4 Diseases & Breed Genetic Predispositions of Cats

Some people want a particular breed of cat. Perhaps they’ve seen this breed on television, in a magazine, or at a cat show. Unfortunately, some (such as Nancy) are seduced by looks alone and have not done enough research into the breed. They are not well-informed about the personality, activity level, medical concerns, and needs of that breed. Even if they learn about a particular breed, some people believe they will be able to provide for the special needs and behaviors of the breed, but later find themselves unprepared for or intolerant of the actual impact their new cat has on their lives, homes, and loved ones. This creates a heartbreaking situation for everyone the cat and the people. 

Pedigree cats have been bred mostly to exhibit a particular set of physical characteristics. Some of these characteristics may first have appeared as a genetic mutation, such as short legs, folded ears, or a lack of hair. Occasionally, a different species is bred with a domestic cat to form a hybrid, such as the Bengal.

Pedigree cats are bred only to other cats of the same breed, to maintain the breed’s particular characteristics. This means that the number of cats available for breeding is limited, and the gene pool is small. Problems can arise from a limited gene pool, and if there are heritable health problems or disorders, they are more likely to be passed on to the next generation. Certain conditions, such as heart and kidney disease, can be inherited and lead to a shortened life span.

Problems that exist within a particular closed gene pool are considered inherited, or heritable, disorders. Some universities, such as the University of California, Davis, and the University of Pennsylvania, offer genetic testing to help breeders identify carriers of these conditions. Responsible breeders test all their breeding cats for the inherited disorders that crop up most often in their breed, then design breeding programs that avoid these health problems. 

Following are some of the most common heritable diseases:

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)

as been documented in Ragdoll, Maine Coon, Himalayan, Burmese, Sphynx, Persian, and Devon Rex cats.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)

Is a disorder caused by a single gene that has often been found in Persians, Himalayans, and Persian- derived breeds.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)

Has been seen in Bengal, Somali, American Curl, American Wirehair, Balinese, Colorpoint Shorthair, Cornish Rex, Munchkin, Peterbald, Siamese, Singapura, and Tonkinese cats, as well as some Ocicats.

Pyruvate kinase (PK) deficiency

Can be seen in Abyssinian, Bengal, domestic shorthair and longhair, LaPerm, Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest, Savannah,Singapura, and Somali cats.

If you are considering buying a cat from a breeder, remember that not all breeders are created equal. Research them thoroughly by doing an online search. Investigate their reputation and find out if they’ve had any complaints lodged against them. Visit their cattery. Ask about testing, vaccinations, medical care, and socialization. A responsible breeder will put the time, energy, and money into producing quality kittens with the best physical and mental health. They will be educated about congenital defects known in the breed and will have tested their breeding pairs to ensure that they will not pass on harmful genetic mutations.

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