Thursday 18 September 2008

Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding

Is Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding going to be put under the microscope by the BBC? The fairly recent BBC documentary called, "Pedigree Dogs Exposed" has prompted the R.S.P.C.A. to abandon the Kennel Clubs famous dog show Crufts. The reason is because it is alleged that the Kennel Club allow (and perhaps even promote) breeding practices that over emphasis appearance at the expense of health and character. As much as 10% of purebred dogs apparently have health problems that detrimentally affect their lives. The figure is probably higher as the 10% comes from the Kennel Club who it is alleged have massaged the figures. However even at 10% that amounts to a lot of unhappy, unhealthy dogs bred with the blessing of the premier dog club. That is obviously wrong.

The appearance of a dog is enhanced in terms of the breed standard by inbreeding. Inbreeding is commonplace in pedigree dogs and cats. A senior person at the Kennel club was criticized for saying that it was OK for parent cats to mate with their offspring. Breeding back to the mother is not uncommon in the cat fancy.

Inbreeding carries dangers for health. This is because hidden recessive genes that can cause illhealth can become active. That after all is why there are laws governing sex among humans who are related and marriage to relatives. The Kennel Club are not backing down and seem to carrying on in their own sweet way.

This story has prompted me to ask whether the BBC will do a program about purebred pedigree cat breeding and if so what the findings will be. Will they be as unsettling as for dogs? Is the GCCF, the major UK cat association, concerned about this and do they have skeletons in the closet?

tear duct overflow in a Persian cat
Tear duct overflow in a Persian cat - photo copyright Stockxpert.

My research indicates that the problem of inbreeding may not be as severe in Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding as in the purebred dog's world. Yet it does happen and I hope I gently raise an objection. For example, I prefer the traditional cats to the contemporary cats (for health reasons primarily and because they are simply more natural). Examples are the Siamese and the Persian. Both have been bred to rather extreme levels. The justification is sometimes ostensibly to mirror the original appearance of the breed (Siamese) but these arguments for me at least do not stack up. See Siamese cat history and Thai cats.

Sometimes Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding creates obvious health issues (breathing and tear duct overflow in the Persian cat's flat face is the classic example) despite the underlying breed standard forbidding this. I find that very strange and disturbing.

Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding is primarily about creating (and this word is the best description) attractive looking cats i.e. appearance is the first target. That said cat breeders also focus on ensuring their cats are socialized, which means well balanced emotionally and able to accept humans and other pets. Most show cats are amazingly unfazed by all the attention and allow handling well. To qualify that, however, breeders keep their show cats at shows in curtained cages and sometimes under blankets to keep them calm.

Anyway, there is no question in my mind that eventually the cat associations will need to gradually introduce a shift in focus of cat breeding towards health and adjust the breed standard of some cats accordingly. To be fair there are a good number of cat breeds that are balanced (in conformation) and the breed standards supports this. And you know, the public prefer these cat breeds so it will be no hardship for the associations to alter their positions slightly.

Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding - Update 8th October 2008: Referring to the opening paragraph of this post, the Times newspaper today reported that the Kennel Club has decided under the great pressure of the press and the severing of links by the RSPCA and the Dog's Trust, to amend its breed standards such that they foster the health of a dog breed over appearance. This is a fantastic step in the right direction and I hope that the Kennel Club are genuine in their desire to fundamentally change their stance in respect of the underlying objective for breeders, namely from appearance to health and character.

Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding - Update 25th October 2008: Pedigree a major pet food company has now dropped its sponsorship of the Crufts Dog Show. Pedigree is owned by Mars UK. This ultimately is a result of the failure of the Kennel Club to better manage breeding practices of its registered breeders. The world's largest and longest running dog show is now in jeopardy of closing. The BBC have yet to decide whether to broadcast the the show for the future. The year Crufts was first held was 1891. It is a hugely popular show. Yet it all could come tumbling down because of poor management by the Kennel Club. This is very disappointing.

Cat and dog associations have a duty to the animal before the breeder. In this fashion the breeder is actually served to best advantage. What is right for the cat and dog is right for the public and then the Kennel Club benefits. The Kennel Club supported breeders when they went too far in creating "ultra type" dogs. In the cat fancy this happens to a limited extent. The Persian being the best example of ultra or extreme breeding. This has cost the Persian the title of being the most popular cat breed. The most popular cat breed is probably the traditional Siamese.

Purebred Pedigree Cat Breeding to domestic cat breeds

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