Photo above: as far as I am aware this Modern Siamese in a rescue center was and is healthy – photo copyright ciao-chow. The photo is reproduced under a creative commons license and in accordance with the license.
Siamese cat health problems is mainly (but not entirely – see updates) a discussion about the breeding of the “Modern Siamese” and whether during the development of the contemporary version of the Siamese cat health problems were developed at the same time due to breeding too closely (inbreeding).
Siamese cat breeders drafted a breed standard based on what they thought the cat should look like. Having studied Siamese cat history carefully, it is my considered view that the breeders decided on a starting point for the breed standard that was ill conceived.
Having decided that the Siamese cat needed to become more elegant the breed standard was geared to produce the abnormal appearance of the Modern Siamese we now see. The starting point was incorrect (i.e. the original Siamese was not thin and long headed) and the breeders then overshot the mark in their desire to turn out winning show cats.
In breeding for winning show cats tight breeding took place. This is in fact admitted by Jeanne Singer in the 1979 CFA Yearbook. Although her article is primarily written in defense of the Modern Siamese appearance and health (as it would be because she wrote the breed standard and some people were obviously concerned) she says that in the past she has seen several “prominent” Siamese lines vanish due to infertility brought on by inbreeding. These lines that were inbred were clearly important lines. Reduced fertility is a sign of inbreeding.
Jeanne also says that breeders and judges went through fads and phases when certain elements of the cats appearance was “in fashion”. Without being overly critical (I hope) that doesn’t sound like the best of attitudes to breeding a cat to me.
Jeanne also refers to a specific disorder that manifested itself in the 1950′s (the time at which the change in the appearance of this breed began in earnest). Siamese cat health problems came to light in some cats that were genetically transmitted. In other words the disorder was due to a “defective” gene. This disorder was undiagnosed as far as I can see. The cats suffered a metabolism disorder. They were weak, with poor body tone and would pick up infections easily. Poor immune systems would seem to be one of the problems.
Jeanne rightly says that breeders do not need to use lines with known weaknesses. To me this implies that some breeders have used lines knowing there was a health problem in that line in the hope and expectation that it would produce a show winner. This is probably to be expected in the competitive sharp end of the cat fancy. But it must not be that way.
Inbred cats display deficiencies more frequently as the bad genes are more frequently encountered. Poor immune systems to me indicate inbreeding. On the Modern Siamese cat page I have mentioned the story of a Siamese cat lover’s Siamese cat health problems. She “bought” several cats that died young (aged under 10) through poor immune systems.
Please don’t get the wrong idea. What I am saying is that in my opinion there is evidence that the Modern Siamese is less healthy than the Traditional due to excessively close breeding. Of course it is to be expected that breeders will be cautious about talking about Siamese cat health problems as they run businesses. The Siamese cat has, according to Dr Clark (Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects of Purebred Cats) the highest number of genetic diseases of all the purebred cats. See Genetic Diseases in Purebred Cats. It seems that the Modern Siamese is susceptible to upper respiratory infections (URIs) prior to adulthood. There are a variety of URIs. Some are just colds that pass and some can be far more serious. For a young cat some URIs can be killers and very difficult to shake off. This can lead to heartache for the person caring and a miserable life for the cat (and it hurts thinking about that). On a practical note it is also very expensive. Read about cat health issues generally or URIs in cats by clicking on these links.
Updates on Siamese cat health problems
The following were compiled from various sources over time:
– It also seems that the Siamese (I cannot differentiate between Traditional or Modern) has a known inherited disorder than causes a blockage in the stomach. I don’t have any details (src: Dr Rebecca Richards MA, VetMB, PhD, CertSAM, MRCVS). – update 16-5-09: this may refer the Siamese cat health problem: Pyloric Stenosis, see below for more.
— Siamese cats are predisposed to basal cell carcinoma relative to the norm. See: Cat Skin Cancer.
– Compared to other cat breeds, Siamese cats may have a slightly higher than normal chance of having cat asthma (Source: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook).
— It is pretty well known that the Siamese cat sometimes has a squint. It is caused apparently by a disrupted visual pathway. This condition is not dependent on whether the cat is modern or traditional. The squint can also be found in other domestic cats. It seems that the disorder is inherited (genetically based health problem). Sometimes the squint is present when the cat is young and corrects itself as the cat becomes older. The squint does not affect binocular vision.
—Wikipedia says that hip dysplasia particularly affects Siamese cats. A better source says that this Siamese cat health problem occassionally occures. This disorder of the hip is known to affect large cats such as the Persian and Maine Coon but I have not seen it mentioned in relation to the Siamese before. It also affects humans (rarely) and it impairs mobility. It can be treated surgically. Siamese cats can be screened for hip dysplasia at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) (src: Veterinary Notes for Cat Owners).
—There may be a predisposition in the Siamese cat to diabetes (src: Veterinary Notes for Cat Owners). There is no mention of this being breed (i.e. Modern or traditional) specific. See Feline Diabetes
—Dr Turner and Jean Turner VN in their book Veterinary Notes for Cat Owners say that the Siamese cat (no mention of the type of Siamese cat) may have a predisposition towards Psychogenic Alopecia (hair loss through excessive grooming as a result of behavioral problems). See Feline Endocrine Alopecia.
—this is not a health “problem” but something I bumped into about health. Apparently the gestation period (the duration of pregnancy) for a Siamese cat can be 71 days compared with the usual average of 65 days (src: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin).
—Feline Hyperesthesia, it is thought, more commonly occurs in Siamese cats. This is either a behavioral or neurological disease. This may be linked to Feline Endocrine Alopecia (see above) – See Feline Hyperesthesia for more.
—Siamese cats may on occasions be predisposed to eating wool. This may cause cat vomiting. (src: The Veterinarians’ Guide to Your Cat’s Symptoms by Dr Garvey et al) – see wool sucking below & link for more. A Siamese cat health problem.
— This could be anecdotal, without firm evidence but I’ll mention it in any case for completeness on the subject of Siamese cat health problems. Siamese cats can it seems rarely suffer from a chest condition called Pectus Excavatum (FCK). This is called “tight chest” by some breeders. Read about it in relation to Dwarf cats. The problem may rarely effect all cats.
– A report in the Daily Mail (16-3-09) in the UK claims that Siamese cats are prone to develop a certain kind of lung cancer. I have not followed this up at the time of adding this.
– The Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, Fully Revised and Updated (page 338 – IBSN: 978-0-470-09530-0) says that the following diseaes are seen in Siamese cats:
- Mucopolysaccharidosis type V1 – flattened face, lameness, corneal clouding and bone dysplasias. Screening through a DNA test is available.
- Ceroid lipofuscinosis – automsomal recessive trait. Signs: visual deficit, ataxia (lack of coordination of muscle movements) and seizures.
– Siamese cats with vestibular disorders may also be deaf. There is no cure. Vestibular disorders are disorders of the semi-circular canals, utricle and saccule of the inner ear (source: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook).
– Hepatic Amyloidosis. This information first came from a submission from a visitor to this site who wrote about her lovely Oriental Shorthair cats, a breed that also suffers from this disease. This disease is incurable and fatal. Cats present as under the weather. Pale gums and ears are signs plus slight jaundice. Haemorrhaging of the liver caused by amyloid cysts causes death. The author of the website from which this information was obtained has first hand experience and says that the disease is fairly widespread she feels. She is trying to help rectify the problem. Another Siamese cat health problem.
The following come from Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects of Purebred Cats Edited by Ross D. Clark DVM – this list of potential Siamese cat health problems may overlap with the health issues mentioned above.
- Siamese cats, Dr. Clark says, can suffer from the strange condition of wool sucking. Please go to this page to read about this: Cat Wool Sucking.
The following Siamese cat health problems are “recognized medical problems” associated with the Siamese cat – potential Siamese cat health problems:
- Acomelanism: This is not so much a problem but a characteristic that makes the Siamese cat what he/she is. The change in coat color through temperature changes. It applies to all pointed cats. They are born white. Siamese in cold climates have darker hair. The change in color may be associated with an enzyme that is temperature dependent and which is involved in melanin production. Sometimes Siamese lose pigmentation on their eyelids, footpads or nose. They may have white hair around the eyes (bilateral periocular leukotrichia). Goggles are something that Toyger cat breeders strive for, incidentally (they call them “white spectacles”). Apparently, Siamese cats can lose pigmentation on their nose from eating out of a rubber or plastic dish. A change of dish solves the problem.
- Feline Endocrine Alopecia: a hormonal skin disorder that occurs 90% of the time in neutered males and Siamese cats. It could be due to sex hormone deficiencies. Temporary results can be obtained with administering injections of androgen-estrogen or progestogen says Dr. Clark. Some vets would not recommend this treatment, however. More: Feline Endocrine Alopecia
- Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome: This refers to the rippling of the skin. This would appear to be a Siamese cat health problem. Read more on this disease here please: Feline Hyperesthesia . Treatment seems to be unsure. Antidepressants have been tried with some success.
- Adenocarinomas of small intestine: Siamese are three times more likely to contract this condition. Cats become less active, lose weight and vomit. This is a tumor of the intestine. Surgery is indicated and survival times are between 4-6 weeks usually.
- Malignant mammary tumors: Greater incidence of this disease.
- Crystalloid bodies in red blood cells: Found in a inbred family of Siamese cats. One cat was anemic but otherwise no disease.
- GMI Ganglioidosis: causes a neurological syndrome in cats.
- Mucopolysaccharidosis VI: Causes skeletal deformities such as wide spaced eyes, small ears and flattened face. Kittens are smaller than normal. At 5 months they walk abnormally. Jumping is curtailed. A quarter of cats have paralysis by 10 months. Some survive to middle age.
- Congenita heart defects: Supposedly more common in Siamese cats than other breeds. Kittens with a heart defect will:
- be small for their age
- be in poor condition
- tire easily
- not play that much and
- may have difficulty breathing
- Primary Endocardial Fibroelastocis: Found in Burmese and Siamese.
- Cross-eye: Squint — Caused by a genetic defect in the neural pathways. This does not seem to affect the cat’s vision.
- Nystagmus: A rapid lateral flickering of the eyes. Vision not impaired it seems.
- Sphingomyelinosis: Neurological disease transmitted by it seems an autosomal recessive gene. A Siamese cat health problem. Signs are:
- retarded growth
- ataxia at 4 months of age
- later the cat has trouble eating and drinking due to head bobbing
- Hydrocephalus: Water on the brain caused by an autosomal recessive gene (see above for links). Symptoms are:
- kittens have dome shaped head
- eyes deviate downwards and laterally
- overexcitable or depressed
- gait abnormalities
- poor vision
- Feline Bronchial disease: Abnormality of lower airways. Symptoms are:
- Hereditary Hypotrichosis: Reported in Siamese cats. Signs: thinning of hair. See Devon Rex Health too.
- Psychogenic Alopecia: A skin disease – excessive grooming. Also reported in Himalayans (pointed Persians) and Abyssinians.
- Cutaneous Asthenia: A congenital connective tissue disease. There is no cure and the person keeping the cat should protect the cat from injury. The cat can cause injury by scratching him/herself. Signs:
- pliable skin
- skin can be stretched and it hangs loosely
- fragile skin
- skin tears easily
- Mast cell tumors: “Siamese cats have a prediliction for a particular kind of mast cell tumor”. Symptoms can include:
- distended abdomen
- Esophageal Hypomotility: This condition involves reduced muscular activity and slower food transit times in the esophagus when eating. Cats regurgitate the food. Other symptoms:
- respiratory problems
- cough when they develop aspiration pneumonia
- dilated esophagus
- Pyloric Stenosis: Possiby an inherited disease. Narrowing of the lower part of the stomach in young cats. Signs are:
- vomiting after meals (30 mins to 8 hours after) and may occur every day
- gastric distention
- Chronic open-angle glaucoma: Glaucoma is an increase of the pressure inside the eye due to a build up of the eye fluid. Usually causes irreversible eye damage and pain.
- Gingivitis and feline cervical neck lesions: Regular teeth checks are recommended.
- Hip Dysplasia: Read about this in relation to the Maine Coon cat: Maine Coon Cat Health . These are the Siamese cat health problems that I have read about.
Personally (and this is a strictly personal view), I’d find a beautiful traditional Siamese cat in a rescue center and form a loving relationship. I’ve done some work of Siamese rescue and there are some good ones, particularly in the USA. See the page on Siamese cat rescue. I think Siamese cat health problems for the Modern Siamese are a concern. However, these are obviously my views as stated and many or at least some people will disagree, which for me is fine.