I don’t think you can generalize and say that cat breeds are less healthy than the rest of the cats. There is, though, a feeling that inbreeding, a part of creating cat breeds, leads to less healthy animals because inbreeding brings forward recessive genes associated with deleterious health issues. Breeders inbreed (selectively breed) to fix and enhance desirable traits relating to appearance, primarily. Although, I feel that more research needs to be done on cat breed health. Even the best book on the subject sometimes refers to semi-anecdotal evidence².
Note: In this article I am referring to cat breeds in the West (N.America, Europe). There are cat breeds in places like Turkey that are random-bred cats (e.g. Turkish Angora). They are more purebred than N.American purebred cats! I am not referring to these cats in this discussion.
An obvious health problem associated with some cat breeds is caused by the genetic mutation that gives the cat its signature appearance such as having no tail (Manx) or flat ears (Scottish Fold). Sometimes these mutations affect the cat in more ways than simply changing the appearance of the cat. In these cat breeds we can say with some certainty that they are less healthy than random bred cats or, at least potentially less healthy. I mention these breeds below. Obviously breeders of these cats do all they can to minimize the affects.
Another health problem exclusively associated with the cat breeds is breeding for an extreme, interesting appearance. We all know about the flat-faced contemporary Persian. When breeders alter the bone structure of cats substantially, it can affect how the cat’s anatomy functions. This human-created cat anatomy prevents certain natural body functions from functioning properly.
Some cat breeds are neither bred to extreme nor do they have interesting abnormalities in appearance. Examples are the Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest Cat and Chartreux to name just three. There are many others. These breeds have a head start on extreme or mutated cats in respect of health.
Another positive for cat breeds is that, as they are selectively bred, some breeders are more mindful of breeding for personality and health as well as appearance. Cats that are bred for a personality which is suited to domestic life, often indoors full-time, are liable to be more settled and relaxed. Stress can be a source of ill-health or compound existing factors causing ill-health. It has been found in the case of two breeds that were subject to a study – Persian and Siamese – that they were more likely to be better integrated into the human domestic scene at home. They were more predictable, playful and more affectionate. However, set against that, ironically, both these breeds (and associated breeds) have a list of known health issues that is longer than any of the other breeds.
As mentioned, genetic diseases are probably more prevalent amongst cat breeds as breeding allows recessive, defective, genes that would otherwise stay dormant to become effective and visible. Other than mentioned above, it is the probable greater prevalence of genetic diseases in the cat breeds that may allow us to state that cat breeds are less healthy than random bred cats.
If you want to see a full list of cat breed genetic diseases please click on this link (it is quite technical). It is an article I wrote years ago and which is still relevant. In this article I’d rather simplify and so below I set out the most outstanding examples only:
Rather than provide a lot of links, readers can search for these diseases on PoC by using the search facility at the top of this page, just above the title.
In answer to the question: are the cat breeds less healthy than random bred cats? – the answer is Yes in respect of some cat breeds. Therefore, overall, you could say that the cat breeds are less healthy.
Note: (2) Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects of Purebred Cats (Forum Publications Inc.)
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