Is your cat cow-hocked?5 May, 2007
This is something else I learnt at the recent TICA Easter Purrade cat show.
The judges were not only selecting cats that were true to breed type, they also emphasised selection on the basis of sound conformation.
What is sound conformation and why is it so important?
Conformation is the physical structure of the cat, for e.g. the skeletal structure. If there are problems with the skeletal structure, then it will affect the health of the cat.
In the case of cow-hocked cats, the hind legs of the cat turn inward, and this causes the feet to point outwards, rather than forwards. (this problem also affects horses and dogs)
Why should this be such an issue? When the hind legs turn inward, this places stress on the hips and spine and can lead to problems such as arthritis, or spinal problems. It’s also a possible cause of chronic pain.
The problem is that cats don’t show pain, and tend to shoulder on despite of what in humans would be a cause for painkillers. Imagine jumping off kitchen counters with painful hips. And of course, by the time the cat shows signs of suffering, the damage is often deep-set and irreparable.
So what’s the solution?
Simply – to breed cats which aren’t cow-hocked. Rumour has it that many years back there was a spate of cow-hocked cats in a particular breed in the US, but after one of the TICA judges gave a presentation on the suffering it caused, the breeders got the message and two years later, most of the cats of that breed were no longer cow-hocked.
How can you see if your cat is cow-hocked? You need to pick your cat up with one hand under its front legs, and the other just in front of its hind legs (not on the stomach which will cause it discomfort). Now, place the cat down on a table, and watch the hind legs and paws. It helps if you have someone sitting at eye level to the table surface, to judge whether the paws turn in, or out, or face forwards. If at the point of contact, the hind legs bend at the hocks, then it may be a sign that there is weakness, or pain.
As a novice breeder I’ve had dinned into me the necessity of breeding to type. So I think what surprised me at the show, is seeing the number of top show cats who were “typey” who were cow-hocked. What are we doing to our precious cats?
There should be no compromise where the health of our cats is concerned. And that’s something the judges at TICA wanted to emphasise. One of the winning cats was a young Maine Coon female. The fact that a young female Maine Coon was selected was unusual because male Maine Coons tend to be the winners as they’re larger. However, the judge chose this female because of her healthy conformation. It sent a clear message to everyone at the show – looks are important, but small ears etc. will change in a growing cat, and health should always come first.
(I wasn’t able to include photos of cow-hocked cats, but for an illustration, there is a good article on normal and abnormal feline structure on the Cat Fancier’s site: http://www.cfainc.org/articles/body.html)
Update 16 May 2007: a friend of mine who has dogs, sent me some tips on how to improve the condition by strenghtening the hind leg muscles, so that a dog will carry itself better. This should hopefully reduce any hip-related problems in later life. One way to develop hind leg muscles is to take the dog swimming or run the dog uphill. She did say that she didn’t think a cat would do either activity (!), but cats do like climbing, so a good tall cat tree the cat can shimmy up might work.