Any cat can have health problems. But there are a few cat breeds in which particular health problems seem to occur rather often due to the make-up of the breed, ie its looks or its genetic heritage. Let us take a look at some of these...
It is often said that if the famous symbol of the Isle of Man were to appear today, it would be unlikely to gain such wide acceptance. As is well known, the Manx cat is tailless. The lack of a tail does not cause the cats any health problems, but the gene which causes it most certainly can. Sadly, the gene for taillessness is semi-lethal or sub-lethal. Homozygous kittens, with two copies of the gene, are stillborn or die early in development and are reabsorbed. The stillborn kittens show serious neural and skeletal defects. Surviving heterozygous kittens occasionally have fused vertebrae and pelvic bones, which leaves them stiff and chronically constipated. The spinal cord may be shorter than normal, leaving the cat with poor control of its bowel, bladder, and hind legs.
These problems are not universal, but breeding to show standards did make them more prevalent. More knowledge of genetics and responsible breeding have greatly reduced the casualties, but this is not a problem which can be bred out of the Manx – it is an inherent part of it, and breeders must always breed wisely. Many Manx lead long and healthy lives, but if you decide to have one of these cats, it is vital to go to a responsible breeder to ensure that you have a healthy kitten.
The Persian's distinctive long coat does not cause any problems so long as the owner is prepared to spend a lot of time on grooming. These cats cannot take care of themselves, as their coats are far too long. So you need to keep on top of grooming, if the cat is not to develop tangles, knots, and eventually skin problems. If this becomes really bad, the only solution is to completely shave the cat, something which often has to be done to Persians which are unfortunate enough to end up as strays for any length of time.
However, it is the Persian cat's distinctive flat face and short nose which can tend to give it health problems. This can lead to breathing and eye problems. Many Persians need to have their eyes cleaned frequently due to blocked tear ducts. The recent preference for successful show cats to be the ones with the flattest faces has led to the Persian's nose becoming shorter and shorter, to the detriment of the cat's health. Hopefully this will not continue, but you need to be aware that if you have a Persian it will be a high maintenance cat which will need a lot of care if it is to live a long and healthy life.
In addition, as if the above were not enough for one breed, there is a high incidence of polycystic kidney disease and retained testicles among Persians.
The Scottish Fold first appeared in the 1960s, as a natural mutation causing distinctive folded ears, in the progeny of a Scottish barn cat. The GCCF initially accepted the breed in 1966, but then suspended registration in 1971 due to concerns that the folded ears could give rise to ear-mite infestation. However, that is not the Scottish Fold's worst health problem. From the start, many of them had shortened, stiffened tails, and in the 1970s X-rays of cats showed skeletal problems. The Scottish Fold gene affect cartilage beyond the ears, and recent research indicates that all cats with the gene suffer from progressive arthritis of varying degrees of severity. Homozygous cats, with two copies of the gene, invariably suffer painful and disabling abnormalities early in life. Heterozygous cats, with one copy of the gene, do not have problems until much later, and some may escape symptoms entirely. For this reason cats with folded ears are never bred together, but outcrossed to cats with normal ears.
If you really want a Scottish Fold, it is vital to buy one from a reputable breeder who is following a careful breeding programme. The length and flexibility of the tail are important as an early indicator of health problems. But even so, joint problems are always a risk as the cat ages and matures. And if you want to show your cat, bear in mind that the breed is only accepted by TICA, not the GCCF or FIFe.
The first hairless cat was born in Canada in 1966, and a breeding programme began. CFA withdrew support for the Sphynx in 1971, believing the gene for hairlessness carried lethal problems. These do not seem to have materialised, and Sphynx owners claim that the cats are very healthy. Their only health problems seem to arise from the lack of protective fur which other cats have. Oils that would normally disperse along the hair shafts tend to accumulate on the skin in the Sphynx, so regular bathing is a must. Injury is more likely with no cushioning furry coat, and cats need protection from the cold in winter and from sunburn in summer. For these reasons they really need to be indoor-only cats. But with care and attention, there is no reason why they should not live long and healthy lives.
The short-legged Munchkin has caused objections among cat lovers ever since its appearance in the USA in the 1980s. TICA accepted the breed, and it has been recognised in Australia, but CFA, the GCCF, and FIFe, all refuse to recognise a breed based on shortened legs. However, most of the early concerns about health issues have not materialised. Some Munchkins suffer a skeletal abnormality called thoracic lordosis, but this is also found in long-legged breeds. There are also possible problems inherent in the mutation, as when two short-legged cats are mated, litters are often small, suggesting that two copies of the gene may be lethal. But the cats seem to have no other skeletal abnormalities. Nevertheless, since the cats find it hard to climb, an indoor life may be safest for them.
If you want a cat of any of the above breeds, there is no reason not to have it. But do be aware of the possible health issues, and make sure you buy from a responsible breeder.