Every species and breed in the cat world has strengths and weaknesses. They have individual things they are susceptible to. The Maine Coon is no different. There are a few things that you should be aware of when owning a Maine Coon, healthwise that is.
So what are the typical Maine Coon health issues? There are 4 that are specific to the Maine Coon. While not unique to Maine Coons, polycystic kidney disease (PKD), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), hip dysplasia (HD), and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) are known conditions that have an elevated risk with Maine Coon ownership. It’s by no means certain that they will be affected, and a lot can be done to keep them at bay, but these are the genetic conditions that you ought to be most worried about your Maine Coon contracting.
I’m not sure any animal enjoys the thought of feeling weak and unwell. Humans especially don’t enjoy it, so I’d think this same general feeling translates to your cat. I try to keep Alita as healthy as I possibly can.
Although some diseases are worse than others, and as an indoor cat Alita, will be less susceptible to some of the common viruses, there are nonetheless a few genetic conditions you can do nothing about.
You can try your best, but ultimately mother nature and fate might have different ideas. It’s not a pleasant thought for me, but that doesn’t mean the subject needs to be out of my mind.
In this article I am going to explore the health problems that are unique to the Maine Coon. By ‘unique’ I do not mean that no other breed of cat can get them, just that these have been identified by science and years of observational studies as genetic problems that a Maine Coon is afflicted by on a more elevated basis with respect to other breeds.
In layman’s terms, there are problems your Maine Coon is more at risk from than a British Shorthair for example.
As well as determining the unique health problems to a Maine Coon I’d like to cover the more non-genetic infections, illness, infections and other health problems that can impact any cat.
So, to cut to the short of it, if you own a Maine Coon, they are prone to the genetic and hereditary conditions of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), hip dysplasia, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and polycystic kidney disease (PKD).
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, I have deliberately left out details or recommendations relating to treatment. This article will deal with trying to inform you of what you should be aware of. The intention is give you some insight to make an informed decision. For all treatment, please get professional advice from a veterinarian,
Despite these being a conditions known to the breed, they aren’t as common as they might once have been. With numerous preventive screening procedures readily available to breeders, and the Maine Coon being a well known breed the natural effects of science and experience have joined together.
Selective breeding procedures have gradually weaned out the bloodlines that might have been more genetically susceptible. Essentially, the parents in Maine Coon breeding programs have reduced the chance of kittens being produced with problems.
A hardy breed indeed.
With modern preventive screening procedures readily available to breeders they have successfully identified the ‘non carrier’ parents and a discerning buyer vase is starting to ask for the relevant documentation. It’s now possible to see if a kitten from a litter has a condition or the parents might have genetically passed it on.
If you are going to go and see a professional breeder to purchase a Maine Coon the industry will now provide you with proof of ‘negative conditions’ for any kitten selected. This is as good a reason as any to make sure you go to a reputable breeder.
When you are doing your research, in order to find a reputable breeder, this sort of documented information is crucial for making a more informed choice.
Make it a specific point of interest to ask any prospective breeder about their screening for the known genetic conditions. Their answers should be informed and give you confidence that they actually perform these tasks. Most breeders will have some sort of screening information on their websites. If they don’t, make sure it is something you enquire about.
The hip on a cat, is somewhat the same place as yours. It’s the joint that affects the rear legs. Hip Dysplasia is a genetic condition which results in the ball and socket joints not developing properly from birth.
Not easy do diagnose, but you should start to see a swaying gait or reluctance to jump and run.
Unfortunately this is because the condition can be rather painful and your cat will stop doing the things that are causing the distress. Symptoms can start early, even in kittens and will show itself when your Maine Coon is walking. It will struggle using the back legs in general.
More commonly known as HCM this condition affects the heart, and by extension the flow of blood around your felines body.
Traditionally this condition affects your Maine Coon as it gets older, it’s not too common in Maine Coon kittens.
Hypertrophy is the enlargement of the muscle inside the heart, which is usually the left ventricle leading to an irregular heartbeat. It has different levels of severity and thus the signs and diagnoses are varied.
In its more serene incantation you may not know at all your Maine Coon has developed the issue, but with more severe cases, the symptoms might be more noticeable.
Watch out for limited breathing and brief, sharp breaths, anorexia nervosa and an absence of energy. Your Maine Coon will show a tendency to lethargy. It will not want to over exert the heart. If these signs are showing, this illness can be deadly so get in touch with your vet as quickly as possible.
This particularly affects kittens at a young age, so if you purchase a Maine coon kitten past 12 weeks old it should have already been diagnosed with the condition. SMA is essentially a degeneration of the neurons are along the spinal cord, which obviously affects the rear legs.
While it’s a degenerative disease, it is not painful for your cat, so they can still live a healthy and happy life, albeit their gait might be a little unsteady. It might just look like a clumsy Maine Coon.
This condition creates cysts that grow in your Maine Coons kidney’s. In the early stages they don’t cause any problems, and the kidney performs quite healthily. As the cysts grow, as the cat matures, they replace healthy kidney tissue and in the end, can cause severe kidney failure.
Genetic screening is now available to test if your Maine Coon is susceptible to PKD and the cysts will show up on a professional ultrasound.. This disease is often screened for from breeders but a Maine Coon can develop them later in life.
As PKD affects the proper functioning of the kidneys, the signs are similar to a failing kidney, As your Maine Coon ages look out for weight-loss, absence of energy, throwing up and excessive drinking.
I wrote a post, specifically on PKD if you care to read it.
Moving on from Maine Coon specific issues, here’s a few things to be aware of that can, and do, affect all breeds of cat, not just Maine Coons.
Often just referred to as FVR as it can be quite common, it is an infection similar to Feline Herpesvirus (FH), and is responsible for approximately 50% of all respiratory diseases in cats, which is quite an alarming statistic.
It can be fatal in young kittens but adult cats are more likely to be able to cope with the effects of the disease. Considered highly contagious, it is a more effective disease where cats are widespread, or confined to a location. It’s a disease that is transmitted through eye secretions, saliva and nasal discharge.
It looks similar to flu so look for coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis and lack of appetite.
Human HIV is the nearest equivalent to this disease in cats. Once a cat becomes a carrier for FIV they can go on to affect other cats. While a cat can still lead a somewhat normal life with FIV it is recommended that they are seperated from other felines to prevent this spreading.
Look out for loss of appetite, weight loss, runny nose, swollen eyes, and skin infections.
This is a highly contagious virus that turns out to be one of the major causes of upper respiratory infection (URI’s) in cats. It is more commonly referred to as ‘cat flu’.
The virus easily mutates during the replication process of viruses thus there are many strains out there, that are forever changing. The more severe strains can be fatal, especially in young and old cats.
Affecting the respiratory systems it produces runny noses, coughing, and dribbling, you may also see what looks like limping as their can be inflammation of the joints, which can look like arthritis.
Vaccinations are available so check with a seller if it has been inoculated against FCV.
This disease has a high mortality rate as it an aggressive viral infection. Multi cat household are more susceptible and the infection is difficult to diagnose, control, prevent and treat.
This disease can wipe out catteries if an outbreak occurs so is a very serious threat.
A cat can contract FIP through aerosols and infected faeces as well humans, which can be a carrier for cats as well, just to complicate matters.
It spreads through white blood cells and attacks the immune system, especially for weaker immune systems. This means that kittens and older cats are more prone to the effects. Studies have shown there is a marked decrease in cats over 3 years of age, and it is suggested because the cats immune system is much stronger as a young adult.
Look out for a loss of appetite leading to a gradual weight loss, unresponsive fever, diarrhea, lack of energy, flu like symptoms, a swelling abdomen and eye inflammation.
Feline Coronavirus is the precursor to the more serious Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP).
Similar to FVR, it prevails in locations where felines are overcrowded, such as catteries. The death rate is high.
This viral infection is transmitted similarly to FIP as well. Aerosol transmission and infected faeces. Again, humans can carry the disease to a cat, but not contract it.
Symptoms are similar to FIP.
More commonly referred to as ‘feline distemper’ is considered extremely contagious and life threatening.
The virus impacts the blood cells, mainly those in the digestive system, bone marrow and skin.
If a Maine Coon contracts FPV its blood cells suffer an attack, leading to weight loss. If also makes the cat susceptible to other illnesses, whether bacterial or viral in nature.
This is a disease which should be vaccinated against, but in an unvaccinated population of cats it is deadly, with a high mortality rate. This an extremely resilient and aggressive virus which is difficult to eliminate. A thorough and systemic vaccination program is the best cure.
Symptom are vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, lack of appetite, weight loss, fever, anemia, and the appearance of looking clumsy.
These issues are primarily the result of conditions not infections, and as such proper diet, exercise and grooming can keep at bay. In other words, they are preventable, although your Maine Coon can contract them regardless of your preparations.
Like diabetes in humans, it the inability to produce insulin to fight the high glucose levels from an unhealthy diet. A common symptom then is a cat that is overweight. Making sure your cat eats healthy and gets plenty of exercise and stimulation, naturally keeps this disease at bay.
Only 2% of cats are said to be overweight, so it’s not a common problem but making sure they are not overfed goes a long way to helping your cat not contract this condition.
Although a vet can recommend a program, the obvious of feeding your cat a healthy diet and making them exercise would naturally remedy most situations.
Signs to watch out for are sluggishness, constant drinking, an increased intake of food and urination.
Gastrointestinal parasites can be quite common with the likes of tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms and stomach worms. Additionally there are fleas and ticks that can live on your Maine Coon, which are discomforting for your cat if left untreated.
Normally medicinal intake from a pet shop or a vet can get rid of these.
Good parasite awareness and control is key to the very good health of your Maine Coon. A lot of parasites can pass on their eggs in the faeces, so healthy living conditions help.
Cancer, or the ‘big C’ comes in various forms, and although a healthy cat is less prone to it, when it comes there is precious little you can do but provide comfort.
It can start anywhere in the body, however Lymphoma is the most common in domestic cats, and is more properly called ‘feline Lymphoma’.
Feline Lymphoma is specific to white blood cells called lymphocytes. These are the predominant cells in the lymph nodes. The lymph system is located in the tissue and blood system around your cats body, Essentially it is a biological network transport system that takes foreign proteins and organisms circulating around the body.
With feline Lymphoma, the cancerous cells attack normal healthy tissue and in cats, this can be anywhere on the body. As the disease spreads it can travel around the body, affecting other organs.
Look out for lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea and body lumps. It is more prevalent in older cats.
Almost all cat owners are aware of these and you have probably seen them. Little black bugs scurrying around your cats fur, occasionally feasting on their blood.
Don’t worry, they are not considered harmful, more of an irritant, and are relatively easy to get rid of.
Fleas can carry and cause all sorts of diseases that can affect your cats blood though so it’s best to control them. You can use a flea comb and a good grooming schedule will exorcise them from your cat.
The most observable signs your cat has fleas is over scratching and grooming.
Ticks are ‘spider like’ little bugs that are prevalent in woodlands, heaths and general outdoor settings. They vary in size but 1 mm and up is about right,
Ticks, unlike fleas, are pretty easy to spot. Run your hand through your Maine Coons luxurious coat against the grain and you will see the little blighters running for cover.
Again, ticks, as they attach to the skin can pass disease to your cat via the bloodstream.They should be removed if you find them. A feeding tick though can leave the pincers in if it is wrenched away producing the opposite intended effect if you kill it it.
You can get tick removal devices that are handy if you prefer.
As one could reasonably guess these little critters set up home in your Maine Coons rather well formed ears. They feed off the wax located there and can cause quite a bit of discomfort for your cat.
If your Maine coon is twitching their ears a little more than normal, pawing them as if it get something out then ear mites could be the cause. Sometimes cats are known to shake their head quite vigorously if they have a good amount of ear mites.
Although annoying i am sure, they can be prevented quite easily and removed just as easily.
You can use ear drops to dissolve the wax that they live off, thus terminating there food supply.
A simple trip to the vet will confirm the existence of these little bugs but pet shops all over sell drops and medications to get rid of them. There use, your Maine Coon may be thankful for.
Despite its name, the condition of ringworm is not an actual worm. It’s actually a fungal infection. It’s a condition that afflicts a cats hair, nails and skin. It shows itself by triggering hair loss in a circular shape which has a reddish ring in the middle. It’s said to look like a worm, hence ‘ringworm’.
You will often find it accompanied by dandruff and flaky skin.
The maine problem is it is highly contagious and is contagious between humans and cats. It needs to be treated as soon as possible. Typically, with a trip to the vet they will look for it under UV light.
Fortunately, a pet shop will have a plethora of preventative and treatments available. They are not complicated to use and can normally be applied quickly and easily.
Often there is no need to go to a vet with ringworm, although if in doubt don’t be afraid of the trip. If you do see your Maine Coon itching and scratching with small circular hair loss then you should be able to treat it yourself. If shop bought medical treatment do not kill the infection then a trip to the vets should solve the problem.
While playing with a soft toy is hardly a risky affair the fact is that a cats mouth is an integral part of its hunting methods. It’s often the bite that delivers the ‘coup de grace’ to an unwilling rodent victim. Thus, to any cat that has outdoor access, it’s not that unusual for them to have issues with their teeth, mouth or gums.
Over time, with no interposable thumbs and a toothbrush, plaque and tartar can build on a cat’s teeth. Eventually, just like their owners, this can cause, inflammation of the gums, pain and eventually missing teeth.
Thus good oral hygiene from kittenhood is an excellent remedy to this problem. Getting your Maine Coon used to having its teeth cleaned while it still plays with string can save help save the scratches later. Again, your Maine Coon may well thank you for it.
I spent some time writing an article about cleaning your Maine Coons teeth if you care to take a look.
Additionally to the ear mites discussed earlier, there are a few more health issues affecting those wonderful ears.
As well as infections of the inner, middle and outer ear, there are also polyps, mange (mites), foreign bodies, bites, scratches and allergies that can affect the area.
Look for discharge, swelling, wax accumulation, or pungent smells emanating from the ear. Your cat relies on its ears to hunt, so you may want to help them look after them.
Again, like humans, the inner ear is used to keep a sense of balance. If your cat appears to be losing balance a lot, or appears a bit clumsy this could be an ear infection if it’s out of character.
Being a predator, as well as sound, the most important sense is that of sight. We have all heard the tales about a cats eyesight. Great vision is the cornerstone of a feline predator.
Not just in daylight either. A cat often as not hunts at night, and their vision is needed then more than at any other time. It’s well known that their vision is naturally superior to yours.
With it being such an important aspect of your cats life, you should be aware of the various problems that can arise. The problems that can befall a cats vision are infections, ulcers, allergic reactions, cataracts, melanosis and glaucoma.
Perhaps one of the most likely though, particularly if your Maine Coon enjoys nighttime hunting expeditions are battle scars that can affect vision. Scratches or lacerations can cause infections if left untreated.
Luckily, eyes are the fastest healing parts of the body. Scratches across the lens can clear up in a few days.
So, when you get an opportunity, take a look at your Maine Coons eyes. With a healthy diet there is a glow and brightness about them. Keep an eye out (pun intended) for weeping, discharge, inflammation, bleeding, constant blinking, squinting or if your cat holds an eyelid down, or continues to paw it while being lethargic.
A trip to the vets is recommended to get drops to ease the recovery if you suspect dameage, obviously.
Maine Coons are particularly known for their coat. They have a double coat of long thick and flowing fur. Thus, and it’s not the only breed with this problem, it can be susceptible to matting naturally. This can be quite painful if you don’t brush often, and in extreme cases can cause discomfort and inflammation.
This is quite easily remedied. Most Maine Coons will groom themselves quite sufficiently, but there is no harm in giving them a helping hand. Your cat thanks you for it i’m sure.
Alita loves it. I brush her every day if I can to keep her fur clean and flowing and free from mats.
With all that fur it’s sometimes easy to forget that your cat actually has skin. On a Maine Coon it’s often well hidden skin as well.
Any long haired cat is susceptible to dermatitis, and itchy skin can make it worse. They might scratch, possibly bite which removes hair from the body.
A trip to a vet might get you prescribed with the appropriate medication, like itch sprays and skin treatments that will deal sufficiently with the problem.
FLUTD (Feline Lower Tract Urinary Disease), a mouthful I know, is a catch all phrase that deals with the urination process your cat utilizes. It mainly deals with the bladder and the urethra.
There’s often no known obvious cause to this. One day your Maine Coon may have the symptoms of difficult urination or the presence of blood in the urine. If it does, your Maine Coon could well have a FLUTD.
If you suspect your Maine Coon may have this, please take it to the vet immediately for treatment. Passing urine with a FLUTD can be extremely painful and needs to be treated as quickly as possible.
We all know cats have 9 lives, We all know they can fall out of trees and drop down to 8. Only they can’t.
You’d like to think your cat is the very definition of a ‘cat burglar’ but sometimes they are just clumsy and fall, or at lest fall awkwardly.
However, the most likely cause of a fracture is being hit by a vehicle. Most cats are pretty deft, and can deal with natural problems. Cat’s however, sometimes can’t get out of the way of motorbikes, cars and bicycles. This can cause severe injury for your Maine Coon.
Sometimes , a fracture might be slight, and the cat may not be in a great deal of pain so you need to be watchful if they are holding a leg awkwardly.
If your Maine Coon is holding a leg improperly, limping or otherwise looks like it’s not placing full weight on it, don’t just assume it’s a thorn in the paw. Be gentle though, if it is a slight fracture, your cat will not thank you for yanking their leg.
For felines, although being struck by a vehicle can cause damage, they can also get fractures from bad falls and dog bites. If your Maine Coon gets a bite from a 50lb rottweiler, then it might receive some damage.#
So, always keep an eye out for your cat limping in, and if it does, remember where the local vet is.
I hope I haven’t scared you too much. Reading a long list of problems can sometimes make them sound more common than they really are. Almost everything is fixable. The Maine Coon is a hardy breed, and quite capable of looking after itself.
All animals will get ill at some point though, despite the fact that it’s only temporary. As long as you are watchful, careful and attentive, this is the best your Maine Coon could hope for.
Looking out for early signs and being aware of the potential issues, often means that the problem can be dealt with a lot more effectively. You never want to leave it too late if you suspect an issue. If in doubt, a quick trip to the vet should sort out most problems
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure they say. Regular check ups with the vet will make sure they live a long and happy life.
To round off, I did some searching on YouTube and found this instructive video on helping you identify specific Maine Coon health issues;