Here's something we've been reviewing at uni. This doco is a bit older, and I'd like to think things have drastically changed since this was made, but we all know the reality. Breeding of any species should always focus on health before our vain cosmetic desires and/or what the show ring promotes. I'm proud to say that with my chosen breed of cat, the Maine Coon, we are doing physical health and DNA testing which focuses on the known diseases of the breed AND these results are starting to be documented in a transparent manner. The most recent of which is hip scoring.
I can totally understand how breeders of any species may have done it "a certain way" because that's how they were taught. What I CANNOT understand is that when they are presented with new or different scientific evidence which challenges them - that they either hide away, or continue these unethical practices under the table.
In this day and age, I for one would have much more respect for these people if they just opened up and said "okay, this new information has been found, I thought I was doing the right thing, but I'm not, so let's do better now..." But of course pride and ego seem to come before the health of their animals, and that is simply heartbreaking.
And then there are the show rings and kennel clubs or feline fancies. I am ALL FOR showing. There is nothing wrong with that in general. Let's celebrate and share our breeds!
However, I am totally AGAINST the concept of people and judges that create standards which are based on a characteristic or trait that is desirable... for no other purpose than because someone once said "I like that" AND someone else followed along AND which has a detrimental effect on the health or quality of life of that animal.
As long as someone breeds something, and someone endorses that by buying it and continuing to provide a market for it - regardless of health issues - it will never stop! Isn't that so sad?
Now here's the elephant in the room: I own and will be breeding a polydactyly Maine Coon cat. At this stage, the evidence that's available states that there are syndromic and non-syndromic types of the gene, and the US gene that mine carries is non-syndromic. That means it does not produce any clinical abnormalities, pain or otherwise, other than simply having a different physical morphology. Polydactyly has a long history in the Maine Coon breed. No one really knows for sure of the true history, but perhaps it was an evolutionary trait that helped the ship's cats' balance and mobility, or perhaps it helped to walk in the snow. The trait was driven out largely due to the show rings having a dislike for the trait, but not backed by any evidence (I think... more experienced breeders, please do correct me if I'm wrong there). It is now slowly being re-introduced and re-accepted back into the Maine Coon world. Yes, I chose it because I like the look of it BUT my decision would have been the opposite if there was evidence saying that it was detrimental to their health. And because there isn't much published evidence - I would like to contribute to the breed by eventually performing a case-series or cohort study through my university which follows my line of polydactyly cats over several generations and also poly MC cats of other lines here in Australia and New Zealand (if other breeders were to get on board). I'd really like to explore whether pain is felt, and maybe we're not picking up on it? There have been comprehensive feline grimace scales developed and other scales to help determine whether a cat is feeling pain. I'd also like to explore whether polydactyly is linked to things like osteoarthritis. One recent study has shown that there is no statistically significant difference between the radial bones of standard paw (wild type) cats and polydactyly paw cats. Another study showed that in litters whose parents are poly, and where some of the litter is poly, and some standard - all babies have a heavier bone set regardless of paw type, to support the size and weight of these large cats. This is a great thing, particularly in a large breed who are prone to hip and joint problems! The studies that do exist call for more studies and evidence to be provided, and one thing that's lacking is evidence on older MC cats, which is why I want to fill that knowledge gap by studying them into their geriatric years. I want to know if they truly do have a normal quality of life compared to standard paw cats, and if they don't, then I want to be transparent about that.
There's so much to explore. But the main thing is that we listen to the evidence and the recommendations of those who are both scientifically based, and advocates for the health of animals.
It's okay if we've been doing something a certain way because we didn't know any better. But it's not okay to continue that when presented with evidence otherwise.
We should be transparent and selfless enough to put the health of our animals first.
1 .These blog posts will likely be developed and added to over time as I learn more information.
2. While some breeding "secrets" are kept as unwritten law, the general concept of what I write here is freely available to find if you look in the right places. The feline associations (Australian/American/European) are a good place to start. The PawPeds website also has some interesting information (not always/strictly scientific though).
3. Some really really important questions for anyone to ask themselves when embarking on new or controversial scientific adventures are:
a) Why am I getting angry about someone pursuing a certain line/trait?
b) Is it because it's scientifically or genetically unsound?
c) Is it unethical?
d) Is it because someone simply "told me it's wrong/right"?
e) Is it fear of the unknown?
4. Be brave. Be courageous. Explore something new.
5. Admit your mistakes and learn from them.
6. Please don't blindly believe me. Also, please don't blindly hate on me if you have no scientific backing.
7. Ask your own questions, and seriously, genuinely, seek answers. Make informed decisions.
8. Lastly, as always, be kind.