Like dogs and humans, our feline friends can be born with certain hereditary cat diseases. In many cases, your cat’s breed will determine its risk level of developing inherited conditions. However, which breeds are most susceptible, and what are the most common hereditary cat diseases? Below, we’ll deep dive into various genetic cat diseases and how pet parents can notice the warning signs.  

Cat diseases: Can they be inherited?

Yes, cat diseases can be inherited from one generation to the next. Our pet’s DNA is passed down over hundreds—if not thousands—of years. As hereditary conditions are transmitted through abnormal genes, if a parent cat has the mutated genes, so will its offspring. These cat diseases can lie dormant in your cat’s body until later in life or be evident at birth.

Pet parents should learn about the hereditary conditions that can affect cats. Arming yourself with the facts about various cat diseases helps you identify risk factors and understand what course of action to take. However, that isn’t to say all cats risk developing an inherited condition. So which breeds are?

Which cat breeds are most affected?

Purebred cats are known for having a higher risk of developing hereditary conditions. Typically, this happens due to selective breeding programs, such as breeding closely related cats. Certain breeds are often bred in specific ways to create particular characteristics, e.g., blue eyes or a bobbed tail. Yet, there are cases where mixed-breed cats develop genetic cat diseases too.

If you’re wondering whether your purebred cat is at risk of having a genetic disorder, here are the cat breeds most at risk:

  • Rex;
  • Abyssinian;
  • Manx;
  • Norwegian forest;
  • Bengal;
  • Burmese;
  • Ragdoll;
  • Himalayan;
  • Maine Coon;
  • Persian.

As mentioned, hereditary cat diseases are passed down through mutated genes. Contact your vet if you adopted one of the cat breeds above and are concerned they may develop an inherited condition. They will look for genetic disorders during regular and emergency vet visits.

With pet wellness insurance, any tests needed will be covered at no additional cost. However, not all pet insurance companies provide coverage for hereditary conditions. Make sure to check before signing up for a plan.

Common hereditary cat diseases

A black cat lying in a wicker basket with two teddies

Yet, what are the most common hereditary cat diseases? Below, we’ll explore each one in detail. These cat diseases can appear in various cat breeds or a specific breed, such as Manx cats. Let’s look at hereditary conditions in cats and their warning signs.

Feline lower urinary tract disease

Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a common feline genetic disorder that affects a cat’s bladder and urethra. It’s thought to affect four percent of purebred cats. Cats with FLUTD often strain to urinate, experience pain when urinating, have blood in their urine, and urinate in small amounts. While genetics plays a significant factor in this cat disease, it can also be caused by stress and obesity.

Cats of any breed can be diagnosed with FLUTD. However, it’s found in breeds such as Persians, Himalayans, and Russian Blues.

Polycystic kidney disease

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a hereditary condition found in Persians and Himalayans. This condition involves small, fluid-filled cysts growing on the kidney tissue. This typically occurs at birth, but symptoms often only appear when your cat is a senior. PKD symptoms include excessive thirst, fatigue, vomiting, high blood pressure, listlessness, and more. Genetic testing along with other medical examinations are needed to diagnose PKD in cats.

Managing PKD usually includes getting your cat on a renal diet, medication, fluid therapy, and surgery. At Wagmo, our pet insurance for cats plan provides coverage for PKD treatment.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is one of the most prevalent cardiac diseases in cats. This inherited condition causes the muscles of the heart to thicken. While the cause of HCM is unknown, it’s usually found in Ragdolls, Maine Coons, and British shorthairs. Many believe this is due to genetic mutations.

Cats with HCM can appear completely healthy or may show signs of congestive heart failure. It’s not uncommon for this cat disease to cause breathing difficulties, weaknesses, and sometimes sudden death.

Gangliosidosis

Gangliosidosis is a type of hereditary cat disease involving a lipid storage disorder. It’s known for the buildup of lipids called gangliosides in neurons in the central nervous system. This genetic condition is split into two categories: GM1 and GM2. Cats with gangliosidosis lack an essential enzyme for normal cell function.

Pet parents may notice the following symptoms in cats with gangliosidosis:

  • uncoordinated gait;
  • high-stepping gait;
  • tremor;
  • involuntary eye movements;
  • enlarged liver;
  • facial dysmorphism;
  • visual impairment.

The cause of gangliosidosis is an abnormality in the GLB1 gene, often found in Siamese, Korat, Burmese, and other domestic cats.

Manx syndrome

The Manx cat is recognized mainly for its short tail. However, this breed is known for having multiple genetic cat diseases. Manx syndrome is caused by a mutation that affects the tail, spine, and spinal cord. In extreme cases, this inherited condition leads to spina bifida and several neurological disorders. Cats with Manx syndrome can experience incontinence, urinary tract infections, constipation, and partial paralysis in their hind legs.

Burmese head defect

Pet parents looking to breed or adopt a Burmese need to be aware of this inherited condition. Some Burmese kittens can be born with a severe head defect. This defect consists of facial abnormalities and an underdeveloped skull. Most Burmese cats have at least one copy of the mutated gene leading to the breed’s characteristic

Scottish fold disease

As the name suggests, Scottish fold disease is an inherited condition found in the Scottish fold breed. It’s characterized by musculoskeletal deformities that can lead to joint pain and severe arthritis. All cats of this breed suffer from varying forms of degenerative joint disease. In most cases, Scottish fold disease causes symptoms such as fusing of the tail, a reluctance to move, abnormal posture, and short, deformed limbs.

Progressive retinal atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy refers to a group of disorders leading to retina degeneration. This is one of many cat diseases which can lead to blindness in your cat. Many cat breeds, including Bengal, Munchkin, Cornish Rex, and Siamese, can suffer from this inherited condition. The earliest signs of this disease can be seen in kittens as young as four weeks. It’s believed most cats with progressive retinal atrophy will lose their vision by sixteen months old.

Spinal muscular atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy is a common neurodegenerative disorder found in Maine Coon cats. Similar to human spinal muscular atrophy, this condition is recognized by muscle tremors, muscle weakness, instability, and abnormal postures. Pet parents can see this hereditary condition in kittens around three months old.

Hereditary conditions in cats: Treatment options

Treatment for hereditary cat diseases will vary depending on the condition and your cat’s health. When it comes to inherited disorders, there isn’t often a cure. Instead, treatment focuses on long-term management. This could be managing their symptoms through diet changes or medication. Speak with your vet to understand the best action to take to address your cat’s symptoms.

A diagnosis of hereditary cat disease doesn’t have to mean your kitty’s quality of life won’t be good. With proper treatment, many cats live comfortably with genetic disorders. Your cat will have a happy life if you’re keeping up with regular veterinarian checkups and giving them all the cuddles they deserve.

Pet insurance for cats: Does it cover genetic conditions?

Not all pet insurance companies cover hereditary cat diseases and conditions. Thankfully, Wagmo does. Regardless of your cat’s breed or age, we have plans to support you in providing exceptional pet care to your furry friend. Our pet insurance with wellness plans takes care of the big and small medical expenses, such as long-term treatment plans, surgeries, vaccinations, and more.

We believe pet parents should never have to choose between their pet’s health and finances. Learn more about Wagmo’s Pet Wellness Insurance or take our pet insurance quiz to find a plan that works for you.