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Down Syndrome: Can a Cat Have It?

If you recently adopted a cat or a kitten and noticed that there are distinctive characteristics and traits that make it look different and act different, then you’re probably wondering if there’s such a thing as a down syndrome cat.

Is it possible for cats to have down syndrome?

The answer is no, a down syndrome cat does not exist because down syndrome is a genetic disorder that’s technically coined for humans.

Down syndrome is caused when there’s abnormal cell division resulting in an extra or a copy of chromosome 21. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and down syndrome occurs when there’s a duplicate or an excess copy of chromosome 21. Cats don’t have chromosome 21 because they only have 19 pairs of chromosomes so technically, they can’t have down syndrome.

However, similar traits of down syndrome can occur in cats. 

It’s possible for cats to have genetic disorders that can cause them to have abnormal facial and body appearances, neurological problems, as well as physical deficits or mutation, symptoms that are similar to down syndrome.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to the down syndrome-like genetic disorder in cats as down syndrome. If you think your cat might have a genetic disorder that’s similar to down syndrome but isn’t sure, then you can refer to this article before bringing it to the vet.

Note that if your cat has it, he will not be able to properly care for himself so it’s important to determine if the disorder exists.

Signs of genetic disorder in cats

Below are some early warning signs of a genetic disorder that’s similar to down syndrome in cats. 

  • A flat or squished noise
  • Low muscle tone
  • Eyes are slanted upward
  • Loss of vision
  • Loss of hearing
  • Clumsy or wonky way of walking
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Difficulty in relieving themselves
  • Widely spaced eyes
  • Heart problems

You’ll know if a cat has down syndrome-like disease because of its peculiar way of walking. These cats will tend to lead with their head and so will have a slightly bow-legged appearance. Also, because of the shorter legs, these cats may be unable to jump as high as other cats normally would.

Your cat’s face might also look different than usual. For example, it might look extra droopy or weirdly shaped. His face could also be asymmetrical.

Your cat might also seem unresponsive to his environment. He may not play with toys or respond if you get in his face and try to interact with him. Your kitty will probably sleep a lot, too, because down syndrome really drains all of your cat’s energy.

You can tell for sure that your cat has down syndrome if he looks more like this.

Another thing that is distinctive about the behavior of these cats is that they tend to be much more affectionate than other cats. It has been reported by many owners that their cat with down syndrome will constantly want attention and so will follow them around wherever they go or just sit quietly beside them when they are doing something else.

Behavioral problems are very rare in these cats and when they do occur they tend to be very small such as a little aggression towards other animals or people.

How to care for cats with down syndrome

You may be wondering, is there anything I can do to help my cat with this genetic disorder? 

Yes, you can do something to help. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this horrible disease. If your cat has it, you will have to anticipate some serious medical costs in the future.

However, you can do something for your cat. Below are some tips on how you can help your cat if it has a genetic disorder similar to that of down syndrome.

Get your cat to the vet

If you think that your furbaby might have this genetic disease, get him to the vet as soon as possible. 

Vet visits should be done at least twice a year for checkups and vaccinations. They may need additional vaccines, depending on their health and their overall well-being. If you do not think that your pet is getting what it needs from one veterinarian in your area, consider switching to find one who specializes in caring for animals with special needs.

Customize their living space

Like how people with special needs are provided with customized living areas and people to care for them, cats also need a place that caters to their needs. At least provide them with a secure space where they can move freely and won’t be harmed.

Secure their living environment by removing barriers that could hurt them. Provide your cat with a space where they can play and move comfortably.

If your pet has vision problems, make sure that there are no obstacles in the way for them. Since blind pets tend to be more skittish, avoid sudden movements around them. 

Provide them with the right food

cat hiding under the rug
Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash

Cats with special needs have to be provided with high-quality pet food. Make it easier for your furbaby to gobble up and digest its food.

Pet food doesn’t have to be expensive. There are simple, healthy recipes you can make yourself or buy premade at a grocery store or farmer’s market.

You can stew and blend meat, carrots, and potatoes, then add vitamins as prescribed by your veterinarian. You can make these in bulk and just freeze them for a month’s supply. 

Take care of their hygiene

It is important to brush your pet’s teeth daily. If they get cavities, it can cause pain and infections which could lead to heart disease. You should also wipe down their gums with a moist cloth on a regular basis. This may be easier than brushing their teeth and will keep them healthy and clean.

Make sure they’re comfortable

There are times when the genetic disorder could be painful to the point where it affects their sleep. It’s important to make sure that your furbaby is sleeping comfortably. 

There are some cases where the genetic disorder affects the length of your cat’s legs and its way of walking so it’s important to custom-make things like ramps or things that would make it easier for the cat to move around.

Be patient

Expect your furbaby to be harder to train than the average cat. Potty training will be a challenge so make sure to prepare necessary things like diapers and scatter litter boxes around the house so they can learn easily.

Exercise with them

Cat with a down syndrome-like disorder will have to exercise at least once a week. Make sure to bond and exercise with them but don’t overdo it as they do have poor cardiac health.

While it can be dangerous to let your cats roam outside your house, you can set a schedule for them to play in your backyard. Build an obstacle course or playground designed especially for your cat.

If they want their exercise to be indoors, then having the right toy can make a huge difference and make it more enjoyable for both of you. You can use feather wands, scratch toys, and old-school mice with catnips. Try different toys and see which ones work the best for both of you.

Living in Harmony with Special Needs Cats

A diagnosis of down syndrome in a pet is not a reason to have it put it up for adoption and give up on caring for your beloved furbaby. 

Part of being a responsible pet owner is to understand what your pet is going through. How hard it is for them and how you have to be with them in the future. Put it this way, if your friend is sick, he will need you now more than ever.

As with people who have down syndrome, dogs and cats can live long, healthy lives with a bit of extra care.

Caring for pets with down syndrome requires some special attention on the owner’s part, but they are just as loving and affectionate as any other pet. Just like humans with down syndrome, you need to be there for them through thick and thin. It is definitely worth it in the long run.

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