should be encouraging cat lovers everywhere to speak out against such breeding, and strongly urging people not to buy these cats. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the suffering which can accompany a certain look – most cat lovers would be appalled if they realised that their lovely cat was suffering. Cats are very good at hiding pain and can suffer in silence throughout their lives.’ 


An x-ray of Bonnie’s elbow joint (© The Gatehouse Veterinary Centre)



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