Genetic breeding can cause severe health risks

I received an email the other day of a compelling story that I felt was worth sharing. The reader described her experiences with a particular breed of cat, the Scottish Fold. The name was given to this breed for its unique ear formation where the tips fold into the ear. While bred for its distinctive look that is appealing to some cat enthusiasts, a genetic mutation that causes the ears to fold also carries a crippling disease.

The email explained how they had cared for a healthy Scottish Fold for 8-9 years, but the cat just disappeared two years ago. Wanting another cat of this particular breed, they finally acquired two kittens — from two different sources — within a few weeks of each other last November. Both sources were found on Craigslist.

A couple of months ago, the young female cat began acting differently from the other little male. She could not run or jump as readily as her new cohort and she held her tail in a stiff stance. When her condition worsened, they took her to the veterinarian. The X-rays confirmed the young cat has a condition called osteochondrodysplasia.

According to Universities Federation for Animal Welfare website, ufaw.org.uk, this debilitating disease causes abnormal development of cartilages throughout the body. The article states that, “All cats with folded ears develop osteochondrodysplasia.” In some cases, there are two copies of an abnormal gene which cause advanced deformity of limb bones and their shapes accompanied with severe arthritis. There is no cure; the only method of eliminating the disease is to stop breeding it.

While their other cat and the young male (as of yet) did not show symptoms, a different genetic mutation, one that only has one abnormal gene, develops at a slower progression. For many Scottish Fold cats, however, the symptoms can start as early as 7 weeks old, developing into advanced stages rapidly. Many Scottish Fold cats are euthanized at a young age, as the severe pain of arthritis eventually becomes untreatable.

Further research into Scottish Fold cats produced an array of information from various sites on the internet. Described as having sweet dispositions, this gregarious breed normally enjoys being around people, children, other cats and friendly dogs. There are numerous posts on Pinterest of breeders selling Scottish Fold kittens. Most recently, celebrities Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran posted pictures of their Scottish Fold companions on Instagram, unleashing a torrent of response on social media.

While the popularity of the breed has been sensationalized throughout modern culture, the reality of the breed’s genetic makeup should be equally manifested. Breeding an animal because of its looks and social status is not justification for the poor animal whose life is immersed in excruciating pain.

According to bbc.com, there is currently no ban on breeding Scottish Fold cats. However, the site does state that the Scottish government encourages anyone breeding any type of animal to avoid breeding from any individual animals known to have genetic maladies.

It also mentions they are considering banning the breeding of this particular type of cat.

Back to the reader’s email: It went on to describe how they were able to contact the breeder to inform her of the disease their young kitten was diagnosed with. Another Craigslist ad offering Scottish Fold Siamese kittens had been recently posted by the breeder. When they called to notify the breeder of the diagnosis, the woman became irate, proclaiming that she was “sorry the kitten was sick, but that her cat was not.” In my opinion, an honorable breeder would have been appreciative of the information, not defensive.

While the mother cat may not be showing signs of osteochondrodysplasia, the genetic defect is found in all Scottish Fold cats. There are cases in which cats from this breed do not experience the severe pain associated with the deformation of limb bones. However, for this young female kitten, her symptoms will likely progress quickly. The email explained their sadness at knowing they will be facing euthanasia within the next year or even months, depending on the progression.

The email more importantly explained their motivation in spreading awareness of this particular breed with its debilitating condition. Their intention in acquiring the two kittens was simply because of their enjoyable experiences with the first Scottish Fold they cared for, in addition to the appeal of the breed’s unique features. Unaware of the genetic defects found within this breed, they are now faced with the reality of caring for a precious life that will succumb to an early death when the pain becomes unbearable for the young cat.

Charlé Thibodeau has been a passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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