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“Cute” or “funny” animals with Down syndrome – the Internet offers numerous images with these or similar hashtags. This also includes cats that are said to have trisomy 21. But what is true about the hype about the velvet paws with the extraordinary look? Read here what cats and Down syndrome are all about.

What is Down syndrome in cats?

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By “Down syndrome” we mean a genetic developmental disorder in humans. Living beings pass on their genetic information via chromosomes. A human chromosome set consists of 23 pairs, i.e. 46 chromosomes.

In Down syndrome, on the other hand, a set consists of 47 chromosomes, since chromosome 21 is present in triplicate. The term “trisomy 21”, which is also used, is derived from this. This faulty disposition results in various disorders in mental and physical development, which are also visually noticeable.

Physical characteristics of Down syndrome

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  • Small body size;
  • Small and round skull;
  • Relatively flat back of the head;
  • Eyes set wide apart;
  • Slanted eyes;
  • Broad bridge of the nose;
  • Below average ears;
  • Long and broad tongue.

There are no cats with Down syndrome

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We remind ourselves: The human genome consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes. If a person has Down syndrome, the decisive difference lies in the 21st pair, which in those affected has one too many chromosomes.

Cats, on the other hand, only have 19 pairs of chromosomes. Since there is no 21st pair, they cannot have a genetic defect that is defined by an error on precisely this pair.

Cat Otto: Animals with “Down syndrome” go viral

“Cute animals with Down syndrome” are popular in the vast expanse of the Internet. A famous example is tomcat Otto, who comes from Turkey. Otto was found as a little stray kitten in the streets of Ankara in the summer of 2013.

A short time later he was famous in Turkey and beyond, because: Otto stood out because of his special look: wide-set, slanting eyes. The unique look even had a veterinarian announce that Otto was the first cat in Turkey with Down’s syndrome. About a year later Otto died – presumably of heart failure.

The cat Monty has also become a virtual celebrity: he already has 440,000 fans on his Facebook account. His current owners, the married couple Michael and Mikala, have adopted Monty from a Danish animal shelter and enable him to live a carefree life. The large fan base, in turn, encouraged Monty’s owner to open an internet shop with fan merchandise.

Cats with malformations and diseases

The following handicaps and diseases can occur in cats at birth or in the first few weeks, which are visually reminiscent of Down’s syndrome:

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Squint
  • Short stature
  • Water head
  • Ataxia
  • Malformations of the skull and face
  • Deformed dentition

Cats with Optical Down Syndrome – Reasons

Of course, cats can have other genetic defects that remind us of Down syndrome in humans. Although these animals do not have trisomy 21, they do have a different genetic malformation.

For example, a risk factor for genetic defects is inbreeding, i.e. parents who are closely related to one another. Infections in the mother cat also increase the risk that the genetic material will be damaged. Certain drugs or environmental toxins also make malformations more likely. Often in these cases, the kittens are born dead. Or the mother cat rejects it immediately after birth.

The little tomcat Otto was lucky in misfortune. But since he died at a young age of around one year, he probably had other genetic defects. Cats like him are also often less agile and more fearful than their fellow cats. For example, the keepers of the tomcat Monty report that he urinates in his sleep. We can hold on to:

There is no uniform clinical picture of genetic defects in cats that can be compared with human Down syndrome.

Symptoms that look similar in cats are coincidental.

Animals with Down syndrome: Tiger Kenny

Another example of a “cat” with Down syndrome is Kenny. “Kenny” was a white tiger. Pictures of him appear frequently when it comes to animals with Down syndrome. Kenny died in 2018 in Turpentine Creek, a wildlife sanctuary in the United States.

Because of his facial features, it was rumored that Kenny had Down Syndrome. In fact, his deformed face was the result of inbreeding. The animal welfare organization had rescued Kenny from its previous owner. Since inbreeding often plays a major role in the breeding of white tigers, a resulting genetic error is likely.