Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) should revise breed standards as the Kennel Club has done for the French bulldog
The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) has been under pressure for decades to revise the breed standard i.e. the guidelines, for the flat-faced cat breeds namely the Exotic Shorthair, the Persian and the Himalayan. I hope that the pressure has been ramped up on the news that the Kennel Club has revised its guidelines for the breeding of the French bulldog because of concerns that they are being bred with faces so flat that they struggle to breathe. The pug is also a controversial dog breed for the same reasons.
It is a known fact that the cat breeds that I have mentioned have similar problems including tear duct overflow and in the case of the Persian a high prevalence of polycystic kidney disease (PKD). I’m more concerned in this post about the breeding practice of creating cats with unnaturally flat faces as is the case with the French bulldog to make the animals look cute in the eyes of humans, but with consequential health problems.
The French bulldog has been popularised by celebrity owners and social media. The Persian cat has been very popular for a very long time. It is less popular nowadays than earlier because of its health problems. Really, the world has moved on and become more enlightened since the Persian breed standard was drafted. The declining popularity of the breed should also put more pressure on the CFA to take steps to remedy what must, now, be perceived as a defect in the breed standard.
With respect to the French Bulldog, veterinarians in the UK have increasingly reported health problems because of their exaggerated features including flat faces. Clearly, flat faces are perceived as attractive to consumers. It helps to make the head more rounded and therefore more baby-like. It removes to a certain extent the natural canine features of a dog and the feline features of a cat, turning both dog and cat into a human baby.
The new guidelines at the Kennel Club, which oversees dog shows, now say that the French Bulldog should have a well-defined muzzle that can “be clearly viewed in profile” and that the nostrils should be “visibly” open.
The club’s health and welfare expert, Bill Lambert, has announced that French bulldogs which are not in compliance with this new breed standard will be unable to win at dog shows. This should force a change in selective breeding of this breed and it should lead to a reduction in the number of flat-faced French bulldogs because dog show champions tended to sire lots of puppies. If the champion has a genuine muzzle in profile, breeders will breed from that foundation animal and produce offspring with similar profiles.
Although there will still be some flat-based French bulldogs because some breeders will ignore the guidelines and still be able to register their puppies. Lambert said that the changes “aim to ensure it [the breed standard] cannot be misinterpreted and that dogs are bred with their health as the absolute priority.”
The Kennel Club has been trying to discourage the breeding of unhealthy dogs for some time. Some years ago, the BBC stopped filming Crufts, as I recall, which is the premier dog show in the world. This was because of unhealthily bred dogs winning competitions at the show.
The Times reports that last year Crufts issued new guidelines for judges instructing them to not award points for brachycephalic dogs i.e. dogs with round heads and flat faces.
Dr. Laura Hamilton, a veterinary surgeon and a health coordinator for French bulldog breed clubs, said: “It’s crucial that the public are aware of the breed’s complex health concerns and prioritise health over what they might consider looks cute.”
She would like adopters to fully research the breed before purchasing a dog from a breeder. Excellent advice. However, during the Covid pandemic, when there was a surge on adoptions of French bulldogs and dachshunds, a survey clearly indicated that people were unconcerned about the history and health of the dogs that they were adopting.
They were prioritising the appearance above every other consideration. It may be difficult to change the mindset of people who want to purchase purebred dogs but the move by the Kennel Club is most welcome and I hope that it puts pressure on the CFA to change their approach to breed standards which currently encourages unhealthy cats for the breeds mentioned.