No one likes to think about it when they purchase a cat, especially one with the majestic qualities of the Maine Coon, but a sad fact of life it cats do, and will get ill. Most of the time it’s something common to call cats, like flu, but sometimes it’s to a disease, a specific breed is susceptible to. So what things would you need to know about a Maine Coon.
In short, the Maine Coon is no exception to any other breed and has certain afflictions and hereditary disorders that it is more prone to. The Maine Coon is considered a hardy, healthy breed but has an elevated risk to the conditions hip dysplasia, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), and polycystic kidney disease (PKD). It is by no means certain that your Maine Coon will develop these conditions. The above information is merely to point out the results of studies that show they contract these conditions more so than other breeds. Some conditions can prevented, with the effects nullified whilst some cannot. If your Maine Coon is born with serious polycystic kidney disease (PKD) then these cysts cannot be removed.
Right at the start of this article I would like you to note I am not a veterinarian. A lot of this article comes from research and some knowledge I have in the medical profession. I love Maine Coons but I am not a vet. Therefore this information is provided for information purposes only. If in doubt, always seek professional medical advice.
I make no apologies for that statement. My primary concern if for the health of this breed.
I say specific, by which I mean the health issues that have the elevated risk. The ones that I believe responsible Maine Coon breeders should make you aware of when you choose your Maine Coon.
As you might expect, a professional Maine Coon breeder, whether private or a fully TICA registered cattery will most likely perform screens for these disorders.
Not only that, but selective breeding takes place, that is bloodlines that carry the gene are deselected for breeding. This ensures maximum chances of receiving a healthy cat.
So it’s definitely worth going with a reputable breeder for these reasons.
So what are the main conditions, lets run through them in more detail.
Hip Dysplasia, which Maine Coons and Persians are said to be more prone to, is the failure of the hip joints to develop correctly. This leads to a deteriorating hip joint and eventually a complete loss of function. Both Maine Coons and Persians are both ‘heavy boned’ cats.
Deterioration will be swifter with more active Maine Coons.
Like the hip joint in any animal, it consists of a ball and socket joint. The abnormal development produces excessive wear of the joint, which could be caused by dislocation.
To be clear, although Maine Coons of all the breeds are most susceptible to this it is still relatively rare, if your cat is treated well. It’s important to note a lot of Maine Coon specific food contains the oils, that hopefully reduce the deterioration of this disorder.
This condition is said to be more likely in purebred Maine Coons, which sort of makes sense as a different gene line might make it less susceptible. However, it is more common in female Maine Coons.
There are a few tell tale signs that may give away your Maine Coon may be having trouble.
While these symptoms develop from a genetic condition you cannot control, allowing your Maine Coon to either increase in weight or providing a bad diet will increase the likelihood that the they will suffer this condition.
This is why cat foods for Maine Coons should contain a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are scientifically known to decrease the likelihood of joint pain.
This is a degenerative disorder affecting the spinal cord to the rear legs. An affected kitten will lose its trademark steadiness and cat like abilities.
The ‘death’ of spinal neurons along the spinal cord as the kitten develops from birth leads to hind leg muscle weakness. Around 3 to 4 months into its life it will develop a ‘wobble’ in its abilities. If the degeneration continues, 5 or 6 months from birth the kitten could well be too weak to jump and play.
For a domestic cat, it is relatively painless and confines a Maine Coon to a more suitable life indoors. A cat can still live with this condition, but for a wild Maine Coon it would be fatal. The hunting ability is severely compromised.
Male and female cats are said to be equally susceptible. There is no genetic preference for the disorder in either sex.
Signs your kitten may be developing SMA, which should be observable after 12 weeks (up to 18 weeks) are;
Oddly for a kitten to have SMA, it must be carried by both parents, so if you are buying a Maine Coon kitten this is yet another reason to ask about the parents of the kitten you are purchasing. Parents can be carriers without inheriting the disease themselves.
As your kitten approaches 12 weeks of age, it’s imperative for you to be attentive to signs of SMA.
The first sign will probably be when the kitten ‘wobbles’ a little while running. It will get worse until it becomes obvious that balance is an issue. It will have problems jumping and landing, as the back legs will ‘give way’ a bit.
You will be able to feel a reduced muscle mass on the hind quarters by 5 months old. The kitten will steady itself by widening its front stance to compensate.
At the 8 month period there should be little further degeneration.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is essentially a thickening of the heart tissue with scar tissue. It’s very tricky to diagnose, and is often called a ‘silent killer’.
More middle aged and older Maine Coons are predisposed to it, whereby the heart becomes too muscular. This leads to a distortion within the heart muscle where the left ventricle becomes smaller, leading to abnormal heart rates.
As we are talking heart murmurs here, it can only really be diagnosed with the proper equipment, such as X-rays, blood work or something to detect an irregular heartbeat.
The symptoms, as they are for a heartbeat are much the same as in most animals, such as;
Symptoms can be managed with this feline problem, with a better diet and your vet prescribing the appropriate medicine.
In a disease that is said to affect up to 6% of cats annually, you may well be in good company if you find your Maine Coon has this condition.
PKD has a wide scope of disorder. Many Maine Coons can lead happy and fulfilling lives before succumbing to something else, whereas others, with a fatal level of PKD will succumb earlier to chronic renal failure.
A Maine Coon will be born with PKD, which is the presence of small cysts within the cats kidneys that are fluid filled. When the cysts are small there is still plenty of healthy kidney tissue for the kidney to function correctly.
As your cats ages, or if the disease is severe enough a Maine Coon will see these cysts enlarge and ‘push out’ the healthy kidney tissue resulting in a reduced effect from the kidney. This is often painless to the cat.
Veterinarians suggest that you most likely will not see symptoms of the disease until your Maine coon is around 7 years old.
To read more about PKD in your Maine Coon, CLICK HERE
Unfortunately no, PKD is considered a non treatable progressive disease, which means over time the cat will get worse as the cysts get larger.
The best you can do, is provide a diet that is kidney friendly (low in sodium and phosphorus) and keep your Maine Coon hydrated so the kidneys are constantly flushed.
Symptoms for the condition that are observable are frequent urination, increased water consumption, weight loss, lethargy or depression.
Other more serious symptoms are;
For a full breakdown of PKD Click Here
OK, so this is a list of the types of things any cat can get. Your Maine Coon will not be impervious to them, but this list is for things that any cat can get, and is more lifestyle dependent rather than breed dependent.
This a ‘catch all’ phrase to any problems arising with your Maine Coons ability to pee. It can be from the bladder or the urethra which can lead with your cat not being able to go to the toliet satisfactorily.
If your Maine Coon seems to be having difficulty, perhaps overly smelling of urine, then your cat could have bladder problems, infections or any manner of blockages.
Depending on severity, this can be fatal and you should consult a veterinarian immediately.
A diet change, to a healthy diet and increased water intake are helpful in preventing this problem.
A lot of the diseases that your Maine Coon could catch should be accounted for in the vaccination procedure. The most common diseases caught by cats are respiratory in nature.
Looks a bit like the cold, so runny noses, coughing, sneezing, wheezing and fever. As they are viral in nature, they should pass as the cats natural antibodies sort the problem out.
This is common and contagious feline virus, and think of it as ‘flu plus’.
Symptoms are pretty much the same as in humans, lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea, fever and dehydration. Vaccinations can be taken against this but if your Maine Coon gets feline panleukopenia it’s just a matter of sitting it out with your cat. Usually not fatal, unless a very young kitten gets it, but a healthy diet and plenty of water available will help.
Again, much like humans, obesity is an ever growing trend among cats in the domesticated world. With an an ever dwindling need to hunt and chase food, a lazy cat can become obese pretty quickly.
In a Maine Coon in can aid the onset of hip dysplasia and go further causing, pain, diabetes, the inevitable liver problems as well as stress the heart.
Pretty obvious solution to the problem, a healthy diet and regular excercise. Or at least playing with toys.
Cats are not immune to this fatal problem either. As old age catches up with your Maine Coon the greater the chance of the lymph system developing this condition.
The treatment for the Maine Coon will be the same as for humans, chemotherapy or surgery. There are certainly feline oncologists, so when bumps start appearing it might be a good idea to get your Maine Coon seen and diagnosed as quickly as possible.
Ringworm, or dermatophytosis is essentially a fungal infection on the skin, paws and claws of your cat. As it’s more common on long haired breeds, your Maine coon could be infected with it. It also is more likely in young kittens up to the age of 12 months.
They are lesions of scaly dead skin in a circular-ish pattern which ironically can spread from animal to animal. So you could catch it from your cat.
They are spores so a
thorough cleanse will be necessary and the disease can be treated with fungal medication after a biopsy of the tissue to confirm the disease.
This is the parasitical invasion of the heart or lungs with the organism known as a ‘heartworm’. Largely undetectable and untreatable, this disease is eventually fatal.
What they will do is cause a condition known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD), but prevention of the disease is the only known way of reducing the fatality count of this problem.
As you might expect, symptoms are your cat having respiratory problems.
If your Maine Coon seems to sit there, obsessively scratching themselves, and especially if it’s an outdoor cat, you might not be surprised if it is playing host to some kind of parasite.
Fleas and ticks are parasites that live of your Maine Coons blood, once they have penetrated the depths of the fur.
If you comb through with a careful eye, you might spot them scuttling about, or indeed the eggs that will breed the next wave.
A good bath and grooming routine will keep these at bay, but there are numerous flea killing products available for you to be able to solve the problem without too much trouble.
When you Maine Coon yawns next to you and you catch a ‘whiff’ of odor, it might be time to consider dental hygiene.
Just like you, your Maine Coon will benefit from a regular check and routine preventative care work around the mouth area.
Symptoms might be reluctance or difficulty eating, a preference for wet food, bad breath, drooling or wincing when the mouth is touched.
Your cat be suffering from dental problems, gingivitis or an ulcer, all of which can be uncomfortable.
If you’d like to know more about the dental health of your Maine Coon, please click HERE.
This is usually associated with a hairball, but in fact could just be something your cat ate. As it wanders about outside, it’s quite possible it might pick up and eat something that turns out not to be too good for it.
Always be mindful of this as you change your cats diet.
As an isolated case, you will probably not worry too much about vomiting and diarrhea, and chalk it up to a bad meal.
Persistent and debilitating vomiting though is something more of a concern, unless you have recently changed the diet, in which case I suggest you change back again, promptly.
Accompanied by other signs, like black stools, which can signify the presence of blood which can mean anything from stomach ulcers to intestinal problems.
Either way, a trip to the vet should be of primary importance.
I remember when I first heard about the existence of these things. My stomach crawled, which in a way was rather ironic.
As a tapeworm is a parasite that lives in the intestine and digests the food meant to nourish your cat, the obvious symptom your Maine Coon may have one of these is steady weight loss despite an increased calorie intake,
It may even be accompanied by vomiting.
However, examining your Maine Coons stools (and around the anus) for the presence of ‘white flecks of rice’ will indicate the presence of a worm.
What I have learned recently is that most cats get tapeworms by swallowing fleas infected with tapeworm larvae. So that’s another good reason to keep fleas away from your Maine Coon.
Treatment is a simple matter of a vet trip to get your Maine Coon infected or an oral medication to kill the tapeworm.
Eye problems aren’t normally found in Maine Coon kittens, unless it’s myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism but it is possible.
Symptoms will be visible around the eye such as excessive gunk, cloudy eyes or squinting.
The problems available to be encountered are pretty much the same in all bifocal animals. Conjunctivitis, cataracts, glaucoma, viruses, inflammation, and retinal diseases that separate the cones and rods from the back of the eye.
This is a common viral infection in that cat world that your cats immune system will take care of. Your Maine Coon will looks a bit sick for a while and then clear the infection through passing stool samples.
It is infectious as well, so places where cats congregate, whether in the wild or in a domesticated way, like cattery are natural breeding grounds.
By itself, it’s not particularly problematical, but can lead to a more serious condition known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), which has a much higher mortality rate.
This is pretty much cat aids. Transmitted by saliva and deep bite wounds it has symptoms of a cold like runny noses, inflammation, diarrhea and weight loss.
A cat with FIV should be isolated from other cats to halt the spread of the infection.
Obviously a problem to look out for is Spinal Muscular Atrophy. At around 12 weeks keep a good look out for that ‘back end wobble’ that could develop.
As it’s still a kitten a certain amount of play and unsteadiness is to be expected, but unintentional balance issues at the back end should be monitored.
According to PetMD the 5 most common kitten illnesses are
In relation to things we have discussed previously, there’s nothing that should worry you too much as they are all treatable.
The more alarming one though is Upper Respiratory Infections
Typically these are infections passed along when an infected cat sneezes, coughs and general exhaling. They are airborne infections.
This can be fatal in a kitten if serious enough, certainly if they are feline calicivirus and feline herpes and typically produce severe running eyes and nose. Coupled with trouble breathing means it could be serious so I would advise an immediate trip to the vet.
Trouble breathing is always a worry, and a vet can at least diagnose the problem and hopefully treat your Maine Coon so that it makes a permanent recovery.
Can You Test For These Conditions?
If you buy from a responsible breeder, then they may well have done these tests for you, in which case you should ask for the paperwork.
However, quite a lot of people, either inherit a Maine Coon or perhaps find out about these conditions once there cat has already found a home.
If you want to know if your Maine Coon has any genetic condition from PKD, SMA or HCM then you can purchase testing kits that will produce results from a cheek swab or a blood drop.
Naturally breeders test for these conditions in their parent animals, but they are avaialble commercially for you to purchase as well, should you feel the need.
Despite its reputation as a hardy cat, a Maine Coon is not impervious to diseases and infections.
Most of the time they will be able to ‘shake them off’ but the best method is always prevention in these matters. A Maine Coon with a healthy diet, good exercise with a regular grooming schedule will be as impervious as you can make it to illness.
As long as you keep a watchful eye over your Maine Coon, without overly fussing then you are doing the best you can, and your cat can’t ask for more than that.
You should pay careful attention to a Maine Coon kitten in the 12 to 18 week period for signs of SMA, as this is when the condition will likely show itself.
To end, I did some searching on YouTube and found this instructive video on helping you identify specific Maine Coon health issues;