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What Exactly Is Osteochondrodysplasia in Cats?

Famous (and very cute!) felines like Grumpy Cat and Lil BUB have osteochondrodysplasia. So what exactly is it, and what health conditions does it cause?

Jackie Brown  |  Jan 18th 2018


Felines like Grumpy Cat and Lil BUB garner fans all over the world. We ooh and aww over their adorableness, but there is another side to cats with special needs. Many of these famous cats (as well as countless beloved pets who live their lives in relative obscurity) have forms of feline dwarfism that necessitate extra care. If you have ever thought about adopting a special-needs cat with a bone disorder, like osteochondrodysplasia, it’s good to know what to expect.

What is osteochondrodysplasia?

A munchkin calico cat.

Munchkin cats have a form of osteochondrodysplasia. Photography by Linn Currie / Shutterstock.

Osteochondrodysplasia is a hereditary disorder of the bones and cartilage. With their short limbs and undershot jaws, cats born with osteochondrodysplasia are cute to the max, but this serious condition is not always easy on the cats who have it, as it can cause serious health issues.

What cats have osteochondrodysplasia?

Scottish Folds or Scottish Fold crosses have osteochondrodysplasia. “This disorder is caused by an autosomal dominant trait,” explains Aimee Simpson, VMD, medical director of VCA Cat Hospital of Philadelphia. This means that a kitten need only inherit one copy of the abnormal gene from one of her parents in order to have the disease. “Homozygotes (cats that have two copies, one from each parent) are most severely affected,” Dr. Simpson says. “These cats have short, inflexible tails and short, misshapen limbs.”

As cute as they are, cats with Scottish Fold osteochondrodysplasia (SFOCD) may have problematic health issues. “SFOCD is a progressive disease resulting in new bone formation around the joints of distal limbs (near the paws),” Dr. Simpson says. “This leads to lameness, stiff gait and reluctance to jump.”

What is achondroplasia in cats?

A form of osteochondrodysplasia called achondroplasia is somewhat less severe. Cats with achondroplasia have short legs but normal-sized bodies and heads. This is seen in the Munchkin cat breed. Some cats with achondroplasia have few or no health issues, but others experience arthritis, mobility issues and pain.

What to do if your cat has osteochondrodysplasia

Cats with osteochondrodysplasia should be under the close care of a veterinarian throughout their lives to monitor their condition and any resultant health issues, particularly pain and mobility problems.

“Since these cats have joint inflammation and pain, they often need to be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and joint supplements, like glycosaminoglycans, chronically,” Dr. Simpson advises. “There have been reports of cats responding to low-dose palliative radiation therapy, as well.”

This disease varies in severity in individual cats, from mild or debilitating. Cats who are only mildly affected might live perfectly normal lives with relatively few issues. However, cats on the other end of the spectrum face difficulties.

“The most severely affected cats may have a quality of life so diminished that humane euthanasia is needed,” Dr. Simpson says. “Affected cats should never be bred. A DNA test for the mutation is available by submitting a cheek swab to the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.” However, the Munchkin breed is dependent on breeding cats with the genetic mutation for shortness. This, not surprisingly, creates some controversy.

And, if you have a cat with any form of dwarfism, pay close attention to her diet and exercise. All cats are prone to obesity, but dwarf cats are even more at risk. Obesity in a dwarf cat is more debilitating because it puts excess weight and stress on bone and joints that are already compromised.

Thumbnail: Photography © Seregraff | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

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