We all want our cats to be happy and healthy, so learning about Maine Coon spinal muscular atrophy can be scary, especially if your cat has been diagnosed with it.
If you have only just heard about the condition, you may be wondering what it is, and whether or not it will cause harm to your cat.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a condition that causes a cat’s spinal muscles to slowly degenerate, causing the cat to have a weak or abnormal gait. While the condition is neither painful nor fatal, cats with Spinal Muscular Atrophy require extra care and attention.
If your cat has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or you’re scared it might develop the condition, read on to learn more about how to identify and treat it.
What Is Maine Coon Spinal Muscular Atrophy?
Spinal Muscular Atrophy, also known as SMA, is a neurodegenerative disorder that can occur in a variety of cat breeds, including Maine Coons. It causes the neurons that travel to the skeletal muscles of a cat’s hind limbs and torso to degenerate, until the cat is barely able to use them.
If a cat has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, it typically begins to show between 3 and 4 months old.
The first signs include:
- An irregular, swaying gait in the back legs.
- While standing, their back legs will usually touch.
Even though the affected cat will not lose any energy or desire to play, the condition will significantly affect mobility.
As the condition progresses, the affected cat will eventually lose the ability to jump onto furniture, or run like other cats their age. This stage usually occurs within a few months after onset, typically when a kitten is between 5 and 6 months old.
As the disease progresses, you will also notice significant loss of muscle in the back legs. Due to Maine Coon Cats’ thick, medium-long fur, this is usually not visually apparent until later (source 1).
Spinal Muscular Atrophy Symptoms
Here are some of the common symptoms of feline Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
- Weakness In Hind Legs: In the earliest stages of SMA, a vet or other professional will be able to notice a slight weakness in the affected kittens hind legs.
- Tremors In Hind Legs: Subtle tremors in a kitten’s hind legs can also be an early symptom of Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
- Swaying Gait: A Maine Coon Cat with Spinal Muscular Atrophy will begin to sway its hindquarters while walking, and its gait might become unsteady.
- Odd Posture: A cat with SMA will stand with both hind legs touching.
- Inability to Perform Normal Tasks: Unlike its peers, a cat with SMA will be unable to jump onto elevated surfaces. Furthermore, while jumping down from an elevated surface, they will not be able to land properly. Cats with SMA will be noticeably clumsier than other cats.
- Loss of Muscle Mass: As the cat becomes less able to use its hind legs, its muscles will begin to atrophy, causing a noticeable decrease in muscle mass.
- Back Sensitivity: Cats with SMA might respond with hypersensitivity to being touched on their back or spine.
- Intolerance to Exercise: Cats with SMA will have more difficulty getting around, so exercise will be far more laborious. They may start breathing heavily after walking, running, or playing (source 1).
What Causes Spinal Muscular Atrophy In Cats?
Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetically inherited disorder. The gene causing Spinal Muscular Atrophy is recessive, meaning that a cat will only develop SMA if they receive two alleles that carry the condition. As a result, cats can only develop SMA if both parents carry the recessive allele for the disease (source 1).
How To Treat Spinal Muscular Atrophy In Cats
There is, unfortunately, no way to slow or stop the progression of SMA. However, you can still give your cat proper treatment to ensure it lives a long and healthy life.
1. Keep Your Cat Indoors
Living with SMA makes the world a lot more dangerous for cats. They won’t be able to get out of harm’s way as quickly as other cats, so it’s safest to keep them indoors, where they can’t be hurt by cars, dogs, or other cats.
2. Rearrange Your Furniture
Cats with SMA won’t be able to jump up or down safely, so you should take care to keep all of your cat’s food, water, and other necessities on the same level. You might even consider adding a few stools here and there, so your cat can climb onto the couch, or other favorite napping areas.
3. Keep Your Cat Happy
Cats with SMA do not experience a loss of energy or love for life! They still love to play and cuddle just like other cats. Be sure to provide your cat with plenty of toys and enrichment that your cat can enjoy even with its condition.
Can Spinal Muscular Atrophy Be Cured?
While some treatments are being developed to aid humans suffering from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, there is no known cure as of yet.
Furthermore, none of those treatments found for humans work for cats. Still, many cats with SMA live long, full lives.
Life Expectancy Of Cat With Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Most cats with Spinal Muscular Atrophy live relatively long lives, but as the condition gradually worsens, it does eventually cause death. Most cats with SMA live to be about 8 or 9 years old (source 1).
Maine Coon SMA Test
Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetically inherited disorder, so a simple DNA test can be used to determine whether or not a cat has it.
Muscle Atrophy In Cat’s Hind Legs
While muscle atrophy in a cat’s hind legs is a major symptom of SMA, not all cats who experience this symptom suffer from SMA. Hind leg muscle atrophy is common in many senior cats, who begin to lose muscle mass as a result of less activity and reduced food intake.
In some cases, muscle atrophy in a cat’s hind legs can also be indicative of an underlying disease, such as cancer, heart disease, or kidney disease.
If you’ve noticed any weakness or loss of muscle mass in your cat’s hind legs, take it to the vet immediately for a proper diagnosis (source 1).
Maine Coon Spinal Problems
Spinal Muscular Atrophy is only one possible condition that can affect a cat’s spine. Here are some other possible spinal problems that can affect Maine Coons.
- Spondylosis Deformans: This condition causes bony growths to form below a cat’s spinal vertebrae. It can sometimes cause back pain, but does not have any other associated symptoms. This is a common condition that occurs in senior cats.
- Intervertebral Disk Disease: Like SMA, this is a degenerative condition. A “slipped” disk in a cat’s vertebrae leads to compression of the cat’s spinal cord and nerves, gradually causing pain, stiffness, muscle spasms, and sometimes paralysis.
- Myelopathy from Feline Leukemia Virus: A cat suffering from Feline Leukemia for two years or more can sometimes develop myelopathy, which causes weakness and loss of control in a cat’s back legs, sometimes leading to paralysis (source 1).
Maine Coon Genetic Testing
It is possible to conduct genetic tests to determine whether a cat carries one or both alleles of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. As a result, many responsible breeders will test studs and queens for SMA before breeding them.
Before purchasing a Maine Coon kitten, you should ask your breeder if they have tested for SMA or other health conditions. If they do not provide an answer or evidence that they have tested, then you should seek out a breeder who does test.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy In Cats
Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Maine Coon Cats, also known as PRA, is another potential condition that can affect some cats. This disease causes the photoreceptor cells in a cat’s eyes to gradually atrophy, leading to partial or complete blindness.
There is no known cure for PRA, but cats who suffer from this condition often learn to live happily despite it (source 1).
Maine Coon Spinal Muscular Atrophy is an incurable degenerative condition that affects kittens between the ages of three to four months old. It causes a cat to gradually lose muscle mass and neuron control in their back legs.
While there is no cure or treatment to this condition, many cats suffering from SMA still live long and healthy lives, and the condition does not cause any form of pain.
PKDEF In Cats
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency is an inherited anemia that most frequently affects Somali and Abyssinian cats. The condition is not typically fatal, but can cause lethargy, dizziness, and other symptoms (source 1).
Motor Neuron Disease In Cats
Motor neuron diseases in cats cause the degeneration of neuromuscular movement, leading to impaired movement and eventually death (source 1).