Categories: Dwarf Cats

Cat Health Issues

For dwarf cats..

Abnormal cat breeds. Munchkin. Photo copyright Helmi Flick

Cat health issues are important to all cat owners and lovers, particularly in respect of dwarf cats. Like me you probably would like to know as much as you can about the health of a dwarf cat. I have said on the leading page that they are generally healthy. Here I add some detail on the matter of cat health issues and dwarf cats.


Caveat: I am not a vet. This page has been very well researched, however. It is intended to be an objective look at this topic. If I have made a mistake please tell me by going to the contact page and emailing me. There is no substitute for seeing a vet. Also, please note this:- I am not saying that all dwarf cats have a problem. I am saying that some dwarf cats (perhaps a v.small minority) may present with other physical abnormalities other than short limbs. As I said dwarf cats are generally healthy.Responsible dwarf cat breeders will take action to minimize any negative aspects of the dwarfism gene. The Dwarf Cat Association responsibly state: “We always recommend that you spend time in email, on the phone or in person with the breeder that you choose your new family member from, so that you make that choice with as much knowledge of your new baby’s breeder & birthplace as possible. As in all transactions with someone you may not know well, follow the doctrine of Caveat Emptor, learn all you can before you buy. TDCA is available to answer any breed questions you may have…”This article is simply meant to assist you in formulating relevant and useful questions when you talk to a breeder. A good breeder will give transparent and open answers.


The question that you may have asked is this – is the dwarfism confined to the length of the limbs (in which case there will it seems be no ill effects on other organs of the body) or are other bone structures in the body also misshaped and therefore an underlying cause of a medical condition (i.e. are there cat health issues)?

In “genetics speak” mutations of genes (as is the case for dwarf cats) are referred to as “defects”. For breeders, defects produce the very thing that makes the cat desirable so the term is re-phrased “anomaly”. Although the vast majority of breeders present the facts objectively, they are in business. As for all businesses they will present the facts in the best light for them. This is normal and to be expected.

It is interesting that we find dwarfism in humans unattractive. This is because the underlying cause of what makes other humans attractive is the other person’s ability to produce healthy offspring (i.e. attraction is ultimately driven by survival and the survival of ones offspring).

Humans, though, like the appearance of small, interesting, unusual, rare and compact things and this includes animals because a lot of humans don’t think of animals as fellow creatures but as things to be owned and possessed.

The recurring issue with dwarf cats (meaning those with the anomalous genetic makeup) is that you like their appearance but do they have more cat health issues compared to an ordinary or normal cat?

What causes a cat to be a dwarf cat? The Dwarf Cat Association state on their website

“The gene for achondroplasia, the most common type of human dwarfism, was discovered in 1994. Achondroplasia is caused by a gene mutation that is the same in 98% of the cases. The mutation, affecting growth, especially in the long bones, occurs early in fetal development. It is believed that an achondroplasia-like gene is responsible for the dwarfing in the Munchkin & all hybrid breeds based upon the Munchkin breed.”

In humans the clinical features of achondroplasia are:

  • nonproportional dwarfism (short stature)
  • shortening of the proximal limbs (termed rhizomelic shortening)
  • short fingers and toes
  • a large head with prominent forehead
  • small midface with a flattened nasal bridge
  • spinal kyphosis (convex curvature) or lordosis (concave curvature)
  • varus (bowleg) or valgus (knock knee) deformities
  • frequent ear infections (due to Eustachian tube blockages), sleep apnea (which can be central or obstructive), and hydrocephalus
  • midface hypoplasia

This looks pretty daunting and suggests that there are a lot of health issues for humans suffering from this condition. Does this translate into cat health issues?

It seems that the clinical features for cats with dwarfism differs to those that are evident in humans with the same condition.

Sarah Hartwell confirms that “achondroplastic dwarfism” is characterised by short legs and enlarged head”. While pseudoachondroplasia is characterised by short limbs and a normal head.

As the Muchkin (the founding dwarf breed) has a normal head Sarah Hartwell says that this suggests that the Munchkin suffers from pseudoachondroplasia.

The prefix “pseudo” before achondroplasia means that the disorder resembles achondroplasia but is actually different in that the symptoms are the same as for achondroplasia except the head is normal size.

In a debateable classification (used by vets and breeders) of genetic anomalies, achondroplasia is considered semi-lethal and cosmetic. Cosmetic means medical treatment is not required but there are medical or physical repercussions and some limitations. This would indicate that dwarf cats have cat health issues.

Sarah Hartwell says that Munchkins can suffer from lordosis (inward curvature of the spine – the spine drops down around the shoulder blades) and pectus excavatum (funnel chest – flattened ribcage), indicating cat health issues may be in evidence.

Lordosis in humans can be minimized by the use of a cross trainer a device which helps to straighten the spine; also exercise helps. Surgery is the last resort.

(The term “lordosis” is also used to describe the raised posture of a female cat in heat when she is assuming a mating position.)

Lordosis causes misalignment in the thoracic region of the spine, which is the upper part of the spine including the vertebrae that connect to the ribs.

The spine dips down compressing the heart lungs and trachea. When severe, the kitten will die apparently at 10-11 weeks of age. The cats appear swaybacked or humpbacked. The condition may be due to shortened muscles that cradle the spine. Some breeders refuse to accept that this condition exists. Breeders need to do genetic studies to see if this condition can be bred out. Not enough is known about the secondary problems surrounding the dwarf gene in cats. How many die of this in breeding programs? When mild it causes infections, pneumonia and breathing and cardiac distress. When very mild, the cat can lead a normal life.

Breeders need to do studies to see if this condition can be bred out and if not perhaps thought should it seems be given to the breeding programme generally.

Pectus in humans (and I think it is fair and helpful to look at this from the human standpoint as there is less research data on these conditions in relation to cats) can cause pain and result in breathing problems, if it is a severe case. There is a procedure to help correct it. This may indicate that there could be cat health issues for cats with the same condition. A cat’s chest cavity is normally oval while in pectus the chest cavity is narrower top to bottom, the sternum being displaced upwards {see the diagrams and x-ray picture}.

In severe cases of pectus the reduced space in the chest results in a compression of the heart and lungs. This in turn leads to aversion to exercise, breathing difficulties, coughing, weight loss or failure to gain weight; in other words cat health issues. There appears to be no information as to the frequency of occurrence of this condition. Clearly then in severe examples of pectus there are accompanying cat health issues.

I believe that breeders of dwarf cats refer to these conditions as “LP”.

Confused…? Well you might be because I’m still not sure if dwarf cats have a higher frequency of cat health issues than a normally proportioned cat and that is the question we set out to answer.

It would seem that good breeding is the key as to whether lordosis and pectus occur. I’m sure good breeders try to track these problems to minimize their occurrence. Although as they are part of the genetic make up of a dwarf cat it would seem that these conditions cannot be eradicated. If you have views on this and if I am incorrect, please leave a comment.

However, in conclusion, if I were homing a dwarf cat I would at least have a thought for these conditions before proceeding and to check for cat health issues. This is good practice anyway and, as mentioned, recommended by The Dwarf Cat Association and by good breeders. Also, by working with a responsible breeder who will speak openly about health issues, you are encouraging sound breeding practices. This is all for the better for dwarf cat breeders and the association as it must always be wise to air (through discussion) cat health issues that people are concerned about.

There is still not enough information about dwarfism in cats it seems. This article is intended to help not criticise.

One final thing; I would suggest that you instruct your own vet, if that is practical, to carry out tests on your intended adopted dwarf cat, as this would provide an independent appraisal.

Sources:

  • Wikipedia
  • Yahoo Answers
  • Sarah Hartwell, MessyBeasts
  • www.munchkins.com
  • Catvet.homestead.com who refer to:

References:

Boudrieau R et al. Pectus excavatum in dogs and cats. Comp Contin Edu Pract Vet 12(3): 341-355, 1990

Fossum TW et al. Pectus excavatum in eight dogs and six cats. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 25:595-605, 1989

McAnulty JF, Harvey CE. Repair of pectus excavatum by percutaneous suturing and temporary external coaptation in a kitten. J Am Vet Med Assoc 194(8): 1065-1067, 1989

Sturgess C. Flat chested kittens – does taurine have a role to play? Burmese Cat Club News (U.K.), vol 12, no 8, 1995

Sturgess CP, Waters L, Gruffydd-Jones TJ et al. Investigation of the association between whole blood and tissue taurine levels and the development of thoracic deformities in neonatal Burmese kittens. Vet Rec 141:566-570, 1997

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Michael Broad

Hi, I am 70-years-of-age at 2019. For 14 years before I retired at 57, I worked as a solicitor in general law specialising in family law. Before that I worked in a number of different jobs including professional photography. I have a longstanding girlfriend, Michelle. We like to walk in Richmond Park which is near my home because I love nature and the landscape (as well as cats and all animals).

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