For me there is a welcome backlash from some outspoken veterinarians with social media accounts and cat owners against the flat-faced companion animals – both cats and dogs – molded over decades of selective breeding to look like human babies in the expectation that they’ll be more attractive to buyers.
The flat-faced pet syndrome or phenomenon began in the mid 20th century with the Persian cat and extended, more recently to the French bulldog, the world’s most unhealthy dog with the shortest lifespan of 7 years! All in the name of feeding the human desire to own a companion animal baby substitute.
The Pope has criticised Italians for preferring to adopt a pet to having babies and Italy, particularly Sardinia, is suffering a crisis of diminishing human population which harms their economy. They are not the only country with this probles. China comes to mind. The UK is the same with respect to the indigenous population. Having kids is too expensive but ironically having a flat-faced pet is also too expensive!
The flat-faced pet phenomenon is the commercialisation of animals to an extreme. These are brachycephalic heads on cobby bodies to use more technical terminology. This means round heads to look like babies on rounded, compact bodies, to also look like babies.
The idea is to tweak the maternal and paternal instincts of the human purchaser to buy one of these unhealth animals. The main target is the female of the human species as their maternal drive is very powerful.
There are two competing forces: the attractive appearance of the cat or dog – Persian or French bulldog as classic examples – against the troublesome health aspects which the owner learns about in time and tires off eventually which is why the RSPCA in the UK has experienced a 92 per cent increase in Persian cat abandonment to their facilities between 2018 and 2022 according to the news media.
Ben the Vet on TikTok is refreshingly outspoken in the topic. He is a successful TikToker where he likes to pass on his knowledge and experience in treating cats and dogs at his clinic; an excellent source of first-hand information. He provides newbies with vital information. The well-known UK vet/author Dr Bruce Fogle also bravely sticks his head over the parapet and criticises these brachycephalic cat and dog breeds.
It is the newcomers to the pet owning scene who fall foul of the immediate visual attractiveness of these flat-faced wonders but who gradually realise that their health problems overwhelm them. There is the cost of pet insurance which is a must have for these pets, which is expensive nowadays particularly in rip-off Britain.
UK vets are being investigated by the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) for price inflation and lack of competition as the independents are being bought up by corporate enterprises. This has impacted Persian cat and French bulldog ownership as the cost of treating their inherited health problems become prohibitive. Reality eventually overcomes physical attraction.
Ultimately cat and dog breeders are in business. They need to sell their animals which means that they have to be attractive to punters. But what they have done is create pets in the Frenchie and Persian that are like cheap Christmas toys that break after a few months. They look good (to the majority of people but not me) but inside the mechanism is not made to last. They are cheaply built.
The worst of it is that breeders of these extreme-bred pets are engaged in a subtle form of animal cruelty. This is a point that is rarely made. When breeders alter the natural anatomy of dogs and cats this much and distort the cranium to extreme lengths, they animals’ anatomy can no longer function properly: they can’t breathe properly as one example of the health problems. It is cruel to create a pet that can’t breathe properly as it restricts their activities. They can’t enjoy life to the full as a normal mongrel dog or moggie cat can.
It is slightly disturbing that the pet buying public have quietly accepted this and brushed the health complications under the carpet. When it comes to selling pets, appearance is all. The first obligation of the pet breeder is to make their creations attractive. Health issues follow a distant third after personality.
It is a gradual learning curve for the pet buyers. They are learning thanks to people like me who hammer home the point that the most important aspect of a pet is their health (first) and character (second). Appearance comes third in the selection criteria list.
There will be a gradual backlash against the Frenchie. The flat-faced Persian has been successful for a long time but it is coming to an end as other breeds are pushing it down the popularity rankings such as the Maine Coon.
The driving force is expense. Nowadays, post-Covid and with high inflation thanks to Covid and the Ukraine war and an impending new world war (perhaps) reality is clicking in. The return to a more sensible pet is happening.
However, it seems that the celebrities who inadvertently promote unhealthy breeds – Taylor Swift with her Scottish Fold and Cara Delevingne with her two flat-faced Persians – are behind the curve. They need to take responsibility and realise that they have an obligation to promote high standards in animal welfare as they are role models.
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