We should genetically engineer cats to have smooth penises

I think we have a moral responsibility to work out how to cause male cats to have smooth rather than barbed penises. The tip of a cat penis looks like this:


Horrifying, right? Nature loves pulling tricks like this. Most of the time, I’m sure, we should leave things alone and let the natural course of things unfold in its own awful way. But we have a special relationship with domestic animals, in that we are the main force which has shaped their evolution over the last 10,000 or so years. We’ve been actively shaping their bodies for a long time now, mostly for our own amusement.

I propose that intimate relationship gives us an extra level of moral responsibility in this case. We’re the ones who tamed cats, selected them for being gentle and sensitive animals. We stuffed them with our values and perspectives. But we’re letting this part of their lives be as indifferently brutal as it has ever been. That was beyond our power to control for a really long time, but the time is very near where we’ll have choices to make.

In most cases, I think the case against genetically modifying the germline of a species is very good. But with cats and dogs especially, we can’t pretend that we’re not already making decisions:


From: http://www.catchatwithcarenandcody.com/2012_01_01_archive.html

This is not, I strongly suspect, how this cat’s ancestors looked 10,000 years ago. So we’ve already made decisions on their behalf. I think even cat breeders would agree, we have an ethical responsibility to not let their germ line get too weird, or too dysfunctional. But why should that responsibility stop when it comes to things that pre-date our influence? Assuming we develop a safe and reliable way to do so, I think we’re actually obliged to help cats reproduce in kinder and gentler way.


One thought on “We should genetically engineer cats to have smooth penises

  1. Pretty good argument, very fun, but two things stuck me as I read this:

    One if the argument for modifying cats was purely a kind of utility calculus then our relationship would not matter beyond the practicality of arranging modification and someone might figure out say a way to engineer an otherwise inert retrovirus which would achieve an analogous modification for wild animals (Tigers or cougars or whatever) and could be easily introduced to that population with minimal effort (via dartgun or whatever) we might be as compelled on pure net utility grounds to seek the modification more broadly. This is a bit tangential to your argument since you do seem to be appealing to things other then mere utility as justification for this action, but I was prompted to think this way. I notice I made a long comment on your blog post about having a world that gets into the tangled question of what ethical cases we might have or lack for caring about non-humans.

    The second thought I had which may be relevant to your actual argument is that in terms of traits of house cats that cause suffering the more pressing one might be their tendency to kill birds and mice etc. apparently for fun (hard to say but my impression is even well fed cats do this). We could presumably genetically engineer cats to be less killy, we could probably just use good old selective breeding to achieve some of this. It strikes me that perhaps in addition to the fact that cats were often used as mouse hunters and the like is that the killing trait may be linked to traits like playfulness and so we maintain their killing traits in companion house cats (non-mousers etc.) merely to serve our own pleasure. So we try less effective methods like tying bells on cats to make them less effective hunters because even if some simple method existed to make them behave in a less killy manner we would not pursue because it might be linked to behaviour we like. So our willingness to change physical traits we don’t notice or care about like penis character to reduce suffering but less so behavioural traits that may interrelated to traits we do care about may reveal something rather self-serving about our vision for domestic animals.

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