Flat-Faced Cats: Cute Or Unhealthy?
The Persian cat has a striking face, including a button nose, a flattened muzzle, and a broad, round head. Cats with this type of “flat-faced” appearance have gained popularity in recent years, leading to extreme breeding practices that can cause medical problems for the cats involved.
The problems associated with flat-faced (a.k.a. “brachycephalic”) dogs have been studied in previous research. However, less is known about flat-faced cats and how their guardians perceive them. Researchers at the University of Milan sent an online questionnaire to 278 flat-faced cat guardians and 250 non-flat-faced cat guardians, most of whom were women. They wanted to compare the human-animal bond and the reasons participants acquired their animals, as well as the perceived medical issues and suffering associated with having a flat-faced appearance.
An important issue with flat-faced cats is their shortened muzzle, which can constrict the nasal cavity and cause issues with the cat’s airways, eyes, teeth, or brain. Respondents may have been aware of this, as 75% believed brachycephalic breeds have more health problems than non-brachycephalic breeds. However, almost 70% of non-flat-faced cat guardians believed brachycephalic cats suffer more than other cats compared to only 55% of flat-faced cat guardians.
Though flat-faced cat guardians were less likely to believe their cats may suffer from breed-related issues, they reported high frequencies of certain health problems. For example, approximately 16% reported issues around mealtime like vomiting, difficulty breathing, and regurgitation. 41% reported snoring, and 69% reported excessive tearing in the eyes. In addition, around 18% responded that their cats experience distress due to the heat. The authors argue that all of these issues could be caused by breed-related diseases. However, 50% of flat-faced cat guardians believed their cat’s health was excellent.
Even with perceived excellent health, guardians of flat-faced cats reportedly visited the veterinarian more often than other guardians. In general, brachycephalic cat guardians also reported a significantly higher perceived financial, social, and emotional cost of care for their cats.
Despite what appear to be difficulties associated with flat-faced cats, their guardians mostly claimed the costs of guardianship met their expectations. They also reported higher emotional closeness and more interactions with their cats compared to non-brachycephalic cat guardians. However, separation anxiety-related behavior among flat-faced cats was higher. In addition, non-flat-faced cat guardians reported higher playfulness and more affection/attention seeking.
The results suggest that the main motivations for acquiring a flat-faced cat include their perceived character (e.g., that they’re friendly and affectionate) and their overall appearance. However, given the link between their appearance and severe health issues, it’s important for animal advocates to inform people about the long-term health and welfare concerns of acquiring a cat simply because it looks cute or funny.
The researchers also suggest that brachycephalic cat guardians may be experiencing cognitive dissonance. In other words, despite reporting frequent health problems and veterinarian visits, these guardians still insist that their cats experience excellent health. To combat this dissonance, advocates can facilitate an open dialogue for guardians to discuss their opinions and feelings without judgment. In such a space, they may be more open to learning about the ethical problems associated with buying brachycephalic animals and the importance of adopting cats from shelters and rescues.