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Flat-faced cat breeds haven't always sported such smooshed features, says Renee Rucinsky, DVM, DABVP(F), owner of Mid Atlantic Cat Hospital and Feline Thyroid Center in Queenstown, Md.
"The conformation of some breeds we think of as super flat-faced hasn't always been that way," she says. "If you look at old pictures and drawings of Persian cats and Himalayans especially—although their faces may have tended to be a little flatter than regular cats, they weren't nearly the super flat faces that we commonly see currently."
She adds that the look of many of these breeds isn't natural, but instead the design of specific breeding plans, resulting in a genetic mutation that "makes their faces flatter." But this mutation affects much more than their appearance.
Health Problems of Flat-Faced Cats
Rucinsky, president-elect of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, says that when it comes to snubbed-nosed breeds, "people either think they're the cutest things ever or super ugly!" But no matter how cute you think they are, it's important to understand their unique health considerations.
Depending on the breeding program, some flat-faced cats are fully brachycephalic, while others only moderately so. Fully brachycephalic cats have shorter skull bones—similar to brachycephalic dog breeds such as pugs and English bulldogs. With so little space, the soft tissues in their head simply don't have room to operate normally, causing a host of health problems. Here are just a few.
As a result of their abnormal developmental issues, flat-faced cat breeds are prone to developing brachycephalic airway syndrome (BAS). "Sometimes they have teeny, tiny nostrils—it's like us trying to breathe through a coffee stirrer," Rucinsky says. BAS may cause something as simple as snoring, but she adds that "you can imagine how much harder it would be [for these cats] to breathe with allergies or an upper respiratory infection." Difficulty breathing could also hamper their ability to play as well as other cats.
Brachycephalic cats might also have a hypoplastic trachea, meaning their trachea is smaller than that of other felines, making breathing even more of a challenge. Some kitties also have an elongated soft palate that extends too far to the back of their throat and partially blocks the opening of trachea, further restricting airflow.
"Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing just how affected a flat-faced cat will be for BAS and other issues without a veterinary exam," says Jenna Stregowski, RVT, Daily Paws health and behavior editor. "A vet checks the head, mouth, and airway to determine the level of restriction, and provides suggestions on how to deal with it and other brachycephalic-related issues."
Rucinsky says that, because of the altered shape of their skulls, it's common for flat-nosed cats' teeth to be misaligned. "It may be funny looking or cute, but those crooked teeth can potentially cause trauma to other oral structures and be painful," she says. "Ensuring that each veterinary visit includes a thorough oral exam is critical."
Additionally, flat-faced cats might suffer from a mandibular bite, when the lower jaw juts out more than the upper. This often makes eating more difficult.
"Also because of the altered skull shape, there can be excess tear overflow from their eyes," Rucinsky says. "Since flat-faced kitties often have extra skin folds, that additional moisture from runny eyes can lead to dermatitis."
Sometimes brachycephalic cats also have trouble with tear duct blockage. These kitties may need to have their faces cleaned daily or several times a week to prevent skin infections.
If your heart is set on one of these squishy-faced snuggle bugs, Stregowski recommends asking a breeder for an in-person visit. This allows you to possibly meet the breeding parents and other littermates, and lets you discuss aspects of the program so you're more prepared for the long-term care of a flat-faced kitty. "Ask if any cats in the line have needed surgical correction for BAS, if dental problems have occurred, and other issues related to brachycephalic breeds," she adds.
Cat Breeds With Flat Faces
With fascinating histories, striking good looks, and personable dispositions, it's no wonder that many flat-faced cats are among the most popular cat breeds.
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The sovereign of all smooshy-faced cats is undoubtedly the sweet-natured Persian. With ancestors hailing from the Middle East and Asia, they come in many different colors: white, cream, gray, and orange are some of the most popular. Low to the ground and stocky, these glamorous cats aren't big jumpers—instead, they're more than happy to nap all day in a favorite cozy spot.
Himalayan (Colorpoint Persian)
Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty A Himalayan needs daily brushing to keep his gorgeous coat tangle-free.
The Himalayan gets his flat face from Persian lineage, but his gorgeous colorpoint coat and striking blue eyes come from his Siamese parent. Playful and curious, Himalayans are quite fond of cat toys and cuddles. Like all the flat-faced cats on this list, Himalayans have particular grooming needs to maintain their fine looks. But instead of a chore, think of brushing your cat as bonus bonding time.
lesichkadesign / Adobe Stock British longhairs need their thick fur brushed multiple times a week to prevent tangles and mats.
For a long-living and peaceful companion, look no further than the British longhair. This chatty kitty will curl up beside you for up to 15 years! You can teach the longhair any number of tricks, as she's quite bright and eager to be engaged—with a little persuasion, that is. Motivate her to exercise a little more each day by running a feather wand up and down a cat tree or through a cat wheel.
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The longhair's parent breed is the British shorthair. His Roman forebears arrived in England centuries ago as dedicated vermin hunters on farms, but this handsome plushie with adorable chubby cheeks adapted to indoor cat life well. Today, shorthairs are a prominent feature on the cat show circuit. This kind and affectionate kitty becomes fast friends with dogs, kids, and other cats with proper socialization and introductions.
Светлана Акифьева / Adobe Stock Exotic shorthairs have the cute, smooshy Persian face with the American shorthair's short, plush coat.
As one of the most popular short-haired cats in the world, it's easy to think the elegant exotic shorthair would let fame go to her head and be a total hands-off diva. To the contrary, she's devoted to her humans and loves one-on-one time with them—so much so that she might develop a little separation anxiety if left alone too long.
Megaloman1ac / Adobe Stock With their down-turned ears, some say Scottish folds look like a cross between an owl and a cat.
Easygoing, spunky, and charming, the Scottish fold is a rarer flat-faced cat breed. While the folded ears (which are caused by a genetic mutation) aren't guaranteed to all kittens in a litter, the lush coat is. That fur does shed, but weekly brushing helps control the fluff. Also known as the Highland fold, this is one smart kitty who loves to play games, totally dispelling the myth of the aloof feline.
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If you want a cat that's more athlete than couch potato, meet the Burmese. The question is ... which one do you bring home? According to the Burmese Cat Club, there are two types to choose: the American and the European. An American Burmese has a wider head, more rounded eyes, and is often stockier, whereas the European Burmese has a wedge-shaped head, almond-shaped eyes, and is a little more lean. Neither are as flat-nosed as other breeds on this list, but both share an endearing, almost dog-like social temperament. In fact, you can train them to fetch and perform other fun tricks.
otsphoto / Shutterstock Munchkins are a smart breed of cat that can be trained to follow basic commands and to walk on a leash.
A munchkin is about 3 inches shorter than the average cat, but stands tall with feisty cuteness. Considered one of the top small cat breeds, munchkins are social, energetic, and a teeny bit rascally—they have a knack for stealing shiny objects and stashing them away! But because the short-legged mutation can be fatal if two munchkins are bred together, it's essential to research ethical munchkin breeders so you get a healthy kitten.
Lucy Lambriex / Getty Despite his curly coat, brushing your Selkirk rex too often can actually make his fur frizzy. A once-a-week combing will keep him tangle-free.
The bright and cheerful Selkirk rex is an all-American kitty with European and Asian roots. A cross between a Persian, British shorthair, and exotic shorthair, she was first bred in the 1980s in Montana. The coat is the breed's staple and is either loose and wavy or tightly curled. What's more, kittens within the same litter can have one type or the other! This sweetheart loves to follow her humans around in anticipation of enriching playtime, but she's equally happy to warm the couch cushions for you.
SynchR / Getty Bred as a cross between a Persian and Burmese, the Burmilla is a relatively new—and rare—cat.
A little-known flat-faced cat is the sleek Burmilla. His parents are a silver-coated chinchilla Persian and a Burmese, providing him with a double-dose of good looks, intelligence, and effervescent personality. This kitty is a prime adventure cat—he responds well to leash and harness training and loves to explore the world while on hikes with you. He also enjoys lazing about in catios with high perches.
Виктор Иден / Adobe Stock Along with their black fur, Bombays are easily identified by their cute round faces.
As one of the few solid black cat breeds, the muscular Bombay was created to resemble the Indian black leopard. This American shorthair and Burmese cross inherited traits from the parent breeds such as athleticism, friendliness, and deep love for their humans. Depending on the breeding program, she might also have much less of a smooshed face than others on this list, but have your vet check her out for a clean bill of health just to be sure.