Dr Desmond Morris calls them “abnormal breeds”. I had never heard the term before. He is referring to cat breeds born out of a genetic mutation which only has a minor disadvantage to the cat. These breeds are controversial. Some cat associations accept them while others don’t. They are on the borderline between acceptance and rejection.
Dr Morris refers to some well-known cat breeds which he would describe as abnormal. They include the Scottish Fold, the Sphynx, the Ragdoll, the flat-faced modern Persian cat which Dr Morris refers to as the American Peke-faced Cat and the Munchkin.
The modern flat-faced Persian goes back to the 1930s and the other 3 breeds were discovered in the 1960s. They were quickly established by American breeders and at that time there was an active desire to create new breeds. The 1950s was a time when many new breeds were created. It is quite rare to be able to create a breed based upon a distinguishing anatomical defect. Cat breeders tend to get hold of those things and create breeds from them.
On the other hand, critics would say that breeders were blind to the fact that they were creating freaky cats. There is quite definitely a polarization of views regarding creation of cat breeds from genetic mutations which create, if we are honest, a deficiency in the cat.
With respect to the Scottish Fold the ears are partly folded downwards and forwards. Opponents of this breed say that the cat might suffer from ear mites or deafness. Supporters say that there is no evidence of this and from my personal viewpoint I think the argument as stated is poor. Although breeders must always mate Scottish Folds with normal short haired cats and not with another Scottish Fold because if they do it may lead to skeletal abnormalities in the offspring.
However, from the cat’s point of view the Scottish Fold does have a disadvantage because he or she is unable to communicate the usual ‘mood signals’ that a cat makes with his ears. I am referring to times when a cat flattens his ears in preparation for fighting. With flattened ears permanently displayed the Scottish Fold is sending an inaccurate signal. Dr Morris says that this false signal does not cause a problem because ‘the folding of the ears brings them forward and this places them in a posture that is not part of the usual ear lowering signal’. Normally the flattening of the ears is accompanied by a twisting round to the rear which looks different. In short the Scottish Fold has a unique “squashed ear”. It seems likely that other cats recognize the difference and therefore there is no reason, Dr Morris argues, why the breed should not take his place amongst other pedigree cats.
As for the Sphynx, this is a well-known “naked” cat and opponents of this breed have quite naturally pointed out that the cat could suffer considerably in cold weather unless they are protected. Supporters would argue that owners of this cat breed will obviously take care and as I understand it most if not all Sphynxs are full-time indoor cats. Other than the lack of fur, the Sphynx is a normal cat with a great personality. Some critics would describe the Sphynx as ugly but aficionados love their appearance. They are very athletic from my experience.
The Ragdoll is described as abnormal by Dr Morris because of its reputed lack of sensitivity to pain and the ability to go limp when held. This exposes the cat to being hurt particular by children who might think that they are handling a toy rather than a living animal. Supporters of this cat breed would simply say that this is a relaxed cat. They do feel pain, obviously, and they are ideal for full-time indoor living which is becoming more and more important. There is considerable pressure on cat owners to keep their cats indoors full-time because of the increased awareness of the environment and predation on wildlife. In addition, there is more urbanization and therefore a need to keep cats indoors full-time to avoid being hit by traffic.
As for the flat-faced, modern Persian this is a different matter as far as I’m concerned and Dr Morris has the same viewpoint. It is known that this breed can suffer from difficulties with eyes, teeth and breathing. The squashed face causes tear duct overflow and breathing problems. Sometimes you see overshot or undershot jaws because of bad inbreeding. There is a high level of polycystic kidney disease in Persian cats as well.
These deficiencies are hidden by the fact that this is a very popular cat breed. The breed has survived and become popular because of its baby-like appearance but I would argue that as people become more educated about the health of cat breeds due primarily to the availability of information on the Internet, potential cat adopters have turned away from the extreme appearance of the modern flat-faced Persian cat.
As for the Munchkin, this is a dwarf cat with short legs and a normal-sized body. Once again this breed has many strong opponents. Supporters of the breed say that they are ideally suited to a life indoors. This cat may suffer from inherited health defects associated with dwarfism.
The dwarf cats have struggled to achieve recognition. In general it would seem that the cat associations have rejected dwarf cats of which there are many types. The Scottish Fold is popular with celebrities because of the unusual appearance which has no doubt promoted the breed.
Dr Morris argues that of all thebreeds referred to in this article only one is arguably unacceptable because nothing simple can be done to get around the deficiencies. So for example Sphynx owners can get around the nakedness of the cat by ensuring that he is kept indoors and kept warm. However, the modern Persian is “doomed to difficulties” in the words of Dr Morris. No matter how much attention and love you lavish upon this cat there will always be a danger that his respiration will suffer he says. The answer is to create Persian cats with slightly less flattening of the face. This should remove some of the inherent deficiencies in health.
There are other “abnormal” breeds which are not referred to here one of which is the Manx – a long established breed which is as abnormal as any of them with an “abbreviated backbone” (no tail or stumpy tail). This cat can suffer from severe health issues relating to cartilage growth linked to the abnormal appearance.
Of all the abnormal cat breeds, the most popular by far is the Persian. The cat associations and breeder have convinced the public that they are beautiful and that they are justified in shortening the muzzle to the point where it creates health problems. For decades the Persian was the most popular cat of the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), but the tide is turning.
Websites like mine have changed the opinion of many who people want to adopt a purebred cat. I am against creating cat breeds that are inherently unhealthy through selective breeding. It can’t be right and in fact the cat associations agree with me. For example, the CFA has a policy which states that you can’t breed unhealthy in cats. And yet they have supported the breeding of the unhealthy Persian which surprises me. The administrators of this cat association are consciously and deliberately going against the policy that they have written, and the policy is common sense.
And what is disappointing is that the same sorts of problems have occurred among pedigree dogs. Over the Covid pandemic, the most popular dog to be adopted was the French bulldog and lots of them were adopted because people dived in to buying a companion during those lengthy periods of isolation. They soon realised that they had adopted a dog with breathing problems because the muzzle is unnaturally foreshortened. The problem that the French bulldog suffers from in terms of breathing is exactly the same as that suffered by the Persian. And yet, the Kennel Club allows it to happen in exactly the same vein as the cat associations.
This must be highly disappointing to millions of people including people like me who are more concerned about animal welfare than creating “products” which apparently appeal to the populace.
Source: Myself and Dr Morris ‘Cat World – a Feline Encyclopedia.