Cats have long been one of the internet’s main attractions, but with the rise of social media – Instagram in particular – they’ve taken center stage. These days, the trendiest kittens have their own accounts (the size of Choupette Lagerfeld's following will put you to shame).
All this social media attention has fueled demand for certain breeds. One popular breed is the Scottish Fold, which features in nearly two million Instagram posts.
The breed is beloved of celebrities including Ed Sheeran, who has featured the adorable Calippo on Instagram, and Taylor Swift, whose two much-photographed kitties, Meredith Grey and Olivia Benson, have become stars in their own right. Kirsten Dunst and Patrick Dempsey apparently have Scottish Folds, too.
Even Scottish Folds without ties to A-list celebs, like Milla and Maru, have amassed gargantuan followings. Clearly, there’s something about these felines’ floppy ears and owl-like appearance that we find irresistible.
But you might want to think twice the next time you’re about to double tap one of their photos. Animal welfare campaigners have called for the breeding of Scottish Folds to be banned, claiming the gene mutation that helps to make the breed so cute also causes health problems.
The mutation which give them floppy ears may also affect cartilage throughout their bodies, making them more susceptible to arthritis and other severe health problems.
Gudrun Ravetz, the president of the British Veterinary Association, said the breed's "cuteness" is fueling its popularity. "These cats have become so popular on social media and with celebrities," she told the BBC.
"People are wanting to have these cats because of that, but unfortunately it is another example of us prioritizing how a pet looks rather than their quality of life."
A report by Dr Richard Malik, a veterinary internal medicine specialist at Sydney University, says "breeding these cats is cruel" and "ethically indefensible," a fact that, he says, has been known since the 1970s.
"Vets and cat breeders who condone this practice have no scientific basis with which to defend this practice. They are not breeding cats – they are perpetuating a disease state," Malik argues.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) concurs and is calling on the country's government to ban the practice. "It is common for the breed to suffer from serious health problems," SSPCA chief Superintendent Mike Flynn told The Times.
"The cartilage and bones do not develop properly, which leads to arthritis and other painful joint diseases that can cause reluctance to move, abnormal posture and gait, lameness and short, misshapen limbs. We welcome any change to legislation to prevent the breeding and sale of Scottish fold cats."
In response to the concerns, the Scottish government said it is "currently considering the issue of pet breeding as part of an ongoing review of pet welfare."
As you might expect, breeders of Scottish Folds claim it's a non-issue as other cat breeds also have known health problems. One breeder, who provided Sheeran with his kitten, told the BBC: "When you balance that against the number of other health issues that occur in other breeds, you could argue that for most pedigree breeds."
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