Can Cats Get Down Syndrome? Know The Facts

Can cats get down syndrome is a commonly asked question online, this is a result of some cats looking and behaving slightly differently from what you may expect.

These characteristics and symptoms lead many people to think a cat has down syndrome but this is not the case.

The truth is downs syndrome is only found in humans and therefore, cats cannot get it.

While the characteristics you may be seeing are not caused by down syndrome there are a few other possibilities.

Image credit: Monty Boy Cat Facebook page

Why Can’t Cats Get Down Syndrome?

Down syndrome is a disorder that occurs when a human has an extra 21st chromosome (this happens during the development stage of the fetus when genetic material is incorrectly copied).

Humans have 23 chromosomes whereas cats have 19 so having an extra 21st chromosome is impossible for cats. In addition to this, down syndrome is a completely human disorder.

However, cats can occasionally have extra chromosomes which can cause chromosome abnormalities.

Down Syndrome-like Symptoms in Cats

It is understandable that people mistakenly believe cats can get down syndrome, between online pages about cats suffering from the unofficial “feline down syndrome” to the down syndrome-like symptoms displayed:

  • Different behaviour compared to other cats (clumsy, bad coordination, wobbly)
  • Small, stunted ears
  • Vision problems
  • Wide-set, round eyes
  • Low muscle tone
  • Heart problems
  • Flat nose (or upturned nose)
  • Hearing loss

While these symptoms are certainly comparable to down syndrome, the true cause may be another genetic disorder, poor health or nutrition, inbreeding or trauma.

If your cat is very clumsy it may be a sign of a neurological disorder, whatever the symptoms, it is important to get your cat examined by a veterinarian.

Ask a Vet

If your cat is particularly clumsy we recommend you speak with a vet ASAP to help you work out what’s going on and what needs to be done. JustAnswer allows you to talk in real-time to veterinary experts for a small fee.

Disorders That Could Be Mistaken as Down Syndrome

A vet can screen your cat for chromosomal imbalances and a range of tests can be taken including genetic testing, blood work and x-rays, these will help to determine the cause of the symptoms as well as identify the specific healthcare needs of your cat.

Image credit: Monty Boy Cat Facebook page

Some symptoms may be alleviated by dietary changes and supplements so it is well worth taking your cat to a vet to find out more.

Although down syndrome is specific to humans, your cat may have another genetic disorder that is similar to down syndrome. These include:

1. Cerebellar Hypoplasia

This is a development condition that occurs when the cat’s cerebellum is not properly developed. This is not life-threatening but can have an impact on a cat’s quality of life.

Cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia often have trouble keeping their balance, walking, running, jumping and may also have trouble accurately approaching objects such as litter boxes and food bowls.

 2. Feline Dysautonomia

This condition impacts a cat’s autonomic nervous system and causes a loss of muscle tone, incontinence, loss of appetite, droopy eyes and weight loss.

The symptoms of dysautonomia can be treated but there is no cure.

3. Distal Polyneuropathy

This is nerve damage associated with diabetes mellitus. Common symptoms include seizures, paralysis, tremors, weakness and unsteadiness.

Recovery depends on the underlying cause but nutritional support and electrolyte therapy are often effective treatments.

4. Klinefelter Syndrome

This is a genetic condition where a male has an extra X chromosome.

The syndrome can cause cognitive and developmental issues which can result in physical abnormalities.

Cats with Klinefelter Syndrome usually suffer from reduced bone mineral content making them more likely to break bones.

While there are a number of genetic defects and syndromes that can cause some of the symptoms you are seeing, they could also be a result of inbreeding or trauma.

It is best to know what the cause is as this will help you to treat or alleviate the symptoms for your cat.

Cases of Cats With “Feline Down Syndrome”

A search for feline down syndrome online leads to some first-hand accounts of living with cats with some of the symptoms we mentioned above.

Below are a few Instagram profiles for a few, very popular, cats that are living with chromosomal abnormalities:

1. Maya

Maya has more followers than many of us could dream of with over 400 thousand people keeping a close eye on her life. Maya has a chromosome abnormality and her owners want to use her platform to show the beauty of being different.

Maya was found in a dumpster and spent more than three months in a shelter before she was adopted by a loving family. Had she not been adopted, she would have been euthanized. Her family now use her story to encourage others to give animals in shelters a chance, even if they look a little different.

2. Willow

Willow was found alone as a kitten by her owners and after a thorough examination the vet diagnosed the young cat with a chromosomal abnormality. The kitten had other health issues including fleas, intestinal parasites and an eye infection so with her new owners and the necessary medication Willow started her new life.

Also Read: Can Fleas Kill Cats?

Willow has grown into a healthy adult cat and her owners have found that she can live a normal life with her chromosomal abnormalities. They say the only special attention Willow needs is for her right nostril to be cleaned every day as she cannot breathe out of her left nostril – a bit of daily help keeping the right one clean ensures Willow can breathe comfortably.

3. Smush

Smush was found at only 10 days old outside a university. She was then cared by a university vet student, Smush was treated for a respiratory infection and ringworm and, as she was so small, needed to be fed using a syringe. After a month of treatment, the young kitten was eating on her own and her infections had cleared.

Once healthy, Smush was adopted into a loving family, because of her chromosomal abnormalities her face appears to be more squashed and her nostrils are smaller than other cats, this causes her to sniff and sneeze more often.

Aside from these minor issues, Smush is healthy and lives just like any other cat – as you can see on her social media page.

Taking Care of a Cat with Down Syndrome-like Symptoms

As you can see from the above profiles, cats with chromosomal abnormalities can still live normal lives. They just need people to give them a chance.

This is the principal message of the Instagram pages we have found; these cats are loving, happy cats that have truly thrived after they were given a second chance.

If your cat is displaying some unusual behaviours, symptoms or physical characteristics, it is important to get your cat examined by a vet. An official diagnosis will help you to take care of your cat’s special needs.

Ask a Vet

If your cat is particularly clumsy we recommend you speak with a vet ASAP to help you work out what’s going on and what needs to be done. JustAnswer allows you to talk in real-time to veterinary experts for a small fee.

With the vet ensuring your cat is receiving the right medication etc. you can focus on giving your cat the best quality of life at home.

Your cat may not require any special care but some cats will need a little bit of extra attention, for example; regularly cleaning their nostrils, being more patient with them or keeping a closer eye on them to protect them from hazards (stairs, predators etc.).

All cats are unique and those with genetic defects or syndromes will likely act and look a bit different to other cats.

If you are considering adopting a cat why not consider a special needs cat?

Many people do not give these cats a chance as they do not look as pretty as others but if you are in a position to provide them with the extra care and attention they need, they will make a wonderful companion.

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