Can a Cat have Down Syndrome?

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: January 14, 2022 - Author: Sara Beth Redding
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: June 29, 2021  
Author:  Sara Beth Redding

Do you think that you may have a Down syndrome cat?  While this is not technically the exact same thing as Down syndrome in people, cats can have a few congenital issues that can mimic down syndrome.

What causes Down syndrome cat symptoms?

These signs and symptoms that are seen in a Down syndrome cat can be both physical and behavioral traits.  These are some common traits that are noticed:

  • Squished face
  • Flat nose
  • Eyes are far apart
  • Eyes face upwards
  • Walking into things
  • Having issues Pooping
  • Drunken Walk
  • Heart issues
  • Hearing issues
  • Vision issues

If you do notice that your cat does have any of these issues and you are concerned they are suffering from Down syndrome cat symptoms, it would be best for your cat to see your vet. They can examine your cat to see what is causing these issues.  While your cat does not have down syndrome, they may have a genetic issue causing your cat to have these issues.


What can cause your cat to have Down syndrome cat Like symptoms

These are a few diseases that can cause your cat to have cat down syndrome, like appearance.


Panleukopenia can infect your kitten when they are still in their mother's womb, causing them to be born with down syndrome-like features. This is a very contagious disease caused by the feline parvovirus. This disease attacks and kills cells that are quickly growing, such as in the bone marrow and in developing kittens. This is why this disease can commonly be seen in young, growing kittens.

Young kittens have a very poor prognosis if they catch this disease, and all your vet can really do to help is give supportive care and try to help them recover.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Cerebellar Hypoplasia is seen when your cat's brain does not properly develop. This can cause your cat to have an abnormal gait. They usually walk very jerkily, swaying uncontrollably from side to side or even high stepping when they are walking. 

This disease is commonly caused by the panleukopenia virus but can also be caused by poor nutrition for the mother during gestation, trauma to the head during development, or toxoplasmosis. 

This disease can be very hard to fully diagnose due to the need for advanced imaging such as an MRI, and there is no treatment that can successfully help your kitten recover.  However, their things that you can do to help your kitten cope with living with this disease.

Other Cause of Cat Down Syndrome Symptoms

While Feline Panleukopenia and Cerebellar Hypoplasia are the two main reasons that your cat may show these symptoms, there are a few other reasons.

  • Trauma
  • Toxins
  • Parasites

If you think that your cat has gotten into something toxic around your house, had a recent traumatic event, eaten some toxic food, had parasites or a bad case of fleas it would be best to see your vet. Your vet can examine your cat to see what is causing these issues and if it is something that can easily be treated.


Why cats Cannot get Down syndrome

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes.  Down syndrome causes when there is an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. Cats only have 18 pairs of chromosomes, so they technically cannot get down syndrome. 

Cats can have genetic mutations that can cause them to develop neurological and gait abnormalities.  These signs will resemble a person with down syndrome.

Final Thoughts on Cat Down Syndome

While your cat cannot technically have down syndrome, they can develop issues that mimic this disease. Cat's with these abnormalities can still live a long and healthy life, as long as you provide them with some lifestyle modifications and extra special care and attention.  If you think that your cat has down syndrome-like issues, it is best for you to see your vet right away to make sure that you are doing everything possible for your cat to make a quick and easy recovery.

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About the author

Sara Beth Redding (née Ochoa), graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (‘DVM’) from St. George’s University Veterinary School in 2015, and has since worked at a small and exotic animal practice in Texas. In her home life, she cares for four ‘fur kids’; two dogs, Ruby a schnoodle, and Bug a Japanese Chin, one cat named OJ and a leopard tortoise named Monkey.