Do cat breed standards encourage the breeding of obese show cats?

It has been suggested that cat association breed standards might be encouraging breeders to select breeding cats with genetic traits that promote an overweight physique in order to meet the breed standard. There is a very interesting article on the Pet MD website (2015) which points to this possibility. I discuss that article below but before I do so I’d like to refer to a study dated 2014 which looked at the body condition score (BCS) of 268 cats of 22 different cat breeds. Overall, the scientists found that 45.5% of the show cats had a BCS greater than five and 4.5% of them had a BCS greater than seven. An average BCS is 4-5. This indicates that getting on for half the show cats were either mildly or greatly overweight in this study.

Persian cat
“Gino” or more formally: GC, NW Velvetkist Designer Genes, CFA’s Cat of the Year 2016-17. A Persian cat bred by Noralayn Heisig of Velvetkist Persians. A well-groomed cat ;). Picture in the public domain.
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That study is entitled: “Obesity and show cats” by RJ Corbee, and it is referred to in the pet MD website article. In their article they looked at the breed standards for various breeds as defined by the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA). The people who drafted these breed standards use words such as lithe, firm muscle tone, slender, fine boned, prominent cheekbones and medium frame when describing the physique of breeds such as the Abyssinian, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Oriental Shorthair, Siamese and Sphynx cat breeds. All of these breeds have a very average BCS indicating neither underweight or overweight. See chart below.

BCS scores for the more slender cat breeds
BCS scores for the more slender cat breeds. Image: PetMD.
Modern Siamese approx. 2010
Modern Siamese approx. 2010. Photo copyright Helmi Flick.

It is argued that the sort of language that the cat associations used to describe the more cobby and larger cats might encourage breeders to create overweight cats through selective breeding of cats which have a predisposition to becoming overweight. So, for example, if in a breed standard the cat association requires a larger cat to be “large, almost square” or have a “substantial bone structure” or a “broad chest” and be “large and imposing” with “robust power”, it is suggested that in order to meet these requirements cat breeders might breed overweight cats so that they looked larger and more robust.

Blue British Shorthair
Blue British Shorthair. Is this cat overweight? Photo: by spyzoo on 500px.
BCS scores for the more cobby and bigger cat breeds
BCS scores for the more cobby and bigger cat breeds. Image: PetMD.

The author of the Pet MD article suggests that the ACFA they might rethink their breed descriptions and standards. I’m sure that similar words are used in the CFA and TICA breed standards. I know them quite well and they are written in quite a general way which allows a certain amount of discretion to be used by both breeders and cat show judges. Discretion lends itself to elasticity in the interpretation of the breed standard which in turn opens the door to the possibility of breeding cats which are obese.

This might also normalise the way people view domestic cats. If the best-looking cats in the cat world, the purebreds, are slightly obese, it is plausible to think that what people expect as the norm for the non-purebred cats may be an obese cat as opposed to a genuinely well-balanced average-weight cat.

Of course, the motivation to breed purebred cats that might be obese may come from people i.e. the breeders, because they have normalised the overweight cat and regard overweight cats as a normal weight. This is because they themselves have altered their mentality and normalised the weight of obese people.

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