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Can cats have down syndrome?

White cat with Down syndrome

Cats can develop down syndrome-like symptoms

© Shutterstock

Can cats have Down Syndrome? And if not, what makes these cats look a little different from the other kitties? Well, let's find out. Here's everything you need to know about cats and Down Syndrome.

By Ashley Murphy

Updated on the 15/03/2021, 14:33

You may have noticed the appearance of articles and social media accounts featuring cats that look a little 'different.' In fact, there's been a huge increase in the amount of cat Down Syndrome content over the last few years.

What is Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome is one of many genetic disorders caused by a chromosomal abnormality. It happens when abnormal cell division creates a partial or full copy of chromosome 21. The extra chromosome leads to physical and developmental changes which impair physical and mental capabilities.

Can pets have Down Syndrome?

Humans have 23 chromosomes in total, while cats have only 19. So, technically speaking, there is no such thing as feline Down Syndrome. This is because cats don't have a chromosome 21.

What animals can have Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome can appear in other animals, including tigers, giraffes, and chimpanzees. There is no evidence that dogs can develop Down Syndrome.

Can cats have mental retardation?

Mental retardation refers to intellectual disability in humans or animals, including cats. It's a side-effect of genetic disorders, like Down Syndrome, as well as head trauma, oxygen deprivation, and exposure to dangerous chemicals or toxins. A cat with mental retardation will have a reduced intellectual capacity, affecting its ability to learn the basics, including toilet training. They will also have some motor dysfunction issues. Other symptoms include poor vision, hearing loss, and they may appear less social than other cats.

Although cats can't develop Down Syndrome, they can be born with a chromosomal defect that causes physical and mental symptoms similar to people with Down Syndrome.

How can you tell if your cat has Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome-like symptoms occur in cats quite rarely. But when they do, they manifest in either physical or mental ways. You might spot some signs when the kitten is born, while others can take weeks to appear. Here are some of the things to look out for:

  • Problems with vision
  • Difficulty walking
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Flat or upturned nose
  • Disinterest in socialising with other cats
  • Reduced trainability

Unfortunately, there are not any readily available tests available to test whether a cat has a chromosomal abnormality, which might manifest as a learning disability. Therefore, it’s unlikely that your cat will ever have a definitive diagnosis. However, you should work closely with your vet to determine what the most likely problem is and how it should be treated.

Feline eye problems which can look similar to Down Syndrome

Cats can have an ocular problem known as feline strabismus, where the muscles on one side of the eyeball have reduced tone. As a result, one or both eyes can become crossed to the inside, or pulled to the outside, by the corresponding muscles with normal tone.

Feline strabismus has no correlation with mental retardation and is purely a physical condition. The condition is usually genetic, especially in Siamese cats. Luckily, it has no influence on your cat’s ability to live a normal healthy life.

What is the highest IQ of someone with Down Syndrome?

A person with Down Syndrome has an IQ of between 35-69, which is significantly lower than the UK average of 100. As such, people living with Down Syndrome require life-long support, especially when it comes to managing their finances and medical appointments. However, IQ measurements are only applicable to humans, and it is impossible to determine what an IQ of a cat might be.

Treatment of cats with Down Syndrome-like symptoms

Cats with learning disabilities also require extra care. They might need a special diet, as well as a few more visits to the vet than most other cats. They're also less independent than your average kitty and ill-equipped for dealing with hazardous situations, like crossing the road. As such, these cats are best suited to the indoor life, where their owners can keep a watchful eye over them.

Maya the cat with down syndrome

Maya is a tabby cat that was born with a chromosomal abnormality. But it has never stopped her from living her best life. And it's certainly never stopped Maya from getting the love she deserves.

And as far as Maya's cat-mum is concerned, there is nothing 'abnormal' about her baby. Instead, Maya is special, a genuine one-in-a-million little kitty.


A post shared by Maya the Cat (@meetmayacat) on

"We get comments all the time like I hope they find a cure," said Lauren. "But there's no need. She's happy, she's healthy, and she's very well-loved."

Plenty of other people agree that Maya is perfect the way she is. This furry social media star has almost 500K Instagram followers.

Famous cat with down syndrome

Maya isn't the only famous cat born with Down Syndrome-like symptoms.

Lil Bub became a feline celebrity after photos of her appeared on Tumblr in 2011. She then appeared on several popular TV shows before going on to star in her very own documentary. She also appeared in several movies, including Nine Lives and I'll Be Next Door for Christmas.


A post shared by Lil BUB (@iamlilbub) on

Lil Bub passed away in 2019 aged eight. That's quite young for a cat, but Lil Bub lived an amazing life while she was here.

These stories prove that all cats can live life to the fullest, no matter what challenges they have to overcome. And while not every kitty born with Down Syndrome-like symptoms can be a social media star, they can still be as happy as any other cat. All they need is a little bit of extra love and care.

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS