There are quite a large number of cat breeds to choose from – when looking for a cat do you go for appearance? Do you want long or short haired? What colours or personalities are you looking for? Do you pick those that look cute and cuddly, or do you not worry about appearance but care how healthy they will be?

Some ailments we cannot help, your cat may develop them no matter what you do or what breed they are, however there are also some breeds of cats whose genetics are intrinsically linked to their health and welfare… let’s explore this.

Interpretation of studies on longevity

Of course, cats are generally prone to a number of trauma and health complaints, but certain risk factors can influence mortality and longevity.

These factors influence other risks like road traffic accidents (RTAs) which can sometimes skew the data when looking at longevity of cats – depending on whether we let them out for example, they are obviously more likely to be involved in RTAs and therefore their life expectancy may be lower than in pure breed cats who may typically be kept indoors.

Cross breed or Pure breed?

In one study looking at cats that died at or after 5 years of age indicated that crossbred cats survived 0.6 years longer than purebred cats.

It also found that:

  • Neutered female cats lived 0.6 years longer
  • Entire male cats lived 1.8 years shorter than entire female cats
  • Increasing bodyweight was associated with decreasing longevity

This particular study concluded that crossbred cats lived significantly longer than purebred cats. There was substantial variability between individual breeds longevity; the most long-lived breeds included the Birman, Burmese, Siamese and Persian. Whereas the shortest surviving included the Bengal, Abyssinian and Ragdoll.

Cats that may be inherently unhealthy

When picking cats, there are some that we know to be unhealthier and more prone to conditions that negatively impact their health and welfare.

Big Red Flag Breeds:

Vetster option 01 (Blog)

Brachycephalic Breeds

A study worked to improve current knowledge concerning cats with breeding-related alterations in skull conformation e.g., short snout, flat face, large eye appearance. The research confirmed that flatter-faced cats (of breeds such as the Persian or Exotic Shorthair), were more likely to have breathing problems. And that the breathing difficulties were also associated with increased tear staining and a more sedentary lifestyle. It indicates that brachycephalism may have negative respiratory implications for cat health and welfare, as has been previously shown in dogs.

Munchkin cats

Munchkin cats are a relatively new breed in that they have grown in popularity in terms of ‘cute’ appeal following celebrity endorsement. The Munchkin deformity is thought to be caused by a dominant, lethal gene with variable penetration. Kittens in which both copies of the gene are of the abnormal form are thought to die before birth. Animals with only one copy (i.e., those that are heterozygous) show the deformity. They are characterised by abnormally short legs. Due to their existence being fairly new, scientific literature on their health and welfare is limited. However, there are clear downfalls to this breeding. 

The Munchkin abnormality results in greatly shortened fore and hind limbs. This compromises the ability of affected animals to jump, express normal behaviour and causes abnormal loading and gait. It is plausible that this may increase their risk of painful joint disease such as osteoarthritis. 

Scottish Folds

Scottish folds are another cat that has been bred for a ‘cute’ appearance, in this case due to ‘floppy’ ears. They are popular among advertisements due to this unique look. Sadly, the Scottish Fold breed of cat has a genetic mutation that affects the development of cartilage. The most obvious outward manifestation of this is making the ear cartilage fold.

Unfortunately, the genetic defect that causes abnormality of the ear cartilage also causes severe abnormalities of the cartilage of bones too. This means that it’s not just their ears that get affected, but cats with the folded ears will also have defective bone development and severe bone and cartilage abnormalities. This is known as osteochondrodysplasia – these changes lead to severe and painful arthritis.

Overall

There is still a lot of variability in cat health and longevity. However typically as seen in one study crossbred cats have a longer average lifespan of 14 years compared with 12.5 years for purebred cats.

That said, what we do in a cat’s life can also impact their health. For example, on average, a cat’s lifespan is reduced by 6 months for every 1 kg increase in adult bodyweight. So, obesity management is very important.

Other points noted to help keep your cat safe or pick up on issues quickly included:

  • Annual veterinary health checks help to identify and manage health conditions earlier
  • Vaccinations help to protect your cat against several serious and possibly incurable diseases
  • If you think your cat is ill, the sooner veterinary advice is sought, the better chance your cat has of recovering

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