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The Big Picture
Persian cats and their brachycephalic health issues

Abstract

Georgina Mills discusses new research that looks at health trends in Persian cats in the UK and shows that their flat faces are causing them harm

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Hopefully, this evidence baseline will kick-start demands to reform the Persian breed’s health

Almost two-thirds of Persian cats suffer from at least one health condition, new research has found.

The study – the largest ever of this breed – was conducted by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of Edinburgh. It revealed that haircoat disorders, dental disease, overgrown nails and eye discharge are the most common conditions diagnosed in this flat-faced breed.

Analysing the clinical records of 3325 Persian cats submitted to the RVC’s VetCompass programme, the study aimed to identify health trends in Persians that were treated in general veterinary practice across the UK in 2013.

It found that 64.9 per cent of Persian cats had at least one disorder recorded. Dental disease was more common in males, while claw/nail problems were more common in females. The average lifespan was found to be 13.5 years and the most common causes of death were kidney disease and cancer.

There are an estimated 100,000 Persian cats in the UK. Many of the health issues identified in this study may be related to the long coat and flat face that is characteristic of the breed. The researchers say that these issues represent major welfare challenges for Persian cats that should be considered by breeders and future owners.

Previous research has shown that a brachycephalic head shape is linked to various health problems in dogs, as well as cats.

Lead author and VetCompass veterinary epidemiologist Dan O’Neill said: ‘Welfare concerns over brachycephaly in dogs have been recognised for some years. Now, our new study of Persians provides evidence that cats with flattened faces are similarly predisposed to some unpleasant and debilitating conditions. Hopefully, this evidence baseline will kick-start demands to reform the Persian breed’s health by breeding towards a less extreme body shape. Additionally, owners of Persians need to be especially alert to dental, eye and haircoat issues in their cats and seek treatment at the earliest signs of ill-health.’

It is hoped that the results of this study will help breeders to select which cats to breed from, vets to spot diseases earlier and owners to ensure that they take preventive measures for common conditions in the breed. This new information will also help the public understand more about the welfare challenges relating to owning and caring for Persian cats.

A spokesperson from The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) stated: ‘We welcome the findings of this study and have long advocated for further research into health issues faced by brachycephalic cats. We have previously raised our concerns regarding the health issues experienced by Persian cats. This study also provides a useful starting point, which GCCF hope will lead to future, more detailed studies aimed at defining the degree of brachycephaly that contributes to the associated health problems.’

• The study is published in Nature Scientific Reports and can be found at www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49317-4

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