It is no coincidence that cats are charming: We selectively breed them for generations for maximum sweetness. But this breeding has a drawback: Some of our feline friends are left with constantly frowning faces that can’t show emotion.
In particular, a new study published in December in the journal Limits of veterinary science, suggests this selective breeding for the “brachycephalic” or flattened type of face – I think the Persians and Himalayas – has impaired the ability of these cats to communicate precisely fear, anxiety or pain. These flat breeds have faces stuck in a constant grimace that suggests pain, even when they are not in pain at all.
“This result was a real eye-opener for me. I didn̵
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These constant grimaces may mean that cat owners will not be able to understand when the accompanying cats are actually in pain, Finka told Live Science.
Thanks to the selective reproduction of humans, cats have changed most of all their physical characteristics. And yet, despite the importance of individuals to nonverbal communication in animals, few studies have examined how this reproduction has changed feline facial expressions.
To answer this question, Finka and her colleagues used a computer algorithm to analyze personal data from more than 2,000 photos of cats and assign each score from a neutral to a full grimace.
Comparing the neutral facial expressions of different breeds of cats with the grimaces of domestic shorthair cats recovering from routine surgery, Finka and her colleagues found that although cats were not particularly expressive at first, flat-faced cats looked “sick-like.” facial expressions, even when fully relaxed. the Scottish fold, noted an even higher value for pain-like facial expressions than short-haired cats that actually experienced pain.
So why do we prefer cats that look like they’re in pain? One theory is that we keep animals to stay longer in an infantile state, a process called neotenization. And babies and young people cry a lot. “We probably have an innate preference for pain-like functions because they’re probably part of our upbringing,” Finka said. “We are sorry for them.”
Our preferences for baby faces can ultimately harm our furry companions. Previous research has shown that extreme facial modifications in cats come with a variety of ailments, from airway congestion to excessive skin folds to breathing and vision problems. And all this is due to our tendency to smooth faces.
“Unfortunately, what it means for our pets is that we can continue to prefer – and even encourage – the existence of breeds with serious health problems that may also struggle to communicate with us and potentially other animals,” writes Finca in The conversation.
This is true. Distorted faces, as cute as they are, could interfere with the way cats communicate with their owners, which means that cat owners can miss out when their cats are actually in pain.
“If you’re buying a cat, be sure to do some research,” Finka said. “It’s important to consider our animals’ ability to communicate.”
Originally published in Live Science.