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Will Teacup Cats Become a Disastrous Celebrity-Spawned Pet Trend?

Kim Kardashian gets a Persian bred to be tiny, setting the stage for a kitten-mill free-for-all.

 |  Oct 17th 2012  |   101 Contributions


As much as I hate to give any attention to people who have become celebrities for no good reason, when I heard that reality TV star Kim Kardashian had bought a cat -- and not just any cat, mind you, but a so-called teacup Persian -- I had to speak up.

Before I heard about Kardashian’s new fashion accessory, I had no idea teacup cats even existed. (In case you’re wondering why I referred to her kitten as a fashion accessory, all you have to do is look here for proof.)

A Persian kitten in a teacup? So cute! A teacup Persian produced by a kitten mill? Not so much. Persian kitten by Shutterstock

If you're wondering what a teacup cat is, it’s not a cat in a teacup, it’s a cat that’s bred to be much smaller than the breed from which it originates. Much like the teacup Chihuahua, the teacup Persian seems to have its origins in breeding cats who have a gene that makes them smaller than average. As a result of generations of breeding, the average teacup cat weighs about half as much as the breed standard. One Persian breeder's website says a full-grown teacup cat is about the same size as a typical five-month-old kitten.

Several breeds, including the Persian, have successfully been bred to teacup size and retained their health. This requires a lot of work and a lot of knowledge of the breed, and the people who are going to do it right are the responsible breeders. Naturally, this means teacup Persians are very rare and expensive.

Of course, when celebrities get designer pets, unethical breeders start seeing dollar signs and then do everything in their power to produce mass quantities of the latest fashionable pet. In case you didn’t know, there are plenty of kitten mills out there, too, and chances are the purebred kitten you see in a pet store is cranked out of a facility just as delightful and healthy as a puppy mill.

Mr. Grumpypants sees what you did there, and he's not impressed. Persian cat face by Shutterstock

The easiest way to produce teacup cats is through inbreeding. And if a cat’s family tree has no branches (as Jeff Foxworthy might say), it’s likely to suffer from a lot of other health issues that manifest when closely related animals are bred together. Kitten-mill operators don’t give a crap about potential health problems, the integrity of the breed, or the dangers of inbreeding. All they care about is making money.

There’s another kind of unscrupulous breeder who is capitalizing on the teacup fad. They sell runts or even deliberately deprive kittens of food in order to keep them small, and then pass them off as teacup cats.

So now that Kim Kardashian has her little teacup Persian, what are the odds that people are going to run out and get the first teacup Persian they can lay their hands on? And are they going to be willing to be put on breeder’s waiting list -- possibly waiting years for their kitten -- and pay thousands of dollars for their new cat? As my old Magic 8-Ball used to say, “Signs point to no.” It seems to me that a true fad-follower is going to want is to get their latest toy fast and cheap.

Awwwww! Silver chinchilla Persian kitten by Shutterstock

The cat fancy has managed to dodge the bullet of crazy overbreeding that plagues the dog fancy, but if celebrity-spawned fads like teacup cats continue to come along, I worry that purebred cats are only going to suffer, not only in terms of health and quality of life but also in terms of the consequences when the breed goes out of style. How many of these teacup Persians will find themselves in shelters when their so-called caretakers want to move on to the next designer pet trend?

So hey, if you think Kim Kardashian is really someone you should aspire to emulate, go ahead and get your fashionable little mini-kitty, but be prepared to face neurological and cardiovascular problems and probably a shortened lifespan as well. Oh, and don’t forget, that Persian fur does require daily brushing, and you’re the one who’s going to have to do it. After all, you (probably) don’t have millions of dollars and an army of peons to do the dirty work for you.

If you want a tiny purebred cat, get a Singapura. They’re naturally small, they have short hair, and they’re ridiculously cute!

What do you think about Kim Kardashian getting a teacup cat? Let us know in the comments.

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