'Grumpy' cats may struggle to express themselves

Grumpy Cat

Cats with ‘grumpy’ features may look cute, but it’s harder to tell how they’re feeling, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

Over time, people have selectively bred cats based specific features that we find appealing. But feline behaviour and welfare specialists at Nottingham Trent University found that the round faces, big eyes and seemingly grumpy expressions common to certain breeds might make it more difficult for individuals to communicate effectively.

The researchers analysed pictures of nearly 2,000 cat faces. The cats were categorised into flat-faced (‘brachycephalic’) breeds, such as Persian, Scottish Fold, Devon Rex and British shorthair, breeds with more proportioned features (‘mesocephalic’), such as Norwegian Forest and Ragdoll, and breeds with elongated faces (‘dolichocephalic’), such as Bengal and Egyptian Mau.

Using an analytical technique known as geometric morphometrics, the researchers plotted points on the images of cats’ faces to correspond with their underlying facial muscles. Changes in the location of these muscles are associated with changes in facial expressions displayed by cats.

While the cats all had neutral expressions, the researchers identified significant variations between the breeds which means that a neutral facial expression in one breed might now look the same as an expression of pain or discomfort in another.

Close up cat

“Many cat owners will be aware of the different facial expressions their cats display and that these expressions may change depending on what the cat needs or how they are feeling,” said lead researcher Dr Lauren Finka from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences.

“Our findings suggest that at a species level, these signals may be disrupted; if certain breeds have been inadvertently selected to look grumpy or in pain, we might be motivated to care for or give these cats more attention than they would prefer, or conversely be unable to tell when they might actually be in pain and need our help.

“Cats may also struggle to communicate with one another which might lead to increased conflict in multi-cat homes.”

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