By Dr. Becker
To their credit, veterinarians and animal welfare groups in the U.K. seem to spend a good deal of time and effort trying to educate the public about the risks and inherent cruelty involved in deliberately breeding pets to exaggerate trendy physical characteristics.
For example, they've brought attention to the plight of Pugs and Shih Tzus, breeds that have become hugely popular in the U.K. in recent years. Sadly, many of these flat-faced dogs have health problems so severe their owners aren't equipped to deal with them, and they're being abandoned in large numbers.
At the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in south London, the number of Pugs entering the shelter has almost tripled in just five years, and the number of relinquished Shih Tzus has also increased significantly.
This prompted the shelter to issue a warning that "… poor breeding practices are compounding problems associated with the breeds' trademark squashed, short nosed faces, a feature popular with owners."1 The veterinarians working with Battersea have performed surgery on several dogs to assist their breathing.
Breeding Dogs With Breathing Difficulties Just Encourages More Pain and Suffering
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has also warned that flat-faced (brachycephalic) pets often deal with multiple debilitating health problems, and "breeding them just encourages more pain and suffering."2
"What that means for vets working in clinics," says Sean Wensley, president of the BVA, "is that we are having to treat many of the health consequences of these breeds which have flattened faces, particularly some of the breathing difficulties. We would liken it to us as humans having to spend our entire life breathing through a drinking straw."
"Like breathing through a straw" is also how many U.S. veterinarians describe how difficult it can be for pets with brachycephalic respiratory syndrome to simply move air in and out of their lungs. In the case of not only Pugs but also French and English Bulldogs and other brachy breeds, Wensley points out the health problems are man-made.
"We are deliberately breeding dogs for physical characteristics that we as humans find appealing, like a flat-face," he says. "But importantly, that means they are preventable problems because if we could breed for healthier shapes instead, then we are going to have, in turn, healthy, happy dogs that enjoy a good quality of life, which we feel strongly ought to be the case."
Wensley believes U.K. veterinarians have a duty not only to treat the dogs dealing with breed-related health problems, but also to raise awareness with the public that as a society, we are creating entirely preventable suffering in these animals.
The 'Sausage Cat' Trend: Another Example of Cruel Breeding Practices
Dogs aren't the only companion animals facing health challenges directly attributable to human breeding practices. Munchkin cats are also being victimized because people find their "sausage" bodies quirky and appealing. Sadly, these kitties actually suffer from a genetic disorder that causes their legs to be too short.
The International Cat Association (TICA), which recognized Munchkins as a breed in 2003, began tracking their development in 1994, and discovered the cats' short legs result from a dominant pattern of inheritance similar to that found in short-legged dog breeds like Corgis and Dachshunds.
As veterinarians and owners of Corgis and Dachshunds are well aware, these dogs often have spinal problems as a result of their builds. However, TICA claims that since the structure of the spine is different in cats, Munchkins' short legs don't create spinal problems.3 However, many veterinarians disagree. Dr. Carol Margolis, a veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, says:
"As far as what we know, the inappropriate bone formation absolutely leads to abnormal loading, which predisposes them to osteoarthritis. They can have spinal malformations, lordosis and scoliosis … and they can be born with rib abnormalities."4
Margolis also makes the point that Munchkins, which are known not to jump like other felines, may not do so because it is simply too painful. It could be that it's not so much the length of their little legs, but the pain they're in due to their deformities that prevents them from jumping. Veterinarians generally agree that Munchkin cats, like all animals with dwarfism (chondrodystrophy), invariably suffer from health issues such as intervertebral disk disease and cranial cruciate ligament disease.
And while they're undoubtedly adorable, Munchkins' stunted limbs not only inhibit their ability to run and jump, but also their overall mobility. As Dr. Andrew Prentis of Hyde Park Veterinary Centre told MetroUK:
"The cat in its natural form has evolved over thousands of years to be pretty well designed and to be very efficient, healthy and athletic. The idea that someone wants to breed them to have effectively no legs and for entirely cosmetic reasons is very disappointing."5
A spokesperson for PETA put it this way:
"Let's leave cats be and admire them for their natural selves. They're not bonsai trees to be contorted into unnatural shapes on a selfish whim. The demand for 'designer pets' is fuelling cruel breeding practices that cause animals to suffer from painful, debilitating conditions such as lordosis, whereby their spinal muscles grow too short, meaning that the spine arches inwards, because their bodies are unnaturally long.
People who buy them view them in the same way one might a designer handbag — and once the novelty wears off, many animals will inevitably be abandoned, putting extra strain on already overburdened shelters. And while breeders continue to profit from churning out felines with genetic mutations, thousands of healthy, highly adoptable cats languish in shelters, just waiting for someone to take them home."6
Little Legs, Big Personalities
The real tragedy for Munchkins is they have wonderful personalities, which only increases their popularity and motivates greedy, unethical breeders to keep producing cats destined to suffer pain and health problems. These little babes are known for being playful, full of energy (think zoomies) and affectionate. They typically get along well with other cats, dogs and children.
Hopefully if you're interested in the breed you'll check your local shelters and rescue organizations for an abandoned Munchkin, and with the full knowledge that these kitties often require expensive, extensive, ongoing veterinary care.