Long before cats became the darlings of social media, they spread through annals of the ancient human world. Due to such long and close association with the humans, they underwent breeding procedures across generations to match cuteness scales set by their human owners and breeders which have had a downside too.
The multiple generation long procedures, however, have left the feline with perpetual grimaced faces, that are bereft of emotions.
According to a research published by the science journal Frontiers of Veterinary Sciences, it has been suggested that the human induced selective breeding programs have led and left the cats with permanent frowny faces.
The journal published in December last year also suggests that the selective breeding among cats to feature a flattened face type, known as ‘brachycephalic’ face, which are now common among Persian and Himalayan feline species has stunted the cat’s ability to express fear, anxiety or pain accurately. These flat faced breeds are now permanently stuck with faces in a perpetual frown or grimace that indicate pain, even though when they are not experiencing any.
The team, led by postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study, Lauren Finka at the Nottingham Trent University in England used a computer-based algorithm to analyse facial data of more than 2,000 photos of cats. Each photo was assigned a score which ranged between neutral to full-on grimace levels.
Finka explained this as a ‘real eye-opener’ for him. The research team also compared the neutral facial expressions of several cat breeds with that of the grimaced facial expressions of domestic shorthair cats that were recovering from routine surgical procedures. Finka and her team found that while cats aren’t endowed with expressive features to begin with, however, the flat-faced cat species seemed to display ‘pain like’ facial expressions even when they are relaxed.
Among the cat breeds studied by the team at Nottingham Trent University, the Scottish Fold breed scored the highest for pain like expressions than other shorthair cats that were actually in pain. The research also suggests that this is due to the human tendency to breed animals which can stay longer in an infantile state, a process called endogenization.
But our preference for baby faces may end up harming our feline companions. The bygone research also suggests that extreme facial modifications in domestic cats come with their own set of ailments such as constricted airways, excessive skin folding, breathing and vision problems.
Finka added that if one is planning to buy a cat, he/she should do their research first. “It's important that we consider the abilities of our animals to communicate,” she added.