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Can Cats Have Down Syndrome? Everything You Need to Know

Can Cats Have Down Syndrome? Everything You Need to Know

Cats can sometimes be born with an appearance that would make people wonder whether or not they have Down Syndrome. The genetic disorder is known to affect one in 700 human babies born in the US every year. But can cats have Down Syndrome? This question is a lot more common than you think. But although felines aren’t exempt from genetic disorders, Down Syndrome is not something that cats can be officially diagnosed with.


Cats may suffer from genetic conditions or other types of diseases that may resemble symptoms of Down Syndrome in humans. But to say that you have a cat with Down Syndrome wouldn’t entirely be an accurate statement because the disorder can only occur in humans, and here’s why: humans and cats simply have different genetic makeup.


What is Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome occurs when fetal development is affected by an incorrect duplication of genetic material, resulting in an extra chromosome 21. Chromosomes in the DNA bundle cells together and help them pass on genetic material when cells divide during fetal development. A fully or partially duplicated chromosome 21 results in genetic abnormalities as observed in patients with Down Syndrome. The National Down Syndrome Society described some common physical traits of people with the condition:


•  Poor muscle tone

•  Smaller stature

•  Upward-slanting eyes

•   A deep crease running across the palm


Not all Down Syndrome patients are the same but these are some of the common physical traits. Mental impairment is also a common characteristic. Adults with Down Syndrome show an average IQ of 50, which is comparable to that of an eight- or nine-year-old. Overall physical and mental development is slower to people born with this condition.


Can animals have down syndrome? The genetic makeup of animals varies by species and differs quite distinctly from humans. But chromosome disorders are common in animals, as well as hormonal deficiencies, inbreeding, and other medical illnesses that result in physical characteristics and neurological problems that people often mistake as Down Syndrome.


Can Cats Have Down Syndrome?

Whereas humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes in their DNA, cats only have 19. A duplicate chromosome 21 would thus be impossible in felines. In the same way, canines have 39 chromosomes which would also make it hard to diagnose Down Syndrome in dogs. However, cats and dogs may suffer from conditions with symptoms similar to Down Syndrome.


At times, cats that display unusual behavior are thought to have the genetic condition. Cats are known for their agility and gracefulness. When cats are clumsy or if they walk, meow, or sit in a different way, they are sometimes “diagnosed” by owners to have Down Syndrome. Pet owners should know, however, that behavioral deviations don’t necessarily mean a genetic problem.


Some cats engage in odd behavior as part of their unique personality. Another possibility for cats acting strange or showing dysfunctional behavior is that he is suffering from another health problem or disease. If you’re worried that your cat’s different behavior might cause him or others harm, it would be a good idea to have him checked by the vet.


Feline Conditions Similar to Down Syndrome

There are plenty of cat owners posting on social media about their pets, saying their pet has cat Down Syndrome. We have confirmed that the genetic disorder only occurs in humans, and not in felines. It’s understandable why some people would mistake a cat for having the same condition.  Most of the time, these cat owners notice traits in their pets which may include: 


•    Flat or squished-looking face

•    Broad nose

•    Small ears

•   Low muscle tone

•   Upturned or widely spaced eyes

•   Motor dysfunction

•   Problems with walking

•   Heart problems

•   Problems with hearing and vision

•   Difficulty urinating/ defecating


If seen in cats, these traits can easily be mistaken for cat Down Syndrome. Symptoms, however, could possibly indicate an infection that occurs in utero, known as panleukopenia virus. Cerebellar hypoplasia is a neurological condition in cats with similar symptoms.


A kitten with Down Syndrome symptoms may have suffered head trauma not long after birth. This could lead to abnormalities that is similar to the genetic condition, such as permanent damage to the brain and facial injuries. Symptoms caused by compromised neurological systems may affect a litter if the mother cat was exposed to toxins while conceiving.


Can cats have mental retardation? Inbreeding is also a possible cause of a cat born with genetic disorders. When two species of the same genetic structure mate, there is always the risk of producing defective offspring.


Caring for Cats with Special Needs

If you own a cat with behavioral or physical abnormalities, you know that your pet requires special care. Your utmost concern would be keeping him safe from hazards at home, as well as the outdoors. If your cat has impaired motor skills, you need to keep him securely in a room or a carrier to prevent accidents in the stairs or the pool.


Feeding and grooming can also be quite a challenge in caring for cats with special needs. You may not exactly have a Down Syndrome kitten, but if your cat has lost his vision or hearing due to another condition or disease, he would also require a lot of extra care.


Routine checkups and a healthy diet are absolutely important for cats with special needs. And although cats with a genetic problem isn’t likely to be sexually active, you can take measures to prevent him from mating and passing on the disease to any offspring.  Consult your vet and get information about your healthcare options.  


Down Syndrome or not, a cat owner would do everything to take care of a cat with health problems. While the disorder can only occur in humans, cats can suffer from symptoms similar to that of Down Syndrome. Loving and caring for your pet isn’t much different from raising a special needs cat. Accepting and embracing your cat’s uniqueness is your first step to helping him make the most of his short life.


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