Can Your Cat Develop Down syndrome?

Can Your Cat Develop Down syndrome?

Posted by Minna cui on

The fact that cats can suffer similar conditions to humans often makes many people ask whether the cats have Down syndrome. We have often seen pictures of cats with abnormal facial features on social media, which created a buzz. It has since made many people believe that the cats were suffering from Down syndrome. However, that's not true—Veterinarians reveal that cats can't have Down syndrome.

That said, cats can develop Down syndrome-like symptoms, which should be a concern for cat parents. But there's no such thing as “Down Syndrome Cat.” In this blog post, we'll cover what might cause Down syndrome-like symptoms in your cat:

What’s Down syndrome?

Down syndrome is a disorder in humans that results from a chromosomal defect, causing physical and intellectual abnormalities. The condition occurs when the nucleus of each cell is copied incorrectly, resulting in an additional (partial or complete) chromosome—a condition that’s also known as trisomy 21.

The condition results in different physical traits, including:

  • A single, deep crease on the palm
  • Short stature
  • Poor muscle tone
  • An upward slant to the eyes

However, note that Down syndrome's traits manifest differently in various people.

Why cats cannot have Down syndrome

While people have 23 chromosomes, cats have 19. Therefore, cats can't have an extra chromosome 21—so they cannot develop Down syndrome. But cats can have extra chromosomes sometimes.

According to a 1975 paper in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, male cats can develop a rare chromosomal abnormality. The paper indicated that abnormality results in the formation of an extra chromosome, causing a rare condition similar to the Klinefelter syndrome in humans.

It’s worth noting that this rare condition affects the cat's discoloration—which is a typical color pattern in female cats.

Down syndrome-like symptoms in cats

While it’s not possible for cats to develop Down syndrome, they can develop Down syndrome-like symptoms for various reasons. Cats can exhibit both body and intellectual Down syndrome-like symptoms. But remember that cats have their differences, making them unique. Therefore it's impossible to have cats that resemble others of the same breed. With that in mind, checking out for various Down syndrome-like symptoms is necessary.

Here are some of the symptoms that make us think our cats are suffering from Down syndrome:

  • Abnormally spaced eyes
  • Hearing loss
  • Heart-related issues
  • Abnormally shaped ears
  • Vision problems
  • Awkward movements such as walking
  • Motor impairment
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Squished or upturned nose
  • Strange behavior

If your cat shows some or more of the above symptoms, you should visit your veterinarian to know the root cause. While we have ruled out the possibility of cats developing Down syndrome, the above symptoms could result from other genetic disorders or illnesses the vet can address.

Causes of Down syndrome-like symptoms in cats

Cats may experience genetic disorders, which can cause various disabilities in cats. Different body and intellectual abnormalities resulting from Down syndrome could indicate many neurological diseases, infections, trauma, and more. The following are some of the causes of Down syndrome-like symptoms:


Cats with the panleukopenia virus often develop many physical and mental disorders similar to Down syndrome. The condition leads to reducing the number of white blood cells in the body, making your cat vulnerable to disease and infection. Cats suffering from feline panleukopenia will exhibit signs and symptoms such as depression, restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, and more.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Cats can develop the cerebellar hypoplasia condition, characteristic of symptoms and other behavioral traits similar to those of Down syndrome. The condition is close to feline panleukopenia and affects the mother during pregnancy. It results in the poor development of the cerebellum—an essential part of the brain that's responsible for body balance and coordination, causing poor motor control, balance, and coordination.


If your cat ingests toxic chemicals, it could result in many side effects and other issues. But this could be worse if your cat was born of mothers exposed to toxic substances—it could result in congenital anomalies resembling those of Down syndrome. The toxins can damage the facial structure and neurological system.


Any trauma or severe blow, especially to the face or head at a young age, can cause extreme or permanent damage to the neurological system. If the trauma occurs when the cat is a kitten, you could quickly think that the damage has existed since birth. And since the trauma can affect your cat's behavioral traits, physical and mental abilities, it's easy to think your cat has Down syndrome.

Genetic Disorders

If your cat exhibits Down syndrome-like symptoms and other behavioral traits, genetic disorders could be the likely cause. Genetic mutations are the most likely culprit of  Down syndrome-like symptoms, including tiny paws, low muscle tone, wide eyes, short neck, and more. Genetic disorders cause symptoms that closely resemble Down syndrome because it's a genetic disorder resulting from the extra chromosome.

That said, it’s necessary to visit the vet immediately you recognize any symptoms, physical abnormalities, and other disorders akin to those of Down syndrome. Your vet will conduct x-ray scans, genetic tests and carry out any special treatment necessary for your cat. We've had cases of cats with genetic disorders on rare occasions, especially those similar to Down syndrome.


Everyone loves their cat and always wants to ensure it's safe, happy, and healthy. That's why you're probably concerned about whether or not your cat can have Down syndrome. So if you were grappling to find the answer to whether your cat can have Down syndrome, the good news is that they cannot. This is because cats have 19 chromosomes—and therefore, it's impossible for them to have an extra chromosome 21. However, there are genetic disorders that can cause Down syndrome-like symptoms. Other causes of Down syndrome-like symptoms include trauma, toxins, feline panleukopenia, and cerebellar hypoplasia. If your cat displays any Down syndrome-like symptoms, you should consult a vet immediately. The vet will conduct scans, run genetic tests, and administer treatment if necessary. All in all, it's essential to check on your cat to ensure it's healthy and happy.

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