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Common Health Problems Affecting the Maine Coon Cat Breed(page 2)

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency

What is it?

This is an inherited condition which results in anaemia. Pyruvate kinase is an enzyme which is involved in maintaining red blood cell health. Deficiency of this enzyme causes red blood cells to have a shorter life span, resulting in anaemia. It is known to affect several breeds of cat. Around 12% of Maine coons will have some form of PKDef.

How is it diagnosed?

Symptoms will be constitutional: weight loss, lethargy, diarrheoa and pale mucous membrane. Generally cats will tolerate the anaemia but it may cause a degree of decompensation during times of stress, for example if your cat became pregnant or unwell due to another illness.

A DNA test called the PKDef test can detect the condition and is over 99% reliable. This test will detect if your cat is clear, a carrier of PKDef or actually affected by the condition.

How is it treated?

PKDef is not treatable. Instead management leans more towards treating the symptoms of anaemia. In the most extreme cases blood transfusion may be necessary. Another option in removal of the spleen in those who have splenomegaly (enlarged spleen) which may be uncomfortable and contribute to worsening anaemia.  

Now let’s hear about common medical conditions which affect Maine coons more frequently than other breeds of domestic cat:

Polydactyly

What is it?

Polydactyly is a term of Greek origin meaning ‘many digits’. Therefore it is used to describe cats who have been born with extra toes. This occurs in all breeds of cat but is much more common amongst the Maine coon breed. At one time it was estimated that 40% of Maine coons had an additional toe or toes. The normal number of toes for a cat is 18 with five toes on the front paws and four toes on the back paws. The world record for the number of toes on a cat is 28.

How is it diagnosed?

Polydactyly is diagnosed on appearance of the paws. The paw will have a different appearance depending on the position of the additional digits.

Pre-axial polydactyly refers to additional toes on the inside of the paw, between the normal toes and the dewclaw. This gives the paw the appearance of having a thumb and is often referred to as a ‘boxing glove’ or a ‘mitten paw’.

Post- axial polydactyly refers to additional toes on the outer edge of the paw. This gives the paw the appearance of being overly large and is often referred to as a ‘snowshoe paw’.

How is it treated?

Polydactyly will rarely cause a problem for your Maine coon. In rare cases extra claws can become embedded in the paw and cause skin irritation and infection. If this occurs then removal of the claw is recommended but even in these cases the additional toes are left intact.

You can read more about this particular Maine coon trait in my specific article, All You Need to Know About Polydactyl Maine Coons.

Deafness

What is it?

Genetic deafness has been reported in Maine Coons. It is important to know if your cat is hearing impaired because it will make going outside dangerous. There can be a number of different causes of hearing impairment. Sometimes hearing impairment is caused by something simple and easily treatable.

There is a relationship between coat colour and the likelihood of deafness. Maine coons who are bred to be pure white in colour are up to 5 times more likely to suffer from genetic deafness. This is particularly true in those who have white fur and blue eyes. If a Maine coon has white fur and eyes which are two different colours then it will often follow that the deafness will occur on the side of the blue eye. Pure white Kittens should be tested at birth for deafness and this is something that you should ask a breeder about when considering adoption.

How is it diagnosed?

If you suspect that your cat is hearing impaired then you should consult your vet. They will examine your Maine coon to check for potentially treatable causes of hearing impairment. These include:

  • Bacterial ear infection
  • Ear mites
  • Polyps or tumours within the ear canal
  • Obstruction with a foreign object

If the ears appear normal on examination and it is clear that the Maine coon is not responding to sound then further tests can be performed to confirm deafness.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the cause, for example antibiotics for an infection or removal of an obstruction in the ear canal. If the deafness is genetic then this there is no treatment for this. It is recommended that Maine coons with hearing impairment are kept as indoor pets for safety reasons.

Hairballs

What is it?

Maine coons have the most beautifully long, thick fur coats but this comes with its own set of problems. When grooming themselves Maine coons will inevitably end up swallowing some of the fur they are shedding. This can result in a build-up of fur in their stomach which will eventually come together to form a fur ball.

How is it diagnosed?

If your Maine coon is making strange noises which sound like wretching or gagging then it may be that they are attempting to bring up a fur ball. As fur balls take up space in the stomach you may find that your Maine coon is eating less, this is because there is less space in their stomach and they are not feeling as hungry as often. Left for several days reduced eating can lead to weight loss. Larger fur balls can go on to cause problems with the digestive tract such as diarrhoea or constipation.

How is it treated?

Most cats will expel the furball themselves given time. The sound effects may be horrible and the result fairly disgusting but better out than in!

Prevention of fur balls is the key. Make sure that you are regularly grooming your Maine coon. Ideally give them a soft brush once a day and then a more thorough grooming 1-2 times a week. If your Maine coon will allow you to bathe them then this could really help with fur maintenance. A great shampoo for preventing furballs is Furminator Hairball Prevention Cat Shampoo (click here to see this product on Amazon). This shampoo is specially designed for long-haired cats to remove dead undercoat and to strengthen the remaining fur so that it doesn’t break off so easily.

A good diet will result in a healthy, glossy coat. You can purchase special feeds which are designed to target such issues. If this is something you would like to consider then you should discuss it with your veterinarian to ensure that your Maine coon is still getting all of the vital nutrients it requires.

The most extreme cases can require surgery but here we are talking about a fur ball which has reached the size of a cricket ball (or larger). For a more in depth look at hairballs in Maine coons please click here to see my article.

The following conditions are important to know about as cat owners so that your Maine coon stays in good health:

Obesity

What is it?

Maine coons can vary greatly in height and weight. Depending on their length a weight of between 10 and 20 pounds can be perfectly healthy. Like humans, obese cats are at risk of developing serious cardiovascular complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart failure. Being overweight will also put them at higher risk of developing cancer.

More specifically for the Maine coon breed, being overweight will put stress on the joints. Maine coons have a large frame to begin with, add obesity into the mix and you are asking for trouble. Over time obesity will put stress on joints leading to the development of osteoarthritis which can be really painful for your furry friend. As mentioned previously Maine coons are at risk of joint problems in the form of patellar luxation and hip dysplasia. Being overweight and developing arthritis will dramatically increase your Maine coon’s risk of developing these conditions.

If you are considering buying a Maine coon from a breeder ensure that you inquire about the health of the kitten’s parents and their parents. Many of the health issues mentioned above are genetic and therefore could have been passed down to your potential new furry friend.

How is it diagnosed?

Deciding if a Maine coon is overweight is challenging for two reasons: 1) there are no stringent guidelines for ideal Maine coon weights and 2) Maine coons have so much fur it’s hard to know where the car starts and the fur ends! Your veterinarian will make a judgement as to whether your Maine coon is a healthy weight for their age, height and length.

How is it treated?

As there are no guidelines for ideal Maine coon weights so you should ask your veterinarian what the ideal weight for your cat should be. If your Maine coon is overweight you can then discuss their diet. You may want to consider switching to a cat food which is designed specifically for indoor cats who are less active.

Also investigate ways to exercise your Maine coon. Some owners choose to take their Maine coons outside for a walk on a harness. Others find that investing in a cat tree is a good idea (an indoor climbing frame for cats). For more information on this see my guide, the Best Cat Trees for Maine Coons.

Gingivitis

What is it?

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums and is the first stage of periodontal disease. It appears as mild redness of the gums with plaque build up on the teeth.

How is it diagnosed?

Signs of gingivitis include bad breath, inflamed gums and pain on eating. Gingivitis is often found incidentally when your veterinarian is examining your Maine coon for another reason.

How is it treated?

Good quality dry cat food is the easiest way to prevent plaque build up on the teeth. If your Maine coon will allow it then try brushing their teeth using a toothbrush and a specially-designed cat toothpaste on a daily basis. Occasionally dental problems are caused by an overcrowded mouth, in these cases your veterinarian may suggest removal of one or more teeth.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

What is it?

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a term which refers to a collection of conditions affecting the urethera and bladder in cats. It is uncommon in Kittens unless the cause is a congenital abnormality such as a malformation of the urinary tract. FLUTD will usually be diagnosed after the age of 4 years in Maine coons. FLTUD can be caused by:

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of shiny fur coat
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Pale mucous membranes (inside of the mouth and around the eyes)
  • Enlarged, lumpy kidneys

How is it diagnosed?

Symptoms of FLUTD include:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloody, cloudy or offensive smelling urine
  • Repeated licking of the urinary opening
  • Spending a long time in the litter tray
  • Crying out in pain when trying to urinate
  • Inability to urinate
  • Lethargy
  • Increased visits to the litter tray

If your Maine coon is exhibiting any of the symptoms mentioned above then please seek advice from your veterinarian. They will listen to your concerns and examine your coon. Depending on what they think the cause may be the following investigations may be performed:

  • Analysis of the urine
  • Urine culture – sending a sample away to see if it grows any bugs
  • Blood tests to check kidney function and markers of infection
  • Ultrasound scan of the urinary tract
  • X-rays of the spine if injury is suspected

How is it treated?

Treatment is dependent on the cause. If it is a simple case of a urinary tract infection, then re-hydration and antibiotics should be sufficient. Other issues may require further investigation.

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