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Pure breed cat should be tested for inherited diseases

Q: We are thinking about buying a Maine coon cat. One breeder has her cats tested for heart disease; not surprisingly, her cats are more expensive. Another breeder says Maine coon cats are healthy, so testing is unnecessary. What’s the truth?

A: While Maine coon cats are generally healthy, some inherit genetic diseases that can shorten life, cause pain or decrease mobility. Responsible breeders have their cats tested and share the results.

The three most common inherited diseases in Maine coon cats are a type of heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), hip dysplasia and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

HCM, a common cause of heart disease in purebred and mixed-breed cats, is characterized by heart walls so thick they don’t contract normally. The disease occurs in cats without a family history of HCM or can be inherited.

One in three Maine coon cats inherits a gene mutation that causes the disease. Heart failure or sudden death occurs at six months to seven years of age. Genetic testing and cardiac ultrasound can help identify affected cats.

Hip dysplasia, abnormal formation of the hip joint, occurs in 23 percent of Maine coon cats. The condition leads to arthritis with hind leg weakness and stiffness that can make it difficult to posture normally in the litter box and jump onto furniture.

SMA occurs when nerve cells in the lower spinal cord don’t develop normally. At three to four months of age, affected cats lose hind leg muscle tone and have trouble walking. Genetic testing is available.

Spend a little extra to work with a breeder who screens all breeding cats for these diseases. If your new family member is healthy, you’ll save yourself considerable heartache and the expense of treatment.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com.

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