Can Cats Get Down Syndrome

Can cats have Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality that affects humans and that is transmitted genetically. But can cats get Down syndrome? We’re answering this question in today’s article, so keep on reading!

But if you want a quick answer, here’s one. No, cats cannot get Down syndrome as they do not have the same number of chromosomes as people do. However, they can have a variety of (somewhat) similar genetic disorders, whose symptoms we will describe below.

Can Cats Get down Syndrome?

The reason cats cannot get Down syndrome is that their chromosome number is different from that of people. For example, while humans have 23 chromosomes, cats have just 19.

On top of that, Down syndrome in people is caused by the presence of an additional chromosome 21 in the genetic material of the individual. Since cats have 19 chromosomes, even those that are born with genetic disorders are not capable of having Down syndrome.

However, additional chromosomes in cats do exist and they cause diseases that are rare chromosomal abnormalities and that cause symptoms similar to Klinefelter disorder in people. This particular condition seems to affect male calicos or tortoise-shell cats more than females.

Can down Syndrome Appear in Other Animals?

The answer to this question is yes. Down syndrome can affect a variety of other species ranging from giraffes to chimpanzees. More surprisingly, Down syndrome can even affect tigers, the bigger relatives of our house cats.

If you are also a dog parent and you are wondering whether this species can have this condition, we’ll tell you that they cannot — for the same reason that cats can’t, either.

Down Syndrome-like Symptoms in Cats

Genetic disorders in cats have yet to be studied enough in order for the medical world to come up with a clear list of symptoms for each of these conditions. However, some kittens can be born with physical and mental modifications that can be caused by chromosomal abnormalities.

The signs of these diseases are usually noticeable until the kitten reaches the age of several weeks of life. Some can be spotted right after the kitten was born, but others might be discernible a little later in life.

These cats will show the following symptoms:

  • A broader and flatter nose than normal
  • Small or unusually shaped ears
  • Low muscle tone
  • Their eyes could be set wide apart
  • Vision problems (some kittens can be born blind or could become blind by the time they reach several months of age)
  • Hearing problems
  • Cardiovascular health conditions
  • Difficulty walking
  • Learning disabilities (most cats can’t learn to go potty in a specific place, like a litter box)

What Causes down Syndrome Symptoms in Cats?

Cats can have a range of genetically transmitted diseases, and since some breeds are more likely to suffer from kidney problems or vision loss (such as Persians), a percentage of all cats could be born with mental disabilities.

In general, if something happens during pregnancy, the kittens’ nervous system could be affected. Trauma doesn’t usually affect the litter in such a way, but there are congenital abnormalities, neurologic diseases that the mother cat can also suffer from, or infections she can get that can significantly impact the kittens.

Giving certain medications to the pregnant cat can also largely affect the development of the fetuses — which is applicable to humans, too. Kittens get their oxygen and nutrient supply from their mothers through the placenta, but some drugs can pass through this barrier and get to the fetuses.

While there haven’t been enough studies performed on exactly which medications can do this and the exact dosages that can lead to mental and physical disorders in kittens during pregnancy, it’s safe to assume that pregnant cats should be treated with care for any health conditions they might have.

Your veterinarian will advise you as to what the right therapy for any medical issue your cat might have — do not give your cat antibiotics or any human drugs while she is pregnant as she could suffer a miscarriage or give birth to a litter of kittens suffering from such disorders.

Cerebellar hypoplasia is a condition that kittens can be born with and that is suspected to be transmitted genetically. It could be caused by medication given to the pregnant cat, but other causes remain unknown to date.

Another instance where the kittens are likely to be born with Down-like features and symptoms is if the mother cat has the Panleukopenia virus prior to getting pregnant or she becomes infected during pregnancy.

However, similar symptoms can show up in kittens also if they sustain trauma, especially to the head region, particularly when they are very young.

Caring for Cats with Special Needs

A special needs cat typically has to live in a very safe environment. Whether she suffers from a mental or a physical disorder, it goes without saying that she will not be able to interact with the things in her living space the same as a perfectly healthy cat would.

Make sure that there are no hazards in your apartment or home that could put your special needs cat’s life at risk. Also, these cats have to be kept indoors at all times so that they do not become the victims of predators or any other outdoor factors that could significantly affect their lives.

Given that some of them can’t use the litter box by themselves, you will also have to do your best at ensuring these basic functions for them.


While cats can’t get Down syndrome in the sense that humans can, they can suffer from genetically transmitted conditions that might have the same clinical manifestations. These can be caused by anything ranging from drug therapy or a Panleukopenia virus infection during pregnancy or can be developed as a result of sustaining head trauma.



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