New research shared in The Conversation, a website where researchers write and publish their own articles, reveals that cats with a wide countenance are unable to express emotions as adeptly as their narrow-faced counterparts.
Breeds such as Persians, Himalayans or the beloved "Grumpy Cat" (may she rest in peace), are a result of selective breeding — thus, inbreeding — by humans in pursuit of an even more cuddly cat. No matter if they’re relaxed, frightened or hungry, their pouty mien sticks.
Unfortunately, this could mean that brachycephalic cats aren’t getting the attention they need from owners, wrote study author Lauren Finka, whose findings were published in the journal Frontiers of Veterinary Science. Her work is some of the first-ever to investigate how these physical changes due to selective breeding have impacted a cat’s ability to communicate.
Finka’s team programmed an algorithm to analyze over 2,000 cat faces for how distressed they appear. Researchers acknowledged that feline facial expressions are known to be subtle, especially to humans, but the computer analysis was more likely to assume a "pain-like" emotion in flat-faced, "brachycephalic" cats, compared to cats with elongated "dolichocephalic" faces or proportional "mesocephalic" faces.
The trendy Scottish Fold, which may come with a price tag of hundreds to over $1,000, according to some breeders, was the type most likely to be misidentified as scowling, even while shown in full repose. The breed is a favorite among celebrities, including Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.
Over time, humans have tended to breed pets with the goal of keeping them puppies and kittens forever, making them smaller, fluffier and helpless as can be.
"We likely have an innate preference for pain-like features because they probably tap into our drive to nurture," Finka told Live Science, who characterizes the smooshy-faced frown as baby-like. "We feel sorry for them."
Veterinarians were previously aware of the other ways brachycephalic faces result in a lower quality of life for some cats, such as trouble breathing, obstructed vision and excessive skin folding, which can become irritating for the cat.
On top of that, the new study indicates that pet parents also can’t be sure whether or not their precious is in pain or needs medical attention.
Finka prefers to see fewer "problematic" breeding practices and has encouraged future pet buyers "to do your research" before bringing these breeds home. Her advice comes at a time when pet adoption and purchasing is at an all-time high in the US and elsewhere, as more home-dwellers seek animal companionship during the pandemic.
"If purchasing a pet from a breeder, ensure that the desired breed does not typically suffer from chronic health problems and choose the breeder carefully," she wrote.
This content originally appeared in the New York Post.