Updated November 29, 2020
Looks don’t matter. I don’t mean that in a ‘politically correct’, ‘we shouldn’t be so superficial’ kind of way. I mean it quite literally: looks don’t matter to you.
How can I say that? It’s obvious that some animals are cuter and more adorable than other ones. A cute kitty gets through my defences every time and I’m always baby talking to puppies.
It’s just that, beyond the fun, cuteness is completely irrelevant and even harmful to animals. I’ll explain why after trying to work out what makes an animal cute.
What Is Cuteness?
Cuteness is very much an individual taste, but certain traits seem to appear regularly:
- Age: young animals are cute
- Size: small animals are cute
- Facial features: large eyes, flat faces & folded ears all seem cuter
- Body shape: rounded bodies, short legs & stubby tails are cute
- Coat: fluffy animals seem cuter
The whole concept of ‘cute’ is probably a survival strategy to care for our young.
When Cuteness Goes Bad
It’s OK of course to have a cute pet. What is wrong is when the same factors that create cuteness cause suffering or even a reduction in quality of life. Then we cross a line, like what happens to Scottish Fold cats. Or Munchkins.
Other than these two, I’m not going to talk about the merits or deficiencies of certain breeds. Some are distinctly unhealthier than others, and some possibly shouldn’t be pets at all. I have a particular welfare concern with wildlife like sugar gliders as pets. However, most domestic species can (and do) lead high-quality lives if owners choose with their heads, not their hearts.
Why We Love Animals
There’s nothing wrong with liking the look of your pets. We all do. I remember being slightly offended when Loki’s breeder said she wasn’t happy with how his ears turned out. His ears? But they’re awesome!
We all get a bit of pride watching a fine animal or when someone says how handsome our dog or cat is. For some, owning a rare breed gives a joy in itself.
However, experienced vets see something that all pet owners should know. It’s how the love an animal receives has nothing to do with size, shape or appearance. It has everything to do with only two things:
- The personality of the pet
- The willingness of an owner to open their heart
In other words, as the RSPCA say, love is blind.
What Vets Want You To Know
- Loved pets are always cute to their owners
- Looks will distract you from making smart choices
Cuteness works its charm best on first impressions and outsiders. No owner says that one of their pets is cuter than another.
I think most experienced dog & cat owners know this innately. I see owners who recently lost a cute breed come in with a Staffy cross or a moggie from the shelter that they immediately and utterly adore. I see dogs who could be called ‘ugly’ to an outsider receive the same love as the most photogenic.
What We’re Up Against
Cuteness is certainly a big influence on the choice over which species or breed to purchase. Some people who lack other information may even use cuteness as the only factor in the decision. It takes a lot for them to look beyond the ‘cute at first sight’ breeds
It’s no wonder. We are increasingly bombarded with images of these dog and cat breeds. I see them used in all forms of media, especially on email and YouTube. I see them as the most commonly chosen breeds for advertising, even within our own veterinary industry. Are even vets susceptible? Until recently, the answer would have been yes.
How To Show Love
So this is a message to those among us about to become dog or cat owners. You will love your pet, no matter what they look like. You will love them not for their looks, which you will soon think are wonderful anyway. You will love them instead for who they are.
That’s why when we see your new puppy or kitten, we’ll spend more time talking about social development than health. That’s why we’re obsessed with allowing a young animal to grow to their full potential.
It’s good breeding, health and management that make happy pets and happy people. Nothing else. If they end up being cute too, that’s a bonus. Choosing a breed for cuteness first is a case of the tail wagging the dog.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!