It is always worth keeping a close eye on your cat’s wellbeing. We own two Maine Coon and, luckily, neither have ever suffered from any of the common health issues Maine Coons are prone to.
Fortunately, responsible breeding programs are gradually eliminating many genetically transmitted conditions.
What are common Maine Coon health issues? Four common health issues affect Maine Coons: Spinal Muscular atrophy (SMA), Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), Hip Dysplasia, and Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). All can be diagnosed by veterinary screening, so regular health checks are essential.
There are many health issues that Maine Coons can develop and you’ll find full descriptions and treatment options further down. But first, here are brief descriptions of each of the four mentioned above:
- Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a genetic health condition that causes a loss of motor neurons in the lower spinal cord and muscle wastage in the back legs.
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a heart condition that can be inherited or develop in midlife.
- Hip Dysplasia is an inherited condition that affects the ball and socket joints of the hips.
- Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is an inherited disease caused by kidney cysts present at birth.
By following recommended screening guidelines, conscientious breeders are helping to eradicate genetically transmitted diseases in Maine Coon cats and so stop unnecessary suffering for cats and owners.
Genetically Transmitted Conditions in Maine Coons
Common Health Conditions Unique to Maine Coons
One health issue specific to Maine Coons is the genetically transmitted condition, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disease that only appears to be reported in Maine Coons. Affected cats lose motor neurons in their spinal cord which leads to the muscles in their back legs wasting away.
Symptoms include instability, unsteady walking, and abnormal posture. Affected Kittens begin to show signs of SMA from 3 months of age. It is a disabling condition but affected cats are able to live reasonably normal, pain-free lives indoors.
For a kitten to inherit this disorder, both parents must carry the defective gene. Male and female cats have the same chances of being affected. There is no cure and currently no treatment option.
This condition can be picked up via screening and a conscientious breeder will not breed any cat that tests positive for the defective gene. Though both parents have to be carriers, for kittens to develop SMA if one parent is a carrier the kittens can also carry that gene and pass it on to future generations.
Other Genetically Transmitted Conditions
These conditions can affect all cats, not just Maine Coons.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
HCM is a heart disease common to all cats but Maine Coons can inherit defective genes that trigger the condition. Others just develop HCM in midlife. It causes a thickening of the heart walls which leads to an enlarged heart.
A cat with HCM will have breathing difficulties, show a loss of appetite and become lethargic. If you have any concerns, a vet will be able to confirm a diagnosis with a heart scan.
As with SMA, both parents must pass on the faulty gene for a Maine Coon to develop the disease. Breeders have the ability to have their breeding cats tested and so prevent the spread of HCM by not breeding from affected cats.
This is a rare condition in cats that affects hip ball and socket joints from birth. The ball and socket are misaligned and fit together loosely so instead of working smoothly they knock and grind with every move. This causes pain and an affected cat will seem to have weak hind legs and may struggle to walk properly.
Hip dysplasia can’t be cured. Obesity makes it worse and the inevitable inactivity of cats with this condition means they are more likely to gain weight. Surgery is possible and some cats have the ball of the joint removed which relieves the pain but still leaves them lame.
There is no genetic screening test for hip dysplasia as it is thought to be caused by a complex combination of genetic factors rather than a single gene.
If a Maine Coone displays symptoms of hip dysplasia, it should not be bred from and if any kitten from a litter develops hip dysplasia their parents should subsequently not be bred from as they are likely to both be carriers.
Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)
PKD is a condition caused by cysts present in a cat’s kidneys at birth. The cysts enlarge over time until they impair kidney function and eventually lead to kidney failure.
All breeding cats should be tested for the faulty gene and if they are carriers they should not be bred from. Only one parent needs to be a carrier for a kitten to become a carrier or develop PKD.
As even the tiniest of cysts can be picked up by an ultrasound scan, it is something a kitten can easily be tested for. If a kitten tests positive you should notify the breeder, especially if they claimed the parents to be negative for PKD. Other kittens from the same litter should then be tested.
Symptoms of PKD often don’t show until a cat is older, often at 7 years plus, though this depends on how many cysts they have and how quickly they grow. Signs include excessive thirst, lethargy, vomiting and weight loss.
There is no cure but during the early stages, special diets, supplements, and fluid therapy may relieve the symptoms. Always seek and follow your vet’s advice.
Non-Genetic Health Issues
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
FeLV is a virus that causes anemia or lymphoma in cats. It suppresses the immune system so can also increase the risk of contracting other infections. However, many cats that come into contact with this virus seem to resist it or fight it on their own.
FeLV is passed between cats via saliva, blood, urine, and feces. The virus only survives for a few hours outside of a host. Once a cat contracts this virus, it is incurable.
Cats infected with FeLV may show symptoms such as pale gums, yellow color in the whites of their eyes, upper respiratory infections, loss of appetite, fever, lethargy,
There is a vaccine available but it isn’t included in the vaccinations commonly given to cats. Your vet can advise if your cat should have the FeLV vaccination.
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)
All cats can be vaccinated against
Feline Panleukopenia (FPV)
FPV, sometimes referred to as feline distemper, is a virus that attacks a cat’s white blood cells so weakening its immune system. This leaves them more susceptible to infectious diseases and other foreign invaders.
The virus is highly contagious and is transmitted through direct contact with the blood, feces or urine of an infected cat. It can also be spread by fleas that have bitten a contaminated cat.
The prognosis is not good for a kitten that contracts this virus but older cats can survive it with treatment from a vet.
Thankfully, due to regular vaccinations, this virus is now becoming rare.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
FIV generally causes a weakening of a cat’s immune system. Symptoms include diarrhea, runny nose, sneezing, weepy eyes,
Cats can be vaccinated against this disease, however, there has been great debate as to whether they should be or not. The strongest argument against vaccination is that there is no way of distinguishing between an infected cat and a vaccinated cat via a blood test. Apparently, this has led to pet cats that happen to have stray being destroyed rather than taken in by shelters.
Cats with this virus can lead normal lives but should be kept indoors to prevent its spread to other cats.
Feline Calicivirus (FCV)
FCV is another highly contagious virus responsible that causes respiratory infections in cats. It affects the nasal passages, mouth, lungs, and intestines.
Symptoms include sneezing, runny eyes and nose, a fever and an ulcerated tongue.
Vaccination against FCV is important for all cats. Kittens are vaccinated at about 6 weeks, 11 weeks and 15 weeks. Boosters are administered at age 1 year and then every 1-3 years.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
FIP is a viral disease caused by certain strains of a virus called feline coronavirus. Most strains don’t cause disease. Cats infected with a feline coronavirus generally don’t display any symptoms and an immune response means they develop an immunity to that strain.
In about 5 to 10 % of cases, the infection progresses into clinical FIP. The virus is then referred to as feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV). Once a cat develops FIP, the disease is progressive and is nearly always fatal.
Symptoms are often late in showing and include loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, and fever.
This virus can be transmitted via the air and by contact with an infected cat’s feces. It can also be transmitted from one cat to another via humans who have handled an infected cat.
This disease is more prevalent in multi-cat areas such as shelters. It can be minimized through good hygiene regimes such as disposing of feces carefully, disinfecting litter trays and keeping food and water away from litter trays.
There is currently no effective vaccine against this virus.
Feline Lower Tract Urinary Disease (FLUTD)
FLUTD is the general term for a range of problems that affect a cat’s bladder and urethra. Typically, there is no obvious cause.
Symptoms include painful urination, frequent urination, blood in the urine, and difficulty passing urine. If your cat displays any of these symptoms, take it to the vets for proper diagnosis and treatment options.
Maine Coons can vomit for many reasons including poor diet, eating too fast, drinking milk, food allergies, obstruction of the digestive tract, hairballs, plant toxins, and poisoning.
If your Maine Coon vomits continually and looks unwell take it straight to a vet.
If it’s sick once, then seems fine and carries on as normal it probably ate its last meal too quickly or was regurgitating a hairball. Keep an eye on it to make sure its health doesn’t deteriorate in any way.
Your Maine coon may not be vomiting as a result of a common health issue and you can read up on a variety of possible causes in
This is common in overweight Maine Coons. As many are kept as indoor cats, they don’t always expend as much energy as those who go outside.
Boredom can drive indoor cats to eat more. Maine Coon owners should ensure their cats do not become overweight – a vet can advise you on the weight your cat should be according to the size of its frame.
Symptoms of diabetes are excessive thirst and increased urination, and sometimes, and increased appetite. Once a cat is diagnosed with diabetes, a vet usually prescribes medication to control it. If a cat is overweight a vet will advise on a balanced diet to get it back into a healthy weight range.
The three most common cat cancers are lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcoma, and Squamous Cell C
Lymphoma is a cancer of the white blood cells that typically affects the intestines, nasal cavities, lymph nodes, kidneys,
Soft-tissue Sarcomas are tumors that usually develop on the skin and layers beneath.
SCC is a type of skin cancer that affects skin exposed to UV rays from the sun. Keeping your cat inside on sunny days is a good preventative measure. Check your cat regularly for growths, tumors, and sores that could be signs of SCC.
It is possible for certain cancers to be managed to an extent with chemotherapy as recommended and advised by a vet.
Ringworm is a fungal infection and
It’s highly contagious and can easily be transmitted to other pets and people. A vet will prescribe the best course of treatment.
Generally, it’s obvious when a cat has fleas as it will be incessantly scratching. If left untreated, flea
Some people have the patience to comb fleas out, cat permitting, but many prefer a spot-on treatment supplied by a vet that can be administered at home on a monthly basis. This can also prevent ticks and mites.
Ticks latch onto a cat’s skin and feed on its blood. Once full they fall off naturally.
Ticks can carry nasty diseases and if you see one on your cat, carefully remove it as you don’t want to leave part of it behind. The best removal method is to firmly grip the tick with tweezers as close to your cat’s skin as possible and pull straight out with no twisting motion. Make sure you then crush the tick in a paper tissue to ensure it doesn’t latch on again. Clean the spot it was removed from, your fingers and your tweezers with alcohol or hot soapy water. Keep a close eye on your cat for a few days after to ensure it doesn’t show signs of illness.
You can prevent ticks from biting by using a treatment prescribed by a vet that also prevents fleas and mites.
Mites affect a cat’s ears. You can usually tell your cat has them because you will notice its ears have a dirty appearance and it will keep scratching them until they are sore.
Mites can be prevented using a treatment prescribed by a vet that also prevents fleas and ticks.
Teeth, Mouth & Gums
Maine Coons are prone to periodontal disease which is caused by the bacteria that feeds on any food that accumulates between their teeth and gums. This bacteria causes plaque and if this isn’t removed on a regular basis tooth decay and gum disease are likely to occur.
The earliest stage of periodontal disease is known as gingivitis. It causes inflammation of the gingiva (the part of the gum around the base of the teeth). A vet can diagnose this and treatment should begin immediately to prevent more serious gum disease and tooth loss.
The best way to remove plaque from a Maine Coons teeth is with regular tooth brushing if your cat will allow this. Your vets may offer a dental hygiene service.
Avoid the common health issues linked to bad teeth by following the advice in our article Maine Coon Teeth – All You Need To Know
There are a variety of things that can give your Maine Coon eye trouble including infection, trauma, corneal ulcers, glaucoma, allergies, and cataracts. Symptoms include watery eyes, swelling, squinting, blinking and bleeding.
If your cat has an eye injury from trauma such as a fight it is important that a vet examines it as infection can quickly set in. A vet may also be able to determine if your cat has an allergy that is causing issues.
Cataracts make a cat’s eyes look cloudy in the center. In severe cases, a vet may offer corrective surgery. Cloudiness can also be a result of a corneal ulcer that can heal with treatment from a vet.
Glaucoma is caused by a buildup of pressure in the eye when it stops draining properly. It usually causes severe pain. If your cat’s eyes look swollen, red, and weepy take it straight to the vet as early treatment is essential.
If you Maine Coon’s ears are troubling it and you’ve ruled out mites, it could have an ear infection, a foreign object within, polyps or an allergy. The best way to find out is by taking your cat to the vet.
A Maine Coon’s coat consists of coarse guard hairs and soft insulating hairs and without your help with regular grooming, knots,
A grooming session once or twice a week will prevent this happening and keep your Maine Coon looking beautiful.
All cats with long fur can suffer from dermatitis – itchy skin that causes excessive scratching, licking and chewing.
If you’ve ruled out fleas as the cause then it could be caused by food or an environmental allergy. Only a vet can determine the cause and prescribe the best course of treatment.
Keep a lookout for fractures, particularly in outdoor cats or cats who love to climb and leap about. Watch for limps or a reluctance to put weight on a specific limb. Cats don’t always vocalize pain, so if in any doubt at all take your cat to a vet.
As you can see there are many health issues that can affect Maine Coon cats This doesn’t mean that your Maine Coon will suffer from any of them. Many breeders follow ethical programs and produce healthy kittens free from genetic conditions.
If you keep your cat’s vaccinations up-to-date, take it for annual health checks, provide it with a good quality nutritious diet and ensure it stays fit and at the correct weight through exercise and play, you will give it the best chance of having a long, happy and healthy life.
And of course, if in any doubt about your Maine Coon’s health, take it straight to the vets. Best be safe than sorry!
You’ll find an excellent complete guide to Maine Coons right here.