First of all, let me apologise for not posting on here for nearly four (FOUR) weeks. Time has gone by incredibly quickly and I have been so busy at school. Time for better time management!
I posted on the topic of inbreeding in animals and its effects before, almost a year ago, but it is a topic that I am truly passionate about and so I thought that I would post it again, on here.
I wrote this as an essay for an application for science opportunities abroad and thought that it would also tie in on here too.
Image credit: http://www.catsofaustralia.com/exotic-cat.htm
What if your looks determined your life span? What if, the more beautiful you were, the more likely you were to die prematurely? This sounds extreme but, unfortunately, this is the case for many creatures.
Domestic animals are bred for looks. If two pets have a particular trait that is perceived as attractive, those animals will be bred together so that their offspring will inherit that trait.
Dogs, in particular, are the animals who are most affected by this type of breeding, with brachycephaly being one of the most common problems.
Brachycephaly is a condition that results in short, broad skull shape (with breadth being at least eighty percent of length) and flat facial features. Naturally, brachycephaly is a genetic mutation, which, in the wild would not allow the affected animal to thrive in its community. However, domesticated pets have been bred by humans and humans view the short snout and large eyes of a dog as ‘cute’, thereby breeding similar dogs together to continue this ‘desirable’ trait. As people, we are innately programmed to like the look of babies and we therefore, anthropomorphically, breed our pets to look young and small and desirable. In this way, humans have influenced natural selection as the cuter dogs are more likely to be taken in by families, fed and looked after, putting them in a better position to breed and pass on their genes. In many cases, the families with these dogs even use them as breeding machines to continue the line of pretty pups, fulfilling the demand for the ‘cute’ look.
We have all seen brachycephalic dogs, indeed they are the most common pets. Pugs, French bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Bull Mastiffs, Chow Chows, Pekingese, Chihuahuas and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels all come under the brachycephalic category. A flatter face means smaller airways and so these breeds of dog typically suffer from breathing problems. Signs of these problems include continued open-mouth breathing, laboured, noisy breathing, high pitched wheezing, cyanosis, snoring and sleep apnoea. These symptoms progress with age and are usually severe by the age of twelve months. It is even possible to over-exercise a brachycephalic dog! Exercise, stress and heat can enhance these symptoms, in some cases, making them fatal. Stenotic nares (pinched, or narrow nostrils) are extremely common in these particular dog breeds, and often have to be surgically corrected, at the expense of the dog owner. Brachycephalic dogs also have an elongated soft palate which can partially block the trachea, increasing airway resistance and leading to even more breathing problems.
Furthermore, having difficulty breathing leads to a sedentary lifestyle. This, in turn, can lead to obesity, which is most certainly, a death sentence.
Not content with labouring the animal’s breathing, brachycephaly also results in misalignment of the jaw. This leads to the teeth also being misaligned – malocclusion – and more expense is required to correct the related dental problems. Exophthalmos, abnormal protrusion of the eye, is also very common in brachycephalic breeds, particularly pugs.
Wrinkles are something that many of us suffer from. Usually though, they only cause emotional pain, not physical. Skin folds are prone to infections and are often inflamed. More money is needed to purchase medicines that relieve the affected animal’s pain and often this is an ongoing expense as these infections can persist.
Whilst dogs are certainly the animal most commonly affected by these sorts of problems, cats and rabbits are becoming more and more inbred, and therefore more likely to also be affected. Persian cats, Exotic Shorthairs, Scottish folds and Himalayans are all brachycephalic cat breeds, suffering from the same problems as the affected dog breeds.
The Netherlands Dwarf rabbits and Lionhead rabbits are also affected by brachycephaly. The misalignment of their jaws is particularly worrying. The teeth of rabbits grow continuously throughout their lifetime and, when eating the correct diet, they are naturally worn down. Misalignment however, means that these rabbits have dental problems and that their teeth cannot be worn down as they should be, leading to laceration of their mouths, difficulty eating, abscesses and even death. Lop-eared rabbits, whilst not necessarily brachycephalic, suffer from health problems because they are bred for their looks. Middle ear infections are very common in the breed, but they are also prone to behavioural problems. Rabbits use their ears to communicate with each other, but lop-eared rabbits are unable to use their ears in this way, leading to fights between lop-eared rabbits and non-lop-eared. This behaviour can be perceived as aggression and to resolve this problem, the rabbit may be euthanised, unjustly.
I strongly believe that we should get our pets from animal sanctuaries and rescue centres, such as the SPCA. So many brachycephalic animals are put into pounds and rescue centres every year because it cost their previous owners to much money in veterinarian fees to look after them. Yet we continue to buy these dogs from breeders because of their looks, without looking in the sanctuaries first to see if there are any there that are aesthetically pleasing. If people continue to go to breeders, the breeders will try to satisfy the demand for animals with desirable traits, despite the fact that these traits could be life threatening for the animal. Personally, I believe that no animal should be purchased based on looks and that you should always get the right pet for you, not necessarily the prettiest item in the window. I urge everyone to think practically, not to buy on a whim.