Down Syndrome In Cats

The question about Down syndrome in cats1 was made famous by Monty the cat who was born with certain problems. He had health problems and facial structure injuries that were similar to humans who were born with Down syndrome.

Monty’s photos were posted on Instagram and it took the internet by storm. Many pet parents created accounts for their cats that showed similar signs as Monty. Additionally, they believed their cat also had feline Down syndrome.2

Monty the cat is famous for his broad nose, which is a clear sign of the symptom. However, it was not known for sure whether he was born with an abnormality or developed it later because of an infection or trauma. Both of these ailments can cause facial bone abnormalities.

Certain behavioral abnormalities like unusual facial features in cats have become popular on Social media. Furthermore, people are claiming that these cats have Down syndrome, hence advancing the belief that Down syndrome in cats is possible.

Down syndrome in cats
Photo By Francesco UngaroPexels Copyright 2019

Regardless of the rumors or doubts on the internet, cats do not develop Down syndrome and they cannot do so even in the future. Down syndrome is a disorder affecting one in seven hundred human babies born in the US each year. Also, it happens when the developing fetus’s genetic material is copied incorrectly. As a result, an extra chromosome 21 or a partial chromosome 21 is formed in this condition called trisomy 21.3

1. Down Syndrome In Humans

In short, chromosomes are responsible for organizing the DNA into bundles in each cell. Such useful cells pass on the DNA or genetic material when they divide. However, from time to time an extra chromosome 21 or partial chromosome 21 causes a variety of birth defects resulting in people born with Down syndrome and shared physical traits.

Down's Syndrome

As explained by the National Down Syndrome Society, people with this syndrome share some or all of the following traits:

  • Low muscle tone
  • Small stature
  • An upward slant to the eyes
  • A deep crease across the palm in the center

Most importantly, it is noticeable that all people with this syndrome do not look alike. In humans, Down syndrome is also known as Trisomy 21, which is a common genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra copy or partial copy of chromosome 21.

This syndrome was named after John Langdon Down, who was a British doctor in 1866 who described the syndrome in people. The parents of children born with these physical characteristics are usually genetically normal. Also, the condition is believed to occur by chance with a higher incidence in older human mothers.

In human beings, Down syndrome could cause mild to moderate mental disabilities. Along with that, it often comes with decreased muscle tone, shorter heights, and upward-slanting eyes.

2. Why Down Syndrome In Cats Doesn’t Exist

Can Cats Have Down Syndrome? A Vet Answers

In total, humans have 23 chromosomes whereas cats have 19. So, having an extra chromosome 21 is clearly impossible for cats. However, it does not mean cats cannot or will not have extra chromosomes occasionally.

Additionally, a 1975 paper that was published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research identified a rare chromosomal abnormality. This was discovered in male cats that allowed them to have an extra chromosome, which resulted in a condition similar to the Klinefelter syndrome of humans.

A cat with a chromosomal defect has an extra chromosome that carries genetic material affecting its coloration. Moreover, this condition causes these male cats to have a color pattern generally seen only in female cats.

3. Abnormalities That Could Resemble Down Syndrome Symptoms

Simultaneously, there may have been some particular cats on Instagram that became online sensations after their owners claimed that these cats and their unusual appearances were the results of extra chromosomes. But, it is unclear whether these claims surrounding chromosomal disease have ever been verified through genuine genetic testing.

Despite the questionable biological realities and claims, feline Down syndrome has become a famous term. However, the veterinary community does not recognize such syndromes as a veterinary condition4. Along with that, it does not advocate the transference of human conditions to animals on just the basis of physical appearance or behavior.

Typically, so-called Down syndrome-like symptoms typically manifest as some distinctive characteristics, such as:

  • Broad noses or squished noses
  • Widely spaced upturned eyes
  • Small or unusual ears
  • Low muscle tone
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty with elimination (urination or defecation)
  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Heart problems
  • Perpetually saddened face
  • Motor dysfunction

3.1. Panleukopenia Virus

Feline Panleukopenia - causes, pathology, clinical signs, diagnosis, treatment

This infection is also called feline distemper and it is rare because of the effective vaccinations. But, it can still occur in cats sometimes where the cat is infected in utero and a part of the brain called the cerebellum is severely damaged.

This virus kills cells that are rapidly growing and dividing in a developing uterus. This can also cause a lack of coordination, resulting in clumsy or unbalanced walking and other movements.

3.2. Toxic Substances

Most Common CAT POISONS 🐱⚠️ (5 Toxic Products Your Cat Needs to Avoid)

Exposing toxic substances to the pregnant cat’s mother can produce a kitten with neurological problems that affect the brain and many other parts of the body.

3.3. Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Purrfectly Imperfect | Caring for a cat with Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Furthermore, just like the panleukopenia virus5, Cerebellar hypoplasia 6is a congenital disorder that affects the development of the cerebellum.

3.4. Head Trauma In Cat

Head Trauma in Cats | Wag!

Blunt force trauma to the head can also result in intellectual impairment along with compromised balance and coordination. Not to mention facial injuries and other problems in cats.

3.5. Malnutrition

How to Help a Cat Gain Weight

A kitten who did not get enough nutrients including calories can have an improperly developing neurological system. Along with that, it compromises the brain and the rest of the central nervous system.

3.6. Feline Dysautonomia

What is Dysautonomia in Animals?

Cats with this disorder can have depression and a dangerously low heart rate. The combination of these conditions could make it seems as if something is off with mental acuity.

4. Expectations For Special Needs Cats

Cats exhibiting such abnormalities are typically called special needs cats. Also, special needs cats display many traits that could resemble traits associated with Down syndrome, even though it is impossible for cats to develop this condition.

Specials need cats are termed as such because they need special care. Their owners must take extra care to protect them from the hazards of pools and stairs as well as predators and other dangers, to which they are extremely vulnerable. Along with that, such cats may need help doing something as basic as eating, drinking, cleaning themselves, and moving around with vision or hearing loss.  

Owners with special needs cats must enlist their veterinarians as allies. Also, anyone with such cats should learn about their full range of health care options. Simultaneously, people can google cats and Down syndrome in cats and learn more about these things and their physical or behavioral features.

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Photo by Jari Hytönen on Unsplash

If anything about the pets is making their owners think of Down syndrome in cats, they must immediately take him/her to the veterinarian for a professional diagnosis. For some things, there might be a cure especially if this cat is still a developing kitten.

Furthermore, even if the main problem cannot be fixed but results in another problem then the vet may be able to prescribe medicines that keep the situation from worsening.

Moreover, a veterinarian will be able to do an X-ray scan, run genetic tests, and other specific tests needed to diagnose any serious genetic disorder or disease. There have been cases where cats have been diagnosed with a genetic disorder that is very close to so-called feline Down syndrome or Down syndrome in cats.

One more thing to consider is if a cat is diagnosed with a condition requiring surgery then he/she will need special accessories. For example, if the cat underwent surgery or has a joint problem anywhere, the owner will need to be careful with his/her collar. Ask the vet for help to choose the best type of collar for the feline’s needs.

5. Conclusion

Feline Down syndrome or Down syndrome in cats is not possible because of the cat’s genetic structure. However, some neurological and other genetic disorders may be responsible for similar Down syndrome symptoms.

In short, if you think that your kitty is showing any similar qualities to that particular syndrome, visit a qualified veterinary expert to get it diagnosed and treated. Should you still keep the social media account? The answer to this is YES.

People can still keep their cats’ social media accounts as it will be a great way to educate people about special needs cats, chromosomal abnormalities, motor dysfunction issues, physical abnormalities, genetic mutations, genetic defects, and permanent neurological damage.

FAQ

1. What are some genetic conditions that may affect cats?

Cats can experience various genetic conditions, including cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and polycystic kidney disease (PKD), among others. These conditions can lead to neurological or organ-related issues but are not related to Down syndrome.

2. How can I tell if my cat has a genetic condition?

If you suspect that your cat may have a genetic condition or is experiencing health issues, it’s essential to seek advice from a veterinarian. A thorough physical examination and, if necessary, diagnostic tests can help identify any underlying health concerns.

3. Are cats with genetic conditions treatable?

The treatment options for cats with genetic conditions depend on the specific disorder and its severity. Some conditions can be managed with medication, dietary changes, or supportive care, while others may have no cure but can be managed to improve the cat’s quality of life.

4. Can genetic conditions be prevented in cats?

Some genetic conditions may be prevented through responsible breeding practices. Breeders can screen for certain genetic mutations and avoid mating carriers of those mutations to reduce the risk of passing them to offspring.

Read more

  1. Kim, Ockjean, et al. “Cat, rat, and rugrats: Narrative comprehension in young children with Down syndrome.” Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities 20 (2008): 337-351. ↩︎
  2. Gunn-Moore, Danièlle. “Feline endocrinopathies.” Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice 35.1 (2005): 171-210. ↩︎
  3. Petersen, M. B., and M. Mikkelsen. “Nondisjunction in trisomy 21: origin and mechanisms.” Cytogenetics and cell genetics 91.1-4 (2000): 199-203. ↩︎
  4. Nielsen, T. D., et al. “Survey of the UK veterinary profession: common species and conditions nominated by veterinarians in practice.” Veterinary Record 174.13 (2014): 324-324. ↩︎
  5. Parrish, Colin R. “3 Pathogenesis of feline panleukopenia virus and canine parvovirus.” Bailliere’s clinical haematology 8.1 (1995): 57-71. ↩︎
  6. Poretti, Andrea, Eugen Boltshauser, and Dan Doherty. “Cerebellar hypoplasia: differential diagnosis and diagnostic approach.” American Journal of Medical Genetics Part C: Seminars in Medical Genetics. Vol. 166. No. 2. 2014. ↩︎

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