Feline Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disorder that affects the muscles used for movement. While SMA is commonly associated with humans, it can also impact felines. Feline spinal muscular atrophy is a rare condition that typically affects kittens between the ages of 3-5 months old.

Feline SMA is caused by a mutation in the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, which leads to a deficiency of SMN protein. Muscle weakness and wasting is caused when there is a lack of this essential protein. It affects the ability of nerve cells in their spinal cord to communicate with their muscles.

Breeding programs can help reduce the incidence of feline SMA by identifying carriers of the mutation and not breeding them with other carriers. There is no cure for this condition currently.

Symptoms of Feline Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Symptoms of feline SMA include:

  • Muscle weakness and wasting
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Coordination difficulty

Affected kittens can also have trouble eating and drinking due to weakened muscles in their mouth and throat.

Diagnosing Feline Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Diagnosing feline SMA can be challenging, because the symptoms resemble those of other neuromuscular disorders. A veterinarian will typically begin by performing a physical exam and taking a detailed medical history of the kitten.

If feline SMA is suspected, genetic testing can confirm the presence of the SMN1 mutation. This involves taking a blood sample from the kitten and analyzing it for the mutation.

Stages of Feline Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Feline spinal muscular atrophy typically progresses in three stages:

Early Stage:

The early stage is associated with mild muscle weakness and tremors, with affected kittens having difficulty standing or walking. They can also have trouble eating and drinking due to weakened muscles in their mouth and throat.

Intermediate Stage:

In the intermediate stage, muscle weakness becomes more severe, and affected kittens will have difficulty standing or walking at all. They can also have trouble breathing due to weakened muscles in their chest.

Late Stage:

In the late stage, their muscle weakness is severe, and affected kittens are unable to stand or walk at all. They will also have difficulty breathing and require assisted ventilation for breathing.

Treating Feline Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Unfortunately, there is no cure for feline spinal muscular atrophy currently. Treatment is mainly supportive and focused on managing the symptoms of their condition.

Physical therapy and exercise can help maintain muscle strength and mobility in affected kittens. A veterinarian can also recommend a special diet to help maintain nutrition levels.

In severe cases, assisted ventilation can be necessary to help the kitten breathe. Ventilation is a costly and invasive treatment option that may not be feasible, or affordable for all pet owners.

Preventing Feline Spinal Muscular Atrophy

The best way to prevent feline spinal muscular atrophy is through responsible breeding practices. Breeders should screen cats for the SMN1 mutation and avoid breeding carriers with other carriers. This can significantly reduce the incidence of this rare condition in felines.

Early detection and intervention can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for affected kittens. If you suspect your kitten has feline SMA, it’s essential to get veterinary care as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.