General Principles of Responsible Breeding

Some general principles of responsible cat breeding are nicely set out in a couple of European documents. These are the “European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals” of 13 November 1987 and the “Resolution on the Breeding of Pet Animals” of 1995. The latter deals with guidelines for the revision of breeding policies.

Manx cat
Manx cat – one the cat breeds singled out by the Council of Europe as a breed that should not exist because if inherent health issues.
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See the full texts of the first document:

Considering general principles of animal welfare, below are some basic rules on responsible breeding as set out in the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals of 13 November 1987:

  • To breed animals that are in good health and capable of expressing the behaviour associated with each breed,
  • To avoid passing on inherited defects through selective breeding and thereby avoid unnecessary pain, suffering and damage to the animals,
  • To avoid causing unnecessary pain, suffering and damage to the animals as a result of special housing conditions,
  • When breeding to avoid “considerable deviations in morphology, in physiology and behaviour” of the type of breed concerned compared to other breed types of the same species and to avoid “the impairment of basic functions of the organs, of parts of the body and behaviour”,
  • With repect to each breed, to avoid inherited diseases and increased mortality through increased stillbirths and lethal factors compared to other breeds of the same species and especially to avoid inbreeding,
  • With respect to breeding cats (i.e. queens and studs), “to assure the possibility of species-specific reproduction, including normal mating behaviour, normal parturition, and normal rearing of the offspring,
  • To make sure that the locomotion (i.e the ability to move properly) including jumping and climbing of the animals are normal for the species e.g. by avoiding breeding of cats with short legs, namely, dwarf cats,
  • To avoid anatomical anomalies of the mouth and teeth which prohibited normal eating behaviour,
  • To avoid the requirement that a particular breed has to live under certain conditions resulting in an impairment of behaviour. This refers to cats like the Sphynx which is a hairless cat and which needs to be kept indoors because there are difficulties in regulating body temperature
  • “To respect the biological limits of adaptation of the animals to the effects of breeding”. I understand this to mean that breeders should respect the adaptability of cats not to do anything with respect to selective breeding which impairs that adaptability.

Note: I have written this in my words but often using the language of the original text as reproduced in the book The Welfare of Cats as it is quite technical.

With respect to guidelines for the revision of breeding policies, the Resolution of the Breeding of Pet Animals of 10 March 1995, this document provides recommendations for the application and interpretation of the general rules in article 5 of the Convention. It includes detailed descriptions of extreme breed types of dogs and cats, with examples of various breeds, and it asks and encourages breeding associations, including breeders, judges and others, to reconsider breeding standards. It refers to many dog breeds which are bred with inherited anatomical defects. It also refers to cats such as the Manx which it says has “movement disorder, disposition to vertebral column defects, difficulties and elimination of urine and faeces, semi-lethal factor”. Also refers to “cats carrying dominant white gene which predisposes cats the deafness.”

P.S. the document: Resolution on the breeding of pet animals (adopted on 10 March 1995) is no longer available on Council of Europe website.

Comment: in simplistic terms these documents try to encourage cat and dog breeders (I have focused on cats) to breed healthy animals with normal anatomies. The trouble is that many cat breeds are based on abnormal anatomies which can cause health issues while others such as the flat-faced Persian was a normal cat but is selectively bred to look abnormal as is the modern rat-faced Siamese.

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