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First Do No Harm

International Cat Care understands that some people wish to own or breed pedigree cats – to be able to choose a cat with a certain look and perhaps certain behavioural characteristics. Unlike dogs, where breeds were initially developed for certain working roles (guarding, shepherding, hunting etc), the role of cats was only ever rodent control or companionship.  Most cats worldwide are a result of random breeding based on survival of the fittest – the result is an animal which is remarkably consistent in its size and shape and in its abilities.  It is robust, agile and self-reliant. It can survive alone or live happily with people depending on its experiences, genetics and opportunities.

It seems to be human nature to try and adapt and change animals – to create new coat colour, length, texture and pattern, as well as alter the body shape and size to suit particular preferences. International Cat Care generally has no problem with making these changes or in using friendlier cats to breed and produce cats which find it easier to live alongside people. However, we believe this should only be undertaken – provided that NO HARM IS DONE, that the new cat is not less healthy than the ‘original’ and its welfare is not compromised. Pedigree is not better than non-pedigree (moggie), it is just different (and unfortunately in a number of cases has resulted in avoidable harm).

If, however, there is even a small chance that the changes, (often caused by a genetic mutation) compromise health or welfare, then questions should be asked and cat lovers should demand that the new ‘breed’ is not proliferated. These changes can be direct – ie, breeding aimed at changing conformation (head shape, leg length, tail length etc.) or altering coat specification (no coat, rex coat, long coat etc.). However, because of the small gene pools being used for breeding to a certain breed standard, various other inherited problems may also occur and spread, for example, polycystic kidney disease or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Both direct changes and changes which arise accidentally need to be considered in the continued health and welfare of a particular set of cats which constitute a ‘breed’.

There is a further issue of crossing some of the wild cat species with the domestic cat to produce hybrids. International Cat Care does not agree with this practice as there are concerns for the welfare of the domestic cats used in the matings; concern for the welfare of the wild cats and the F1 crosses, which must be kept in captivity (with a licence), and concern for both the new owners and the hybrid cats themselves because of uncertainty of behavior and needs of the hybrid cats.

Breeders of pedigree cats must accept responsibility for the production of cats with certain characteristics; purchasers of cats must realise that they create a demand which will then be fulfilled – both must put the welfare of cats before the rewards of money or creating or owning something new or different. First do no harm.

If, despite the best intentions of good breeders and owners, a problem becomes apparent within the breed where it was not evident initially, the custodians of that breed should make any changes necessary to bring it back to health, including changing the breed standard or introducing new lines of cats (with appropriate advice), without delay.

International Cat Care has a list of breeds, some old, some new and some emerging. The list deals mainly with information on health and welfare, including an International Cat Care comment where the charity feels the health and welfare of cats is compromised and ‘looks’ or novelty are being considered over all else. Many people are not aware of the issues and their choice may not be well informed. First and foremost, do no harm.

See our advice on cat breeds

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