Why there can be no cat with Down syndrome

Why there can be no cat with Down syndrome

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Rumors quickly emerge on the Internet and one of them concerns the cat with Down syndrome. Heartwarming stories like those of Otto the cat or the white tiger Kenny, who suffer from genetically caused malformations, seem to confirm this. However, it is impossible for cats with Down syndrome to be born - we explain why this is the case here. If overbreeding occurs in cat breeds such as the Exotic Shorthair, the symptoms are similar to those of Down syndrome in humans - Shutterstock / Ewais

While cats can show some symptoms that are typical of people with Down syndrome, even they cannot have this genetic abnormality. This is because their genetic structure is different from humans.

What is Down syndrome?

Down syndrome is also known as "trisomy 21". Humans usually have 64 chromosomes that carry the genome. The chromosomes are usually arranged in pairs, so there are 23 pairs of chromosomes. Half of the chromosome pair is inherited by the father, the other half by the mother. Sometimes it can happen that a chromosome is not only double, but triple - this is called a "trisomy". If this happens on the 21st pair of chromosomes, we speak of "trisomy 21" or colloquially Down syndrome.

The genetic anomaly can manifest itself in different ways in those affected and lead to more or less severe physical and mental restrictions. Still, there are some symptoms that most people with Down syndrome have in common, including:

● Below average body size
● Small, rounded skull
● Flattened back of the head
● Eyes wide apart
● Oblique eyes
● Broad nasal root
● Small ears
● Big tongue

Common physical limitations include:
● muscle weakness
● Poor eyesight
● hearing loss
● Susceptibility to infections
● Congenital heart defect

In addition, there are often developmental delays and a low intelligence quotient, as well as learning difficulties, although there are also people with Down syndrome who are almost average intelligent.

Down syndrome is genetically impossible in cats

Unlike humans, cats only have 19 pairs of chromosomes. Therefore, they cannot form trisomy 21 and it is genetically impossible for a cat with Down syndrome to be born. However, what happens is a trisomy on the sex chromosome in cats. Usually, beings with two X chromosomes are female, those with one X and one Y chromosome are male. Every now and then the offspring gets two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome by chance. In cats, this manifests itself in the fact that the animal has the external biological characteristics of a cat, but is sterile. This is the case for example with male tortoiseshell and lucky cats.

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Down syndrome symptoms in cats and their causes

While cats cannot possibly have Down syndrome, they can show one or the other symptom that is typical of people with trisomy 21. The kitten Otto, who was circulating around the Internet as a cat with Down syndrome a few years ago, had widely spaced eyes. The white tiger Kenny, who died in 2008 and was said to have Down syndrome, suffered from a severe underbite and misaligned teeth and a round skull. Famous cats such as Grumpy Cat, Lil 'Bub or Monty also have optical features that are reminiscent of Down syndrome symptoms in humans.

Cats may experience the following malformations or diseases that are reminiscent of Down syndrome:

● Short stature
● Hydrocephalus (water head)
● ataxia
● Physical malformations with muscle weakness
● blindness
● Squint
● deafness
● Malformations of the skull and face
● Malformations of the jaw
● Misaligned teeth
● cleft lip or palate

How does that come? Most often it is inbreeding, overbreeding or spontaneous genetic mutations that lead to physical malformations or congenital heart defects and other organ damage. Sometimes the kitten cannot develop properly in the womb because the mother became ill during pregnancy. Newborn kittens can also be disturbed in their development by diseases. Furthermore, some infections such as cat runny nose or FIV reduce a cat's defenses.

If the mental properties of a cat seem to be limited, the cause is usually insufficient socialization and inappropriate husbandry. These can lead to behavioral problems as well as mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders. Old cats can also develop dementia like humans, which limits their intellectual ability regardless of their life history.

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