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It’s relatively common for cats to be born with birth defects. These defects include abnormalities of function, structure, or metabolism that are present at birth. Many of these defects resolve on their own. But in some cases, they require medical attention to correct or they are present for the cat’s entire life.
Congenital defects in kittens tend to be rare. Some research has shown pedigreed cats have a higher risk of developing a defect. However, the risk is statistically insignificant and defects don’t seem to affect one specific breed over another.
Defects can cause physical impairment and in some cases, serious defects are fatal.
Birth defects might be obvious at birth, subtle and apparent only when the cat doesn’t develop properly, or found only with diagnostic testing.
What are some of the defects cats are at risk for?
It’s dangerous for cats with different blood types to breed. If a blood type B female cat breeds with a blood type A male cat, the litter is at risk of dying shortly after birth due to the incompatibility
Cleft palate occurs when kittens are born with an opening in the roof of their mouths due to the two sides never fusing. Many cat owners wouldn’t think to look inside the top of their cat’s mouth and discover cleft palate due to the condition’s corresponding symptoms, which include coughing, runny nose, and difficult nursing.
Cleft palate is usually inherited. Some breeds are more prone to it than others, including Siamese, ragdolls, Norwegian forest cats, Ocicats, Persians, and savannahs. Exposure to certain chemicals in utero also put kittens at risk of cleft palate.
Flat Chested Kitten Syndrome causes a kitten to develop a depression in the rib cage because of a collapsed lung.
Also known as water on the brain, hydrocephalus causes cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to accumulate around the brain or blocks CSF from flowing outward, which leads to pressure around the brain. Kittens usually develop hydrocephalus because of blockage. However, other causes of hydrocephalus in cats include:
Kittens born with their intestines or any other organ exposed should undergo veterinarian examination immediately. In some cases, surgery can correct the defect.
Some kittens’ eyes are not grown to full size.
The fontanelle is the soft spot on the top of the head that closes soon after birth. It is present in humans and animals alike. The soft spot allows the plates of the skull to move so the baby’s head can pass through the birth canal. It usually seals on its own within a few days or weeks of birth, but if it does not, it leaves the brain exposed to risk.
Some kittens are born with this unusual chest wall deformity. It’s sometimes called inverted sternum.
This is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that affects kittens two weeks and younger.
Swimmer syndrome occurs when a kitten cannot crawl or stand normally.
This is the most common type of kitten hernia and occurs at the belly button.
Inherited cat birth defects occur due to an inheritance of genes or chromosomal abnormalities. They might also be caused by infections in utero, exposure to drugs, exposure to chemicals or environmental toxins, poor intrauterine environment, hyperthermia, or nutrition deficiencies. Taurine deficiencies are especially problematic for cats. Some birth defects are caused by a combination of two or more of these factors.
There are things breeders can do to reduce the risk of kitten birth defects. Basepaws can test your cats before breeding to determine if there are any genetic risks that are of concern.
It’s more difficult to prevent birth defects when you don’t know the genetic history of a cat.
To reduce the risk of birth defects, consider the following before allowing your cat to mate:
Consider a thorough health examination by a veterinarian professional before breeding your cat, even if you know of no potential risks. An examination should occur before every breeding experience.
Lowell Ackerman DVM, DACVD. “Tufts’ Canine and Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference, 2005.” VIN.com, 30 Mar. 2015, www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?meta=Generic&pId=11203&id=3853844. Accessed 31 Jan. 2021.
CDC. “Learn about Specific Birth Defects.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Aug. 2019, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/types.html.