Flat-chested kitten syndrome in Bengal cats
While doing some research on pet health insurance I noted that one insurer increases their insurance premiums because Bengal cats are predisposed to developing an inherited disease (in my opinion) called “Flat-chested Kitten syndrome (FCK)”.
It’s a disappointment to me to read about this because you have to add this disease to the others suffered by this popular cat breed namely hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), patellar luxation and pyruvate kinase deficiency.
Narrow gene pool?
The information does not surprise me because the whole of the Bengal cat breed is based upon a very narrow pool of foundation cats. They are the kittens resulting from the efforts of Jean Mill in the 1980s. We are looking at just a few cats. Inbreeding tends to predispose cats to health conditions that would otherwise be hidden in recessive genes.
They say that anecdotally there may be a “heritable component” to the condition. I find that surprising because it seems clear to me that this is an inherited disease as mentioned in the first paragraph of this article. There may also be environmental influences according to the International Cat Care website, but I find it difficult to understand that.
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And the website International Cat Care are right when they state that FCK is a condition which is underreported in veterinary literature. For example, my excellent textbook on home healthcare does not list it. This is a book with 600 pages.
Flat-chested syndrome is characterised by a “dorsoventral flattening of the rib cage”. The word “dorsoventral” means “extending along an axis joining the dorsal and ventral surfaces”. A dorsal surface is on the upper side or back of an animal and the ventral surface is on the underside.
So, this is a flattening of the rib cage from above and below on my interpretation of that definition.
It is a condition which is seen in many breeds apparently but is more commonly seen in Bengal cats, Burmese cats, Oriental Longhair cats and Oriental Shorthair cats.
This is a ‘thoracic deformity’. In other words, it is a deformity relating to the thorax which is the area of the body between the neck and the abdomen (the chest). It is an area containing important organs and which is supported by the ribs, spine and breastbone.
The deformity results in a reduction in space for the lungs and it affects blood circulation which carries oxygen to the body. That is why there is a shortness of breath as I mention below.
My mind turns to a similar inherited condition called pectus excavatum which affects the dwarf cat breeds. However, a Bengal cat breeder says that the two are quite distinct. They say that FCK is often misdiagnosed by veterinarians as pectus excavatum. However, cats with the former can also suffer from the latter condition which would seem to link the two.
One veterinary website (Noah’s Ark Vets) lists flat-chested Kitten syndrome and pectus excavatum under the same heading because they result in the same compression of the chest space.
Signs and Symptoms
Noah’s Ark Vets say that the severity of the deformity is variable. This means that there may be no symptoms or severe difficulties in breathing and oxygenating the blood. A severely affected kitten may not survive.
Despite the fact that most kittens behave normally and appear to be healthy, sometimes affected kittens may show signs of weight loss or a failure to gain weight, a failure to suckle and an increased effort to breathe resulting in an increased respiratory rate. To me, this indicates a feeling that they have a loss of breath with need to breathe faster to get air into their compressed lungs. That’s my interpretation.
A Bengal cat owner or breeder will know that their cat has FCK when they show the following signs which I have touched on above:
- The kitten is not feeling well. This should be noticeable in behaviour and demeanour.
- They breathe faster and in a more laboured way than their litter mates.
- You can feel a difference in the kitten’s chest shape when you handle him or her.
- And the kitten fails to gain weight at the same rate as their siblings.
This veterinary website says that they don’t know of any specific way that this disease can be prevented. Comment: I can understand that because from my perspective it is caused by an inherited, deleterious gene and therefore the only way to prevent it occurring as to change the way that breeders breed their Bengal cats.
Is there a screening programme? I don’t think there is. The way to stop it in my view is to remove foundation cats from breeding lines that carry the disease. That’s going to take DNA testing to isolate the gene and then cull the cats. In this instance “cull” means removing from a breeding line.
What can I veterinary clinic do about it? They will assess the severity. They might have to provide oxygen for the kitten to assist breathing. They may advise a diet to ensure sufficient calorie intake for growth. They may suggest splints or surgical intervention. Early intervention is important if there are some doubts that the kitten will survive.
Comment: I wonder if Bengal cat breeders do their own assessment of kittens when they are very young through palpation and then kill those kittens that carry the disease? That sounds a bit harsh, but I have read about breeders killing new-born kittens for various reasons because they consider them to be hardly sentient creatures.
Below are some more articles on Bengal cats.
Is it okay for a Bengal cat to live in an apartment?
Are Bengal cats big?
Bengal cat chases away black bear (video)