LEGISLATION AGAINST EXTREME TYPING, DEFORMITY AND GENETIC DEFECTS
Copyright 1999-2012 Sarah Hartwell

EUROPEAN LEGISLATION AGAINST HYPERTYPES AND BREEDS WITH DEFECTS?

European bodies are concerned about the gradual shift towards American-style ultra-types (referred to as "hypertypes") in domestic pets. If made law in the member states of the Council of Europe, a number of cat breeds risk being banned: ultra-typed Persian/Exotic, Manx, Scottish Fold, Sphynx, Munchkin.

A controversial edict regarding genetically defective and ultra-typed breeds was issued by the Council of Europe which covers 41 member States including the UK. Though not (yet) law, the March 1995 draft of their "European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals" would ban ear cropping and tail docking in dogs and potentially ban abnormal or defective dog and cat breeds. The Council recommends that if the breeders do not amend their own breeding practices, the affected breeds should be "phased out".

Chapter One, Article Five of the Treaty says: "Any person who selects a pet animal for breeding shall be responsible for having regard to the anatomical, physiological and behavioural characteristics which are likely to put at risk the health and welfare of either the offspring or the female parent." The resolution demanded that breed standards be rewritten to eliminate (by fiat if voluntary efforts failed) certain characteristics or potential genetic abnormalities (some of which were defining traits of a breed). It ruled that certain breeds, deemed to have defects, be discontinued.

As far as cat-breeding is concerned, the Recommendation by the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals encourages breeding associations to:

Reconsider breeding standards and amend any causing potential welfare problems. This means reconsidering the standards and selecting breeding animals taking into account aesthetic criteria and behavioural problems and abilities. It would ensure, by educating breeders and judges, that breeding standards are interpreted so as to discourage development of extreme characteristics (hypertype) which can cause welfare problems. In other words, it is up to breeders to curb, and even to reverse, the excesses of ultra-typing before matters are taken out of their hands by European legislation.

It might phase out and prohibit breeding, showing and selling of certain types or breeds whose characteristics are linked to harmful defects such as abnormally short face and abnormal positions of teeth (brachycephaly and brachygnathia in Persian cats) to avoid difficulties in feeding and caring for the newborn.

If severe defects cannot be eliminated, cat breeders would have to avoid or discontinue breeding of animals carrying semi-lethal (deferred lethal) factors (e.g. Manx cat where the homozygous state is lethal and the heterozygous state can be crippling), those carrying recessive defect-genes (e.g. Scottish Fold Cat where the homozygotic state causes hind leg/tail skeletal defects), hairless cats (lack of protection against sun, chill and environment), cats carrying the "dominant white" gene (significant disposition to deafness in blue-eyed white cats), the Manx cat (movement disorder, disposition to vertebral column defects, difficulties in urination and defecation, semi-lethal factor).

European breeders justifiably argue that any ban would be unfair since targetted breeds will be unaffected in countries outside of the Council of Europe. They argue that a global approach is needed to prevent cat breeds being taken to unacceptable extremes. Meanwhile, a small number of breeders will produce hypertypes, regardless of the adverse effect on the cats' health, in order to be competitive on the showbench. It really is up to judges and breed societies to curtail these excesses.

Cultural differences cannot be ignored. In Europe, common American breeds with structural differences (Scottish Fold, American Curl) or hybrid origins are considered, rightly or wrongly, to be undesirable. By contrast, American breeders are quick to adopt structural changes but remarkably reluctant to introduce new colours, already common and admired in Europe, into existing breeds. What one registry perceives as desirable or admirable, another seeks to ban as deformed, harmful or impure. Readers from both regions must understand that the definition of "defect" is country specific. One American breeder asked me what defects she could expect to see when breeding Sphynx. In the eyes of some European legislators, hairlessness (the Sphynx's defining trait) is the defect!

Some nations have accepted all or part of the treaty. Britain has rejected the restrictions, but the German government has accepted them. The German animal welfare law prohibits breeding that brings suffering to offspring, but has been poorly administered and planned for change. The German standpoint has been widely reported on the web and in the media. For example, Rex breeds are apparently banned from shows due to the abnormal coat and whiskers. The following summarises those applied to specific "defects" which may be the defining characteristic(s) of a breed. Note: What is termed a "defect" in the report may not be considered a defect elsewhere.

 GERMAN RESTRICTIONS ON BREEDING OF CATS WITH DEFECTS

Some nations have chosen to abide by some sections of the treaty but to ignore others. Fifteen nations have agreed to the provisions of the pet protection treaty: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland. Britain has rejected the restrictions, but the German government has accepted them and the other member European States may find themselves forced to follow suit. In Sweden a general act of Parliament prohibited breeding cats with defects that could be passed to the offspring. The German animal welfare law prohibits breeding that brings suffering to offspring, but has been poorly administered and planned for change.

The Germans have a succinct word for extreme breeding leading to health issues: Qualzucht ("torment breeding" or "torture breeding") which refers to the breeding of animals with characteristics associated with physical or behavioral problems.

The German animal welfare laws have been widely reported on the web and in the media. For example, Rex breeds are apparently banned from shows due to the abnormal coat and whiskers. The following summarises those applied to specific "defects" which may be the defining characteristic(s) of a breed. Note: What is termed a "defect" in the report may not be considered a defect elsewhere.

Tailless, Short-Tailed And Kink-Tailed Cats.
This covers various types of shortening of the caudal spine ranging from shortened rolled tails, shortened straight tails, stumpy tails, completely tailless cats or with an indention instead of the tail. It affects cats with Manx-type and Japanese Bobtail-type mutations and spontaneously occurring short-tailed cats of any breed.
Rationale: In short-tailed and tailless cats, locomotory disorders are likely and social communication is impaired. Manx cats are associated with a number of defects e.g. spina bifida.
Recommendations: Total ban on Manx-to-Manx AND Manx-to-Non-Manx breedings since offspring are likely to have pain, disease or defects. Japanese and Kuril Bobtails to be examined by a vet with regard to both increased sensitivity to pain in the tail area and possible fused vertebrae. Only pain-free cats to be bred. Medical Certificate required and all examined cats to be permanently identified by microchip or tattoo. Breed associations to keep stud books. Stud books and examination reports to be made available on demand (auditable). In the case of kinked tails, only cats certified negative for this defect permitted to be bred.

Dominant White and Albinism (Including Colourpoint)
A number of different genes govern white colouration in cats. Autosomal dominant white causes completely white fur colour and has complete penetrance for defective hearing, frequently combined with blue eyes.
Recommendations: For cats with dominant white a total breeding ban is recommended. Where the white colour may or may not be due to dominant white, a genetic test must be performed before breeding, as soon as an appropriate testing method is available. Test-matings cannot be justified, as impaired offspring are likely.
Rationale: Dominant white is associated with deafness and with defects of the tapetum lucidum (in eyes). Deaf cats are severely handicapped in their social and behaviour and in normal expression of predatory behaviour. Restrictions of vision, especially in semi-darkness and at night (the normal activity times of cats), increases this handicap. This is deemed a bodily defect that leads to permanent suffering.
Recommendation: Colourpointed cats (any breed) require veterinary ophthalmologic examination. Breeding allowed only with cats with unrestricted vision
Rationale: depigmentation of the iris and retina, absence of tapedum lucidum, impairment night vision, squinting or cross eyes (strabismus, nystagmus)
Recommendation: Other white or predominantly (over 50%) white cats require veterinary ophthalmologic and audiometric (hearing) examination. Breeding allowed only with cats with unimpaired sight and hearing. Microchipping and tattooing of examined cats, stud books (as previously).

Folded Ear
Relates to cats with folded ears (Scottish/Highland Fold, Poodle Cat etc) due to the incomplete dominant gene expression for "folded ears". This gene is also associated with bone and cartilage defects. [Note: The American Curl was not mentioned in the source work]
Recommendation: Total breeding ban.
Rationale: Cartilage and bone defects often found in homozygote and, to a lesser extent, the heterozygote. These skeletal problems cause locomotor problems, permanent pain, diseases or defects. The ears serve as a signal system in establishing social contacts, a function lost in fold-eared cats.

Curled Hair and Hairlessness
Applies to cats with abnormal fur such as partial or total hairlessness, shortened or missing tactile hairs. It includes the various Rex cats and the various Sphynx-type cats [Note: the source work did not specifically mention the Wirehair mutation]. Rex cats have reduced growth of the hair and undercoat and may lack guard hairs. Devon Rex are affected by partial or temporary nakedness. Above all, in Devon Rex and Sphynx the tactile hairs (whiskers/vibrissae) are curled (useless) or absent.
Recommendation: Total breeding ban on affected cats and modification of breed standards to avoid cats with missing, shortened or curled whiskers.
Rationale: Vibrissae are an essential sensory organ. They are important for orientation in the dark, in predation, in examination of objects and in social behaviour. Loss of functionality due to absent or deformed tactile hairs is a physical defect which limits normal feline behaviour in a way which leads to permanent suffering.

Munchkins, Kangaroo Cats
Applies to cats with chondrodysplasias (e.g. Munchkin) and microbrachy (kangaroo legs).
Recommendation: Abstention from breeding cats showing these defects. The breeding population to be monitored regarding vitality and functionality with particular attention to the intervertebral disks (spine) including x-rays (radiographs). Examined cats to be microchipping or tattoed, stud books etc (as previously). In the case of microbachy, only cats certified as negative for the trait may be used in breeding.
Rationale: Structural defect affecting function and preventing normal feline behaviour/locomotion.

Polydactyly
Applies to cats with polydactyly e.g. polydactyl Maine Coon and the American breed named "Superscratcher" which is deliberately bred for polydactyl [Note: I have never heard of a Superscratcher breed]. Polydactyly is an autosomal dominant and a semi-lethal defect.
Recommendation: Total breeding ban on cats showing these defects since defective offspring are to be expected.
Rationale: None was given, presumably the "semi-lethal defect"; certainly my own experiences have shown no problems with polydactyl cats and no adverse effects on their functioning.

Facial Defects
This applies to cats showing brachycephaly and brachygnathia (Persians, Exotics), also to any cats with misaligned jaws (skew muzzle), brachygnathia inferior (under-bite) and brachygnathia superior (over-bite). Brachygnathia is particularly associated with short muzzled breeds but may be found in other breeds. Cleft lip, cleft palate and related defects are associated with brachycephaly. The mode of inheritance is not fully understood.
Recommendations: Breeding associations to determine an index defining over-typing. Breeding ban on cats not meeting this index. Breeding ban on extremely short-nosed cats where the upper edge of the muzzle is higher than the edge of the lower eye lid. Health check required for brachycephalic individuals: examination for breathing problems, tear ducts (not draining), shortened upper jaw, dental problems. Breeding ban on cats showing one or more of the described symptoms as these would produce offspring with similar defects. Examined animals to be microchipped or tattoed, stud books kept etc (as previously).
Recommendation: Modification of the breed standard of brachycephalic breeds to avoid an overly pronounced stop, too high nose, too short muzzle etc. Preference should be given to cats with longer facial bone structure. Breeders to avoid breeding from individuals affected by brachygnathia, cleft palate and other facial defects.
Rationale: Depending on the degree of muzzle shortening, food intake and chewing can be impaired.

The 4 categories of brachycephaly that were identified by Schueter et al:

Category I, mild: nearly vertically positioned upper canine teeth without a dorsally rotated jaw, an inconspicuous stop, and clearly developed facial and neurocranial (brain-case) bones.

Category II, moderate: characterised by an incipient dorsorotation (lifting) of the upper canine teeth and jaw to a dorsal direction, a distinct stop, reduced nasal bones and a rounded or even apple-shaped brain-case.

Category III, profound: pronounced rotation of the jaw and the upper canine teeth was obvious. Additionally, these cats showed a distinct stop with reduced nasal and neurocranial bones. Because of the dorsally rotated upper jaw, the tip of the nose was at a higher level than the lower eyelid.

Category IV, severe: a more extreme form of the characteristics described for category III. These handicapped cats showed nearly horizontally positioned upper canine teeth and a high-grade dorsorotation of the jaw. An overly pronounced stop, underdeveloped facial bones and a rounded neurocranium were visible.

In Germany, an unsubstantiated fact (or propaganda) states that polydactyl kittens suffer a 50% mortality rate during the first 6 months and that polydactyl cats live in pain. In fact the kitten mortality rate in polydactyls is no different to that in normal-foot cats. Possibly polydactyly is still being confused with the severely disabling radial hypoplasia.

AMERICAN LEGISLATION?

American cat breeders are concerned that an equivalent "Convention for the Protection of Pets" could happen in their own country. Some humane societies, veterinary associations and animal rights groups would like to see comparable legislation on certain breeding practices (currently most are aimed at ear-cropping and tail-docking in dogs). The US government's Animal Welfare Act regulates conditions in breeding facilities, research facilities and shows., but breeding ethics remain the province of breeders and breed societies and are jealously guarded from interference.

So, at present there appears to be no comparable "legislation" (or potential legislation) in the USA although animal welfare organisations have voiced concerns against deliberate breeding of gross deformities such as Twisty Cats, while animal rights organisations additionally condemn many of the breeds/types targetted by the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals and for the same reasons (but in stronger language: "genetic disasters").

Responsible breeders are keen to point out that they not only minimize the potential for genetic abnormalities in their breeds, they raise money and participate in studies to find genetic markers for various diseases and to develop treatments and cures. Even so, some breeders are uneasy about seeing how far a certain look can be taken hence the slowly growing number of "Traditional" breeds.

In 2006, TICA proposed to clamp down on certain breeding trends. Their Genetics Committee report stated: "The Committee proposes that TICA does not accept any proposed breeds for Registration Only status that do not exhibit novel mutations. The current mutations would be reserved for currently recognized breeds exclusively. This would end the seemingly endless applications for "munchkinized" new breeds, and then deter the inevitable introduction of "rexed", "Bob-tailed" and Poly-ed" everything else."

AUSTRALIAN LEGISLATION AGAINST BREEDS WITH DEFECTS

In Victoria, Australia, The Animals Legislation (Animal Care) Bill was released by the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon Jo Helper MLA, on 11 Oct 2007. This included amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (POCTA) 1986 that would outlaw a number of cat breeds.

15C Breeding of animals with heritable defects:

  • (1) A person must not, intentionally or recklessly, allow an animal with a heritable defect to breed.
  • (2) A person must not sell or dispose of an animal with a heritable defect, if the person knows or is reckless as to whether the animal has a heritable defect, unless the person who sells or disposes of the animal advises the person to whom the animal is sold or disposed of (before the sale or disposal) that the animal has the heritable defect.
  • (3) In this section: heritable defect, in relation to a species of animal set out in Column 1 of the Table in the Schedule, means a heritable defect that is known to cause the disease set out opposite the species of animal in Column 2 of the Table in the Schedule.

For the Schedule to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 substitute Section 15C "Table of Diseases Caused By Heritable Defects". In cats, this means cats with the following must not be allowed to breed: Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD); Mutations causing aplasia or hypoplasia of any long bone; Folded ears due to osteochondrodysplasia.

This effectively prohibits the breeding of Munchkins and Scottish Folds, but interestingly (and demonstrating the inconsistency of the legislation) it did not mention Manx despite the effect of the gene on the vertebral column. The concern is that other states will follow Victoria's lead; in the meantime it would remain legal to breed Munchkins and Scottish Folds outside of Victoria. (In addition, in 2008 the Australian government has banned the importation and breeding of Savannahs through fears that dilute serval genes would turbo-charge the feral cat population.)

BRITISH (GCCF) DRAFT RULING

In Britain, during 2009 the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) strengthened its anti-polydactyl stance (this primarily affects the Maine Coon Polydactyl and Pixie-Bob). While other World Cat Congress member registries accept polydactyly as a harmless trait in these breeds, the GCCF remained close-minded and insistent that polydactyly is a genetic defect. At the April 2009 World Cat Congress meeting in Arnhem, The Netherlands, the GCCF delegate responded "Never" when asked if and when the GCCF would accept polydactyly. In spite of discussions by scientists at the meeting, the GCCF's position is that polydactyls are at "greatly increased risk of deleterious impact" and therefore should not be recognized nor accepted in the (Maine Coon) breed. The GCCF disregarded a British report into polydactyly known as the "Edinburgh Study".

The GCCF have gone even further and produced a extensive draft rewrite to the Breeding Policy. This could be a knee-jerk reaction after recent TV documentaries and RSPCA condemnation of dog breeds based on defects or it could be partially in line with European legislation. The new draft includes the GCCF refusing recognition to any new breed based upon structural anomalies, this specifically includes shortened limbs, shortened or bent tails, polydactyl feet, bent or deformed ears, hairlessness, or any miniaturized breed. Additionally the GCCF will require each Breed Advisory Committee to have in place a breeding policy by January 1st 2011, to be reviewed by the Genetics Committee to ensure they are comprehensive and consistent with the GCCF's General Breeding Policy. This could affect existing breeds with traits that would be unacceptable in new breeds (eg the Manx structural abnormality). Will the extreme flattened faces and high nose leathers of Persians, or the increasingly narrow skulled Siamese be banned? Somehow I don't think the GCCF will go that far for fear of losing members. The GCCF seems incapable of distinguishing between a harmless cosmetic trait such as normal polydactyly and the the unhealthy extremes already being shown. Put more simply, the GCCF has opted for the easy route of discriminating against mutations while failing at the difficult task of curtailing ultra-typing.

FOOTNOTE

The appearance of spina bifida and other defects in the Manx/Cymric breed has led to Manx-type cats being used in biomedical research into human spina bifida. The cats used are those which have the Manx gene (where the cats came from is another matter - such cats are bred specifically for laboratory use, though the founding stock must have come from somewhere). This constitutes deliberate breeding of damaged individuals.

"The Manx cat is bred for an absent or shortened tail, but additional deformities of the sacrum and spinal cord are common. Osseous deformities of the Manx cat are variable and range from spina bifida to sacrococcygeal dysgenesis." (Disorders of the Lumbosacral Plexus, by Marc R. Raffe and Charles D. Knecht)

In papers relating to the use of cats in biomedical research (i.e. in vivisection), Michael S. Rand, DVM & Paula D. Johnson, DVM (Assistant Veterinary Specialist- University Animal Care, University of Arizona, Tucson) write "Spina Bifida: The spontaneous occurrence of this condition in the Manx cat has been offered by many investigators as a model through which to study the similar condition in humans. Detectable amounts of a-foetal protein in amniotic fluid have been reported in human pregnancies with neural tube defects. Similar detection has been verified in the Manx cat with neural tube anomalies. The clinical syndrome varies and can include megacolon, urinary incontinence with secondary predisposition to urinary infection, locomotor disorders, uterine inertia and chronic cystitis, along with the wide variety of bony anomalies. It appears to be an autosomal dominant trait with incomplete penetrance. The near absence of hydrocephalus and other CNS lesions in the cat model dims total homology, but this is the best known and most homologous model to date."

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

DeForest ME, Basrur PK. Malformations and the Manx syndrome in cats. Can Vet J 1979; 20: 304-11.
Marc R. Raffe and Charles D. Knecht: Disorders of the Lumbosacral Plexus
Schlueter C, Budras KD, Ludewig E, et al.. Brachycephalic feline noses CT and anatomical study of the relationship between head conformation and the nasolacrimal drainage system; Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2009) 11, 891-900

MESSYBEAST : BREEDING ETHICS AND PURPORTED BREED ORIGINS