Scottish fold breed is affected by the inherited disease called osteochondrodysplasia. This disease causes abnormalities of cartilage and bone deformities (1). As a result of this Scottish Folds suffer from lifelong pain. Many researchers and some veterinarians see the breeding Scottish fold cats as unethical and urge to stop the breeding of these cats altogether (1, 2, 3, 5).
However, breeders and some owners of Scottish folds remain ignorant about the suffering of these cats. They claim that the disease is only a problem if two Scottish folds are bred together, it is simply a result of “bad breeding” (4). Therefore, if you breed a Scottish fold with a cat with normal ears- a British Shorthair that carries but does not express the Fold gene or “Scottish straight”- osteochondrodysplasia won’t occur. But this thinking goes against the scientific research which shows the opposite is the truth: All Scottish fold cats are going to have osteochondrodysplasia.
Folded ears go hand in hand with disease
Photo credit: Goffinet Cédric
If two Scottish fold cats are bred together, their kittens will be homozygous, which means they will possess two copies of Fold gene. All kittens will have folded ears, but they will be severely disabled by the disease. The deformities can be detected in these kittens as early as 7-weeks old and get worse with age (1).
Many breeders claim that they no longer practice “Fold to Fold” breeding. When a cat with folded ears is bred to the cat having normal ears, only half of the kittens will have folded ears. These kittens will be heterozygous. Breeders believe that heterozygous Scottish folds are free of osteochondrodysplasia.
Mutations in TRPV4 gene were identified as a cause of osteochondrodysplasia in Scottish fold cats (6). Interestingly, similar mutations in humans are known to lead to osteoarthritis (7). Osteoarthritis is a joint disease, similar to osteochondrodysplasia. Humans with osteoarthritis develop deformities in their hands and feet, as seen in Scottish fold cats. Because of this similarity, researchers think that Scottish folds can be used as a model to study human degenerative osteoarthritis (8).
Deformities of hands in humans caused by TRPV4 mutations. Courtesy: Nature Genetics.
As mentioned before, it has been confirmed that TRPV4 mutations cause osteochondrodysplasia, but they are also a reason why Scottish fold breed has folded ears (6). You simply cannot have folded ears without a disease – they are inseparable.
How disease affects heterozygous Scottish Folds
Photo credit: Ivan Uskov
All cats with folded ears no matter heterozygous or not will develop some degree of osteochondrodysplasia (1,2,3,5,8,9).
The disease in homozygous Scottish folds is quite severe and may progress to the point when a cat is unable to walk (1). Heterozygous cats may seem to be less affected by the disease at first but this notion is mistaken. The disease typically progresses slowly in these cats. However, in some heterozygous kittens, osteochondrodysplasia can appear early too, when a kitten is about 6 months old (1).
Radiograph showing the deformities of Scottish fold’s forelimb at 16 months (A) compared to normal cat’s forelimb (B). Courtesy: Australian Veterinary Journal.
Scottish folds develop bone deformities that lead to short misshapen limbs and thick inflexible tail. These cats are inactive and have difficulties with walking, running or jumping, because these activities cause them disabling pain (1,3). Some owners and breeders of Scottish folds, who argue that their heterozygous cats do not have symptoms of the disease; they believe that they are capable to identify if their cat is in pain if that was a case. However, it is not that simple: even scientists have a hard time recognizing the pain in cats (11). Cats are excellent at hiding their pain as a protective mechanism.
Pain and suffering of heterozygous cats may be quite severe that sometimes owners choose to euthanize their cats (1).
Chondroprotective agents such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may reduce pain (2), and radiation therapy could be helpful to manage the disease in Scottish folds (5,9). Unfortunately, osteochondrodysplasia cannot be cured. Scottish folds need a life-long treatment (8).
Breeding of Scottish fold cats should be banned
Photo credit: mroppx.
Scottish fold is a popular cat breed and its numbers are increasing in many developing countries, including Turkey, so it is important to educate people about osteochondrodysplasia and that breeding these cats poses an ethical dilemma.
People find folded ears attractive and this is probably the reason why they buy Scottish fold cats. Many Scottish fold owners are unaware of the disease and those who have heard about it, think their cats do not have it because they come from the breeding of Scottish folds with British shorthairs (3). It is not an unexpected response, because most of the information we learn about the breeds come from cat breeders’ sources. Of course, Scottish fold breeders are in denial: they believe their cats do not have a disease. Many veterinarians do not try to prevent their clients from buying Scottish folds, even though they should if they care about the cat welfare at all (10). Sadly there are even veterinarians who breed and sell Scottish folds and other breeds: this is incompatible with the medical profession and is very unethical.
All Scottish folds will suffer from a painful disease, osteochondrodysplasia, through their entire lives. In order to prevent and eliminate this suffering, people should be encouraged not to buy these cats, and even better, the breeding of these cats should be banned completely.
Please sign this petition if you agree that breeding of cats with disabilities is unethical and cruel:
Cover photo: Murielle Smit.
Malik, R., Allan, G. S., Howlett, C. R., Thompson, D. E., James, G., McWhirter, C., & Kendall, K. (1999). Osteochondrodysplasia in Scottish fold cats. Australian Veterinary Journal, 77(2), 85-92.
2. Chang, J., Jung, J., Oh, S., Lee, S., Kim, G., Kim, H., … & Choi, M. (2007). Osteochondrodysplasia in three Scottish Fold cats. Journal of veterinary science, 8(3), 307-309.
3. Aydin, D., Altunatmaz, K., & ERDİKMEN, D. O. (2015). Hereditary Osteochondrodysplasia in Scottish Fold Cats. Kafkas Universitesi Veteriner Fakultesi Dergisi, 21(4), 463-469.
4. Cat Fanciers Association (2013. About the Scottish Fold.
5. Hubler, M., Volkert, M., Kaser‐Hotz, B., & Arnold, S. (2004). Palliative irradiation of Scottish Fold osteochondrodysplasia. Veterinary Radiology & Ultrasound, 45(6), 582-585.
6. Gandolfi, B., Alamri, S., Darby, W. G., Adhikari, B., Lattimer, J. C., Malik, R., … & McIntyre, P. (2016). A dominant TRPV4 variant underlies osteochondrodysplasia in Scottish fold cats. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 24(8), 1441-1450.
7. Lamandé, S. R., Yuan, Y., Gresshoff, I. L., Rowley, L., Belluoccio, D., Kaluarachchi, K., … & Cole, W. G. (2011). Mutations in TRPV4 cause an inherited arthropathy of hands and feet. Nature genetics, 43(11), 1142-1146.
8. Takanosu, M., Takanosu, T., Suzuki, H., & Suzuki, K. (2008). Incomplete dominant osteochondrodysplasia in heterozygous Scottish Fold cats. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 49(4), 197-199.
9. Fujiwara‐Igarashi, A., Igarashi, H., Hasegawa, D., & Fujita, M. (2015). Efficacy and complications of palliative irradiation in three Scottish fold cats with osteochondrodysplasia. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 29(6), 1643-1647.
10. Waters, A. (2017). Vets can’t do this on their own. Veterinary Record, 181(2), 30-30.
11. Merola, I., & Mills, D. S. (2016). Systematic review of the behavioural assessment of pain in cats. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 18(2), 60-76.