Can Cats Have Down Syndrome? – Genetic Disorders Of Cats

Short answer: No. Here’s why. Down Syndrome is by definition an extra chromosome in the Chromosome 21 pairing in humans. Humans have 23 chromosome pairings where a cat only has 19. No 21st chromosome pair means no anomaly in that pairing.

Cats simply don’t have enough chromosomes to have what can properly be called Down syndrome. While some cats may display some of symptoms comparable to Down syndrome, the cause may be another genetic fluke, poor nutrition or just the cat being herself.

Down Syndrome in Humans

This genetic disorder is also known as trisomy 21 due to the extra chromosome in that pairing. It is marked by delays in growth, decreased muscle tone, intellectual disability, poor immune function and dysmorphic features such as slanted eyes and a flattened nose (it used to be called Mongolism for this reason) as well as a protruding tongue and short hands.

They may have a propensity to epileptic seizures as well as hearing and vision problems and congenital heart disease. They may be predisposed to blood disorders like anemia, leukemia and polycythemia. One underlying cause seems to be the mother being in her later years.

It can be managed with educational programs and medical treatments for the ailments that come with Down syndrome.

Down Syndrome Signs In Cats And Kittens

A cat or kitten may exhibit some of the symptoms a human with Down syndrome does. An undergrown kitten who isn’t reaching all the developmental milestones may be suffering from malnutrition or a genetic condition. Inbreeding and other factors can cause a cat to have mental and physical abnormalities.

Anemia and other blood disorders may be due to parasitical infection or malnutrition. As for physical appearance, not every cat is going to conform to breed standard. The CFA might not give cats with droopy eyes, flabby muscles or a stick out tongue any prizes, but they’re still good cats. An unusually clumsy cat may have a neurological disorder and should be seen by a veterinarian.

Care for Cats with Feline Down Syndrome

There is a disorder unofficially known as feline Down syndrome. Cats can have chromosomal imbalances and should be screened by a vet. Blood work, genetic testing and x-rays can determine what specific healthcare needs your pet has. Keep in mind, that every cat is unique, both in looks and behavior. A cat with a neural disorder has to be well looked after so that she doesn’t hurt herself with her clumsiness.

Many of the ill affects of a disorder in cats can be mitigated with a natural diet and vitamin supplements. Keep in mind that only a veterinarian can diagnose an animal with any illness. Always consult a veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet.

Genetic Disorders that Could Be Mistaken as Down Syndrome

While a cat cannot have what medical professionals would classify as Down syndrome, they are subject to other genetic disorders that are similar to Down’s.

These disorders can only be diagnosed by an accredited veterinarian. Be sure to discuss all symptoms with your pet’s doctor. Some of these disorders are congenital but some are a result of poor nutrition, poisoning or allergic reaction.

Cerebral Hypoplasia

When parts of the cat’s cerebellum are not completely developed this can mean a kitten can have trouble standing and walking. Along with general clumsiness, a cat with cerebral hypoplasia will often bob their head and have leg tremors.

The cause can be malnutrition, poisoning or a defect from birth. There is no treatment for this developmental disability. It can only be managed by seeing that the cat does not accidentally harm herself.

Klinefelter Syndrome

This is a genetic condition where a male is born with an extra X chromosome. On the occasion that you find a very rare male calico, he will almost certainly have Klinefelter Syndrome. He will not require neutering as Klinefelter Syndrome causes sterility.

He may exhibit some odd behaviors such as trying to entice other males to mate with him. Otherwise, he’ll be a relatively normal cat.

Distal polyneuropathy

This is a common type of nerve damage associated with diabetes mellitus, often associated with pain or numbness in the feet. Paralysis, seizures, tremors, an unsteady gait and weakness are all common symptoms. Distal polyneuropathy can be diagnosed through blood work, urine sample or electrophysiology.

Electrolyte therapy and nutritional support are effective treatments, though chances of recovery depend on the underlying cause. If the cause is an allergic reaction, then the cat will just be separated from whatever is triggering the reaction. Cats with congenital polyneuropathy are not expected to live very long.

Feline Dysautonomia

If the autonomic system that effects the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts fails this can cause distension in the esophagus, bowels and bladder. Along with these swellings and droopy eyes, a cat with Feline Dysautonomia (also known as Key-Gaskell syndrome) may suffer incontinence, weight loss, depression, loss of appetite and a dangerously slow heart rate.

Diagnosis may require a and your vet may also want to check for the leukemia virus. There is no cure for feline dysautonomia, only treatment for the symptoms.

In conclusion

While it is not at all possible for a cat to have what could legitimately be called Down syndrome, the symptoms associated with it could be some cause for alarm. While every kitten develops at their own unique rate, one that’s severely behind may need to be screened for other ailments.

In any case, make sure your cat is eating well, only eating what she should and getting regular veterinary check-ups.

Resources:

  • Feline Dysautonomia Merck and the Merck Veterinary Manual By Caroline N. Hahn, DVM, MSc, PhD, DECEIM, DECVN, MRCVS, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Clinical Neuroscience, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh
  • Neurological Disorders at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Cat Genomic Resources – Karyotypes Feline Genetics and Comparative Medicine Laboratory at College Veterinary Medicine University of Missouri
  • Distal polyneuropathy in an adult Birman cat with toxoplasmosis
    Lorenzo Mari, G Diane Shelton, Luisa De Risio First Published February 10, 2016,
    Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery Open Reports
  • Down syndrome – Genetics Home Reference U.S. National Library of Medicine
  • July 13, 2018
Mary Nielsen
 

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.