Pets play a very important role in many homes across the world. They offer love, affection, fun, and companionship to many individuals and families, and quickly become valued members of their household. In fact, our feline friends have also been scientifically proven to be beneficial for our health, since they are known for having a very calming influence. However, what happens when something goes wrong, and our treasured Maine Coon cats get sick? Before buying one of these impressive large cats, owners should make sure they know the most common Maine Coon health issues that their cat may develop. Keep reading to find out more …
Maine Coons are well known for being a very hardy cat breed, though are predisposed to developing certain Maine Coon health issues. These include hip dysplasia, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, spinal muscular atrophy, stomatitis, periodontal disease, polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and obesity.
Maine Coon Health Problems
The Maine Coon cat is one of the oldest natural cat breeds in America, with a mysterious lineage that has intrigued researchers for decades. Often referred to as the American Longhair, their very long and dense fur is renowned for enabling them to survive even the harshest New England Winters. They have attained a reputation for being a very hardy cat breed, with a gentle nature, making them ideally suited to families with young children. It probably comes as no surprise therefore that the Maine Coon cat breed has become an increasingly popular to own, particularly in the United States.
Despite this glowing reference though, the Maine Coon cat breed is not genetically perfect. Instead, like other cat breeds, they are predisposed to developing certain health issues during their Maine Coon lifespan. Therefore, before buying a Maine Coon it is important that buyers make sure they review the table below, so they are aware of the key Maine Coon health issues to look out for.
|Maine Coon Health Issues||Description|
|Hip Dysplasia||Common to large cat breeds. Causes arthritis and may lead to paralysis|
|Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy||Common cardiac disease associated with cats. Also known as feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy|
|Spinal Muscular Atrophy||Hereditary genetic disease, identified by increasing instability and posture abnormalities|
|Stomatitis||Painful inflammation of cats mouth and gums|
|Periodontal Disease||Very common. Also known as ‘gum disease’|
|Polycystic Kidney Disease||A hereditary genetic disease whereby ulcers form on cats kidneys|
|Obesity||Overweight Maine Coon cats|
1. Maine Coon Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia occurs when the cats hip joints fail to develop normally, resulting in ball and socket dislocation. The disease is characterised by the gradual deterioration, and ultimate loss of hip joint functions.
Although generally rare in the cat world, this disease is often found in large cat breeds such as the Maine Coon, particularly if the cat is purebred. It affects more female Coons than males, and is known to cause arthritis. Studies suggest this health problem affects 18% of the Maine Coon population (source).
It is important that breeders screen their breeding cats for hip dysplasia, even if their cats show no outward signs of this disease. This is because hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease, passed down the generations when both breeding parents pass the affected gene onto their offspring.
Although this disease is not considered life threatening, it is vital that owners know the warning signs to watch out for, since hip dysplasia can lead to paralysis.
Hip Dysplasia Signs And Symptoms
Since this disease is common amongst Maine Coon cats, owners should watch out for the following signs and symptoms. The earlier treatment starts, the better the outcome (source).
Early signs of hip dysplasia, are less easy to spot:
- Joint laxity or looseness
- Hip joint pain
Other symptoms include:
- Reluctant to jump, run or climb
- Less physically active
- Grating sounds when cat moves
- Reduced thigh muscle mass
- Shoulders muscles become notably bigger, since cat increases the amount of weight placed on their shoulders, in an attempt to avoid pain.
- Cat finds it difficult to get up
- Hind-limb lameness that is either intermittent, or persistent. More noticeable after a Maine Coon has exercised.
- Maine Coons hind limbs sit too closely together
- Swaying gait
- Cats hip joint range of motion decreases
2. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) occurs when there is a thickening of the muscular walls surrounding a cat’s heart, which negatively affect the heart’s efficiency levels.
It is not known what causes Maine Coon health issues like this to occur, however, researchers do suspect a genetic component is involved. This theory is based on the fact that the disease tends to only affect certain cat breeds where certain heart gene mutations are present.
According to Cornell University, HCM is one of the most commonly diagnosed cardiac diseases in cats (source). The prognosis for this particular disease varies significantly, though it is thought that certain treatments can improve the cats overall quality of life considerably.
One of the difficulties in identifying hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is that many cats with this condition show no signs of even being sick. A lack of symptoms doesn’t mean you can ignore this disease though, since HCM can cause sudden death in cats.
A Maine Coon suffering from HCM is likely to have the following health conditions:
- Blood clots in the heart
- Acute hind limb pain or paralysis
- Rapid heartbeat
- Arrhythmias (heart beats irregularly, too slowly, or too rapidly
- Weak pulse
In cases where fluid has accumulated in and around a cat’s lungs, the following symptoms are often visible. They factors may indicate your Coon has congestive heart failure:
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Laboured breathing
If you notice any of these conditions, take your Maine Coon to the vet immediately, to rule out this life threatening disease.
3. Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a hereditary genetic disease that may shorten the lifespan of your Maine Coon kitten. The disease is not thought to be fatal or painful, but is thought to cause weakened muscle development. It occurs when there is a loss of motor neurons in a cat’s lower spinal cord, and muscle deterioration in their hindlimbs. SMA is characteristized by a cat’s progressive instability, unsteady gait, and posture abnormalities.
Maine Coon kittens with SMA will lead normal, happy lives, as long as they are kept indoors, since their mental functions remain completely normal. Owners should not let kittens or cats with this condition outside though, since they require a higher level of care, than cat unaffected by SMA.
When purchasing an expensive Maine Coon kitten, ask your cat breeder for evidence that their breeding cats are free of this genetic defect. Proof can be in the form of a DNA test, identifying whether the genetic defect is present in the breeding cats, or not. If a breeder has not screened their breeding cats to check whether their cats are affected, or simply carriers of this condition, it is recommended that you do not continue the purchasing process. Although this might appear a somewhat extreme reaction, you only want to be purchasing a pedigree cat from breeder that value their cats health and wellbeing.
SMA Signs And Symptoms
If your Maine Coon kitten has spinal muscular atrophy, symptoms will show as early as 3-4 months of age. By 5-6 months of age, a kitten with this condition will find it difficult to jump onto furniture, and may appear somewhat clumsy when jumping down from higher surfaces. This is because the kitten may now be too weak in their pelvic limbs to easily jump up and down. Kittens suffering from spinal muscular atrophy will lose muscle mass in their hindquarters.
Maine Coons with spinal muscular atrophy present the following symptoms:
- Rear end of kitten sways as they walk
- A kittens posture will appear abnormal
- Kitten will struggle to jump
- Progressive muscular instability and weakness (source)
- Fine muscular tremors and fasciculations
One of the common Maine Coon health issues that this cat breed is prone to developing, is feline stomatitis. It can affect both male and female Maine Coon cats and is characterised by painful mouth ulcers, and inflammation of the cat’s gums and mouth.
If you notice your cat has stopped eating, ask your veterinary professional to assess them immediately for signs of stomatitis. This is important, since cats with this condition are unable to eat due to their inflamed gums and mouth making the process too painful.
Signs And Symptoms
Owners should keep watch for the following signs and symptoms of feline stomatitis, since this condition takes some time to treat:
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bad breath
- Pawing at face or mouth
- Dropping food
- Messy coat of fur
- Yelping when they eat food
5. Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is an extremely common health condition, affecting the cat’s teeth and mouth. It is also known as ‘gum disease’ and is made up of three stages: halitosis, gingivitis and periodontitis. Disease symptoms must not be overlooked, since periodontal disease may lead to kidney and heart valve conditions, the diseased oral tissues let oral bacteria through into a Maine Coon cats bloodstream.
The disease is characterised by inflammation of the tissue around a cat’s teeth, otherwise known as the periodontium. The condition is easily avoided, provided owners pay particular attention to their felines oral hygiene.
In my view, prevention is always better than a cure. Therefore, in order to prevent your Maine Coon developing periodontal disease, the best thing you can do is brush your cats teeth on a regular basis.
For more information on how to avoid Maine Coon health issues relating to cat teeth occuring, take a look at my article “Interesting Maine Coon Teeth Facts“.
Stages of Periodontal Disease
There are three key stages in periodontal disease:
When a cat eats, food residue often becomes trapped in between their gums, and teeth. This residue then interacts with the bacteria naturally living within a cats mouth, and the process of rotting begins. As the food rots, an offensive odor is released.
Halitosis is characterised by smelly breath. This stage of periodontal disease is considered reversible, and must not be ignored. Thus, if your cats breath becomes pungent, it is important that owners quickly intervene to ensure halitosis does not develop into periodontitis.
Gingivitis occurs when there is a build up of plaque (a sticky bacteria) on the surface of a cat’s teeth. The cat’s immune system will naturally try to remove this plaque, by releasing toxins to fight it. When this happens a Maine Coons gums become inflamed.
Gingivitis is a reversible disease, thought to affect 80% of cats that are 3+ years of age. If ignored however, the condition will develop into periodontitis, which is irreversible. In cases such as this, Maine Coon tooth loss is likely.
If symptoms present themselves, owners should ask a professional to clean their cats teeth immediately. Then, owners need to implement a strict home care routine, to ensure their cats has good oral hygiene (source).
The final stage of periodontal disease, is periodontitis. It occurs when a cats gingivitis is not treated immediately, and is characterised by periodontal ligament damage, receding gums and bone loss. Although this condition is not reversible, owners should ask a veterinary professional to assess their cats condition, and mechanically remove the tartar that has built up on their cats teeth.
Due to the irreversible nature of this condition, owners can only limit further damage. Ongoing care is important to ensure these Maine Coon health issues do not impact a cats wellbeing.
6. Polycystic Kidney Disease
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a hereditary condition whereby cats are born with cysts growing on their kidneys. During the course of a Maine Coons lifespan these cysts will increase in size, at varying rates. Most cysts grow slowly, and are not usually evident until a Maine Coon reaches seven years old. If any of these pockets of fluid grow too large though, they may impact the cats kidney functions, resulting in kidney failure (source).
Polycystic kidney disease is caused by an autosomal dominant gene abnormality. Cats only need one parent to be infected with the defective gene, to inherit PKD. In fact, without DNA testing it may not even be evident that a breeding cat is carrying the defective gene at all, since no signs or symptoms may be visible.
Symptoms of PKD
There are a number of symptoms to watch out for, which may indicate that your Maine Coon is suffering from polycystic kidney disease. These include:
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Frequent urination
If you are worried that your Maine Coon has PKD, ask your veterinary professional to genetically test your cat for PKD. The vet may also wish to carry out an ultrasound on your cat.
Maine Coons are one of the largest domesticated cat breeds in the world, with the potential to reach a staggering 40 inches in length! They are often referred to as ‘gentle giants’ due to their large physical frame and gentle nature, so don’t be surprised when your male Maine Coon kitten reaches up to 16 inches (40cm) in height, and weighs an impressive 15-25 lbs (6.8-11.3 kg).
Sadly, one of the common downsides to their large physical frame is that owners do not understand that this cat breed has a slower growth rate, than normal cats. They are unaware that Maine Coon cats reach their full physical size between 3-4 years of age, rather than at 2 years old like other cat breeds.
Owners not aware of these facts will often start overfeeding their cat, wondering why their cat hasn’t reached the average Maine Coon sizes listed across the internet. Unfortunately, overfeeding is a recipe for disaster because Maine Coons are prone to obesity, which inadvertently leads to many additional Maine Coon health issues, such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Obesity is also thought to reduce your Maine Coons lifespan, by up to two years (source).
In conclusion, we can see that there are several key Maine Coon health issues to watch out for. Whilst some diseases might not be life-threatening to your treasured Maine Coon, it is important that owners still treat all conditions seriously. This is particularly true, since minor illnesses that are left untreated often act as catalysts for other more serious illnesses to develop.