Can domestic cats be mentally challenged?

Cat intelligence
Cat intelligence. Image: PoC based on images an image in the public domain.

Can domestic cats be mentally challenged or in ruder language ‘retarded’? I believe that in order to answer the question it might be useful to divide the domestic cat into two groups: the random bred cats i.e. moggies and the purebred, pedigree cats that you normally buy from a breeder.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome

There is a condition causing mental impairment called cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) which can, according to my research, be caused by inbreeding due to artificial selection aka selective breeding. It is also called feline cognitive impairment or cognitive decline. It is usually associated with elderly cats in the same way elderly people can suffer from cognitive decline (dementia) but some experts believe that inbreeding can also cause it.

RELATED: Infographic on 5 cat abilities reflecting intelligence

This is supported by CDS in humans due to consanguine marriage (marriage between individuals who are closely related). Children of parent-child or sibling with sibling mattings can suffer from lower intelligence quotient levels and higher incidence rates of being affected by an intellectual disability. There may also be physical defects due to the deleterious, mutated recessive genes which make their presence known when there is inbreeding. You see this in purebred cats with undershot jaws as a typical example.

Picture of an ugly cat
This is a picture of an ugly cat which is sad and no fault of the cat. The breed is the Exotic Shorthair. The breeding has gone wrong quite dramatically as the upper and lower jaws are misaligned badly. You can see tear duct overflow down the sides of the nose because the tear ducts are blocked once again due to the breeding. It would not surprise me if this cat suffered from mild CDS. The picture is in the public domain.

Moggies

Under normal circumstances you won’t find any individual random bred cats that are mentally challenged because by and large they procreate through natural selection to a large extent by which I mean breeders are not involved. Yes, there are occasional informal cat breeders but this is not selective breeding. Selective breeding means inbreeding to fix physical characteristics to match the breed standard.

No selective breeding for moggies helps these cats to retain good physical and mental health from genetic diversity.

Purebred cats

This is a reference to the cat breeds. All of them. They are all created through selective breeding which is inbreeding as mentioned. So, the conclusion is that, rarely, some purebred cats might suffer from CDS if the breeder has overdone selective breeding and bred her cats too ‘closely’ meaning too much inbreeding with a high coefficient of inbreeding (COI). Extreme breeding can also compromise health generally and shorten lifespan.

How can you tell if a cat is mentally challenged?

Well, I’d like to chip in here if I may. My late mother bought a couple of British Shorthair cats which to my mind were cognitively challenged as they were unresponsive, not really able to engage and showed a sluggish demeanour.

CDS can be manifested in confusion, decreased responsiveness, and decreased ability to recognize familiar people or surroundings.

Conclusion

Elderly cats – either moggie or pedigree – can be mentally challenged. Some younger pedigree cats can also (rarely) be mentally challenged if inbred to extreme in my view. I would also expect there to be some variation in intelligence among domestic cats. But the cats at the lower end of intelligence will be not be suffering from CDS. But they will probably be less responsive and engaging.

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Animal welfare laws don’t apply to the INBREEDING of purebred dogs and cats which causes harm

It seems to me that animal welfare laws which are usually under statute (an ‘act’) don’t apply to dog and cat breeders or any other breeders for that matter in respect of an important aspect of their work: inbreeding. But they should.

Perhaps I’ve got this wrong but I don’t recall any dog or cat breeder being prosecuted in the UK under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 because they inbreed their cats and dogs in such a way that they suffer unnecessarily in the future. Yes, breeders can be prosecuted for keeping animals under appalling conditions but that’s a different matter.

Inbreeding of purebred cats can cause unnecessary suffering during their lives
Inbreeding of purebred cats can cause unnecessary suffering during their lives. Image: MikeB

Example – Maine Coon

And that, I believe, is the weakness in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Take for example the Maine Coon cat. This cat suffers from some serious genetically inherited health conditions such as hip dysplasia, which is painful because bone rubs against bone. It is as if the cat has suffered a serious injury.

But they don’t suffer this injury because somebody has hit the living cat but because they’ve been inbred which ensures that the cat has mutated genes causing hip dysplasia. The breeders know with certainty that their breeding line produces kittens who’ll suffer from hip dysplasia. They can avoid it by removing the foundation cats that have the genetic mutation causing hip dysplasia.

Everything is in place for a Maine Coon cat breeder in the UK to be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 EXCEPT for the fact that they are not doing harm to a living Maine Coon cat. They are programming the cat, as mentioned, to suffer harm without any further human intervention in the future, during their lives. But the act applies to living creatures and not what someone did before the animal was born or when an embryo.

Except for that issue, a breeder could be prosecuted. This is because a person under this act commits an offence if they do something or fail to do something which causes an animal to suffer and that they knew or ought to have known that the failure to act or the act would cause the cat to suffer. The Maine Coon cat is a protected animal under this act. And the suffering that they experience is because of inbreeding which is unnecessary.

If I’m correct, and of course I believe that I am, this is a weakness in the act and in a better world, the government would do something about it.

What I’m saying in a roundabout way is that cat breeders have been producing unhealthy cats for far too long, for decades, and it is time it stopped. The same of course applies to many dog breeds.

Inbreeding is the big problem. They have to be inbred in order to ensure that their appearance meets the breed standard. The breeders have to fix the appearance and they can do this by breeding Maine Coon cat with Maine Coon cat. They can’t outcross to a non-purebred cat which would create genetic diversity and substantially help to clean up their breeding practices. But that’s a complete no-no under the Maine Coon cat breed standard.

So, we can say with some confidence that the cat associations in league with the cat breeders ‘programme’ a cat’s development so that they experience pain and suffering at some point in their lives and this certainly applies to hip dysplasia. Spinal muscular atrophy is not said to be painful as I understand it but it causes a weakness and a gait problem.

HCM causes breathlessness and weakness and I would say therefore distress which is suffering. I’m just making a point about the law and the fact that breeders circumvent it by chance really. It’s pure luck because if the Animal Welfare Act had been drafted differently, they could have easily included cat and dog breeders. There is no chance that they will be included by amending the act in the future. Not a dog’s chance in Hades.

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Coefficient of inbreeding (COI) in dogs and cats – a full discussion

At first glance this is a daunting and off-putting topic. However, we have Ben, the TikTok vet to ease us into the discussion 😎. He’s great and thanks Ben. He has a nice video of the COI of the most inbred pedigree dogs available in the UK. It is a very good start. This being a website mainly about cats, I wondered how cats compared to dogs on the COI scale. Of course, there is a pretty wide variation between breeds but in general the criticism of the cat and dog fancy (breeders, clubs and show organisers) is that their creations are too inbred.

Ben said: ‘To get a COI of 50 percent…you’d have to mate two full siblings together, for three generations in a row, to accumulate more inbreeding.’

COI - coefficient of inbreeding
COI – coefficient of inbreeding. Image by MikeB.

The inherent problem is that the cats and dogs have to be inbred to ‘fix’ their appearance as per the breed standards. It just depends on how inbred. The more inbred the higher the COI and the higher the COI the more unacceptable the breeding is and the greater the propensity for severe health problems euphemistically described by the umbrella term “inbreeding depression”. It is a balancing act.

RELATED: Over 370 genetic diseases affect dogs.

Ben’s explanation of COI and some seriously inbred dog breeds in his video

@ben.the.vet Researchers have identified JUST HOW inbred our dog breeds are – and you would be shocked #learnontiktok #dogsoftiktok #benthevet #doghealth #fypp ♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim

 

Note: this is an embedded video from TikTok. I can’t guarantee that it will work for a long time. If it is broken – sorry.

COI means

“[COI] calculates the probability that two copies of a gene variant have been inherited from an ancestor common to both the mother and the father.” – Kennel Club.

Observations on the video

I have found some useful input on acceptable levels of inbreeding – acceptable COIs – from the premier UK cat association, the GCCF. Here it is in a table. Use the slider below the spreadsheet to see the bit on the RHS.

The table is clear in its conclusions. The ideal is a COI below 10%. A “higher end” COI would be a 25% and anything around 40% is a result of breeding which “should not be undertaken”.

Towards the end of Ben’s video, he points out six dog breeds which are all over 40%. These are: the Airedale, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, English setter, Pug, Scottish terrier, Irish wolfhound

The average COI for dog breeds is 25%. That is the average and it is at the higher end of inbreeding. This is the same amount of inbreeding as two siblings i.e. a brother and sister mating and procreating. It is that close in terms of inbreeding. Something which you simply wouldn’t go near in human society as it is unacceptable. In the world of cats and dogs matings between siblings is apparently acceptable but at the higher end of COI.

It should be noted that sometimes wild cat species inbreed due to small populations living in fragmented habitats. But they are not as inbred as these dogs. The Florida Panther (puma) is an example of a wild cat species affected by inbreeding as they are cut off from the main population of pumas in the USA.

Balancing act

It seems to me that breeders have to find an acceptable balance between fixing the appearance to meet the breed standard while ensuring as best as possible that the breed is healthy. The truth is, though, that appearance is more important than health which is why the COIs are higher than they should be for dogs at an average, as stated, of 25%. Dogs as Ben mentions are also breed for function which is why purebred dogs have been around much longer than purebred cats.

The University of Montréal has a page on interpreting inbreeding coefficients. They state unequivocally that, “It is advised to maintain a coefficient of inbreeding that is below 10% which should allow a number of desired traits to be fixed without allowing the undesirable effects of inbreeding to become too pronounced.

And they go on to add that “incestuous crosses resulting in offspring with coefficients of inbreeding above 12.5% should not be performed”. Clearly, too many dog breeders are running unacceptable selective breeding programs.

What about cats?

Searching the Internet for specific COIs concerning individual cat breeds does not produce a result. Perhaps the cat fancy is hiding this data?

I have managed to find a study regarding inbreeding of cat populations in Poland. This may provide us with some sort of feel for the COIs of cat breeds in other countries. And the news is good from Poland because in an assessment of 26,725 cats from seven breeds based upon information provided by the Association of Purebred Cat Breeders in Poland indicates that “the average inbreeding coefficient [COI] exceeded 5% only for Siberian and Russian breeds”.

Interesting to note that British cats which I presume you mean the British Shorthair had COIs upwards of 38%. Although the lower and it was 0.1%.

With respect to Maine Coon cats in Poland, they concluded that there was poor record-keeping which made their task difficult. They came to the conclusion also that there was an average COI of over 11% for a group of 19 males and a COI of 7.8% for 21 females.

In their study there were 1786 Siberian cats. They found that there was zero inbreeding for 638 kittens with an average COI of 7.36%. The impression I get is that in Poland purebred cat selective breeding does not produce COIs which are in general unacceptable. They appear to be below 10% normally. This, according to the GCCF is acceptable.

In a study entitled: “Statistical analysis in support of maintaining a healthy traditional Siamese cat population” they found that the COI of Siamese cats was 12% (1998-99).

Springer (a science website) states that “The Russian breed had one of the highest proportion of inbred individuals (71.41%)”. It is unclear what this means as the breed is not stated and the percentage relates to the number of inbred cats but how inbred?

I really don’t have any more information on pedigree cat COIs. The information might be on the internet somewhere it is tucked away if it is an I can’t find it.

Conclusion

My tentative conclusion from his online research is that dogs are more inbred that cats. And some dog breeds are dangerously inbred and suffering from consequential serious health issues.

All cat breeds have some health issues related to inbreeding. It is part and parcel of the cat fancy. It just appears to be less concerning than for dogs. Dogs have been artificial bred for far longer than cats: around 20,000 years or more compared to less than 9,500 for cats when the wild cat was first domesticated and probably for no more than 4,000 years when ancient Egyptians were engaged in breeding for sacrifice.

Below are some more articles on inbreeding depression.

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