Extremely flat faced cats and their health problems

A review of the recent study on extremely flat faced cats revealed the common problems they face, including holes in their skulls and crushed brains

An extremely flat faced cat

The popularity of flat faced cats

The recent rise in popularity of the extremely flat faced cat has been astonishing. Fuelled by the extreme examples on instagram and other social media, people have been seduced by their ‘cuteness’. Flat faced cats have large, round eyes that are wide set, and in their most extreme form, often have a ‘goofy’ appearance, making them very cute. The veterinary term for flat faced cats is brachycephalic cats.

The rise in their popularity has led to the more and more extreme breeding of these flat faced cats, which then creates even more extremely flat faced cats.  As breeders we are constantly selecting which traits of our cats to emphasise and which to try to alter. Most breeders are responsible breeders, who place the health and wellbeing of the cat as their primary concern. But the trend for extremely flat faced cats is changing perceptions and expectations in some breeds and pushing breeders to breed more and more extreme cats. Breeders only have access to a limited pool of cats, and as the general type of the breed becomes more extreme, it becomes impossible to return to a more healthy, well balanced example of the breed.

The image below shows how the skull changes shape with the increasing level of brachycephaly. 

The graduation of the flat faced cat
Increasing levels of brachycephaly


Scientific evidence of suffering in flat faced cats

For some time scientists and veterinarians have told us that these extremely flat faced cats must be suffering. In their most extreme versions cats are not able to open their eyes, and their tongues no longer fit in their mouths. But recent research has proven beyond all doubt that extremely flat faced cats are suffering. A recent study, published by scientists in Germany and highlighted by icatcare international, shows that extremely flat faced cats are suffering even more than we had previously realised.

What the study on flat faced cats found

The study looked at 45 flat faced and 45 extremely flat faced Persian cats. Its findings were disturbing:

  • Jawbones were misaligned

  • There was no part of the skull for jaw muscles to attach to

  • Some had teeth abnormalities

  • Some had protruding lower jaws

  • These issues would prevent the cat from eating normally, and therefore prevent the cat from gaining the nourishment he needs

  • Osseous defects were common - holes in the skull. Yes, these cats literally had holes in their skulls. And kittens were worst affected

  • Abnormal bone growth in the nasal cavities, that would restrict breathing

  • Abnormally dome shaped skulls, which were compressing the brain of the cats

  • ⅓ had hydrocephalus - fluid inside the brain, which causes seizures and blindness

  • In the most extreme cases, the back of the brain was protruding out of the skull and into the spinal cord. These kittens were unable to stand or walk properly, had tremors, uncontrolled eye movements, misaligned eyes and abnormal breathing patterns. Perhaps most disturbingly, all of the owners of these extremely flat faced kittens reported that the kittens had episodes of long-lasting, aimless screaming. All of these kittens were eventually put to sleep.

Holes in skulls of flat faced cats
Holes in the skulls of extremely flat faced cats 


brain of flat faced cat protruding into spinal cord
The brain of an extremely flat faced cat protruding into its spinal cord

The researchers reported that owners of extremely flat faced cats referred to their cats as ‘dummies’ and explained that they often ran into things, and were less playful and interactive than other cats.  

The researchers found that breeders of these cats saw the extreme flat faced cats as simply an example of the breed, with a particularly pronounced flat-faced characteristic. Contrast this to brachycephaly in humans - if a human is flat faced it is seen as a sign of a serious underlying genetic condition.

The health effects of flat faced cats

Flat faced cats suffer in a multitude of ways.

  • They cannot breathe properly and they cannot physically get enough air into their lungs (pinch your nose and try to breathe). This means they cannot run, jump or climb trees without severe difficulty

  • They cannot eat normally because of misaligned jaws and problems with teeth

  • Some cannot close their eyes and need eye drops to stop their eyes from drying out

  • Some cannot fit their tongue in their mouth, so it constantly protrudes

  • Some clearly are so deformed that their skulls have become too small for their brains and their brains are literally being crushed.

  • Clearly, there is a huge amount of suffering for the flat faced cat.

What breeds are affected?

Persians and Exotic Shorthairs are most affected. However, there seems to be a worrying trend towards breeding for extreme flat faces in many breeds. We have even seen extremely flat faced ragdolls on instagram, with all of the signs of extreme suffering that very flat faced Persians and Exotics exhibit.

Is the British Shorthair affected?

At this point in time, the British Shorthair cat is a healthy breed. Fortunately, the British Shorthair cat has not yet been bred to be extremely flat faced, and the GCCF actively discourages this. We will certainly never breed for extremely flat faced cats: health is our primary concern. We hope that by raising awareness of this issue, people will start to realise that, no matter how cute an extremely flat faced cat might be, it is never worth the pain and suffering that it causes.

Should I buy an extremely flat faced cat?

If there were no demand for extremely flat faced cats, that would very quickly bring an end to the breeding of very flat faced cats.  We would strongly advise against buying an extremely flat faced cat. No matter how cute they might look, we cannot agree with bringing life into this world, knowing it will suffer every day. If you have fallen in love with the Persian or Exotic cat breeds, or the bulldog or pug, invest a lot of time in researching the problems involved and the tell tale signs of those problems. If you are still in love with the breed after all of that, then take the time to really find a breeder who breeds responsibly, is aware of all of the issues, and can tell you exactly what they do to reduce the risk.

Many thanks to icatcare international for their constant and fervent support of our feline friends, good breeding practices and healthy cats.

Extremely flat faced dogs

The problem actually seems to be even worse in pedigree dogs, with bulldogs and pugs being particularly affected. Around 50% of bulldogs are now unable to breathe properly and are having to undergo surgery to remove excess material from their throat and nose just so they can breathe in enough oxygen to live a semi-normal life. 

Other extreme traits to avoid...

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