Is My Cat Retarded: A Vet’s Conclusion

Cats are in general are healthy, bright, and mostly self-sufficient. However, there are cats who leave you wondering, ‘is my cat retarded? Hopefully, like most pet owners, you mean this in the kindest way possible, and you’re wondering if your pet is lacking processing capabilities that are normal for the species. Is it possible to have a ‘retarded’ cat? Should you worry about a feline friend who seems slower than they should be? Is there anything you can do for a special needs cat other than giving them love and understanding? Sadly, there are a host of potential cognition issues that cats can have.

Is my cat retarded? Your cat could be mentally retarded. A lower level of cognitive abilities in a cat is mental retardation. Several conditions such as brain damage and Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia affect a cat’s brain in measurable ways. 

Can Cats Be Mentally Retarded

Danièlle A.Gunn-Moore ,PhD stated that mental retardation is having a lower cognitive ability. This can occur due to cognitive dysfunction syndrome in cats. This condition has appeared in cats that 11 to 14 years old, and it increases after 15 years of age.

Cats can be mentally retarded, although the cognitive dysfunction syndrome that can cause this retardation is mostly due to the aging of cats. There is no IQ test for cats available, but there is proof that CDS reduces the cognitive ability in cats.

Dr Kathryn Primm. DVM states that to diagnose CDS in cats, you must rule out other conditions that could be causing this reduction in cognitive ability.

Here are conditions that can cause similar symptoms to CDS:

  1. Cancer in the cat can affect a cat’s brain function.
  2. A cat can have a sensory deficiency, such as a problem with its sense of smell.
  3. A cat with an infection could appear to have CDS.

When a cat has cognitive dysfunction syndrome, it appears as if it has a condition called Alzheimer. A cat with CDS will have:

  • cerebral amyloid angiopathy
  • amyloid plaques
  • histopathologic changes
  • loss of memory

The above CDS symptoms can appear in numerous cat diseases. For instance, conditions that can change the facial features in a cat can make non-vets believe that a cat is retarded mentally such as mucopolysaccharidose. This condition gives rise to the following physical changes:

  1. that cat could have a thick neck
  2. large head of the cat
  3. tiny ears on the cat
  4. the cat may have disfigured facial features

What Are the Symptoms of Feline Hyperesthesia?

Also known as Rolling Skin Disorder, Feline Hyperesthesia is one of the many conditions we humans mistake for signs of ‘retardation’ in cats. Since this poorly understood condition causes short bursts of unusual behavior, it’s easy to see why some people mistake it for other cognition issues. If your cat does ‘weird’ things for about two or three minutes and then suddenly seems to go back to normal, you may be looking at Feline Hyperesthesia. For instance, some cats with hyperesthesia will seem to be in pain if you were to scratch their backs near their tails according to Wendy Brooks, DVM.

Typically, this condition manifests in mature cats between one and five years old, but it can happen earlier or later. Regrettably, the cause is unknown, but many vets believe it is either behavior or seizure-type disorder. The list below includes all of the common symptoms. Luckily, unless your cat is self-harming, they can live a long, healthy life with FH.

If you suspect your cat has FH, you should still see a vet. They will determine Feline Hyperesthesia and not one of several issues such as Psychogenic Alopecia, which have similar symptoms.

List of Symptoms for Feline Hyperesthesia

One or even two of these signs alone isn’t always enough to tell you that your cat is suffering from feline hyperesthesia. However, if you see short bouts of weird behaviors that all seem to come from this list, it is time to visit your favorite vet. Don’t put off taking your cat if you are concerned. The best and worst case is that you’re mistaken, and the cat is fine.

  1. Aggression- Whether it is toward people, other animals, or themselves, sudden bursts of aggressive behavior that stop after a minute or two could be the first indication of Feline Hyperesthesia.
  2. Dilated Pupils- Cats have highly reactive pupils. If they don’t minimize rapidly in brighter light, your cat has dilated pupils.
  3. Excessive Lumbar Grooming- Though our feline friends are known for their good grooming habits, too much can cause hair loss or skin damage.
  4. Frantic Running and Jumping- Since this is also a frequent part of cat play, it may be hard to determine when it’s an issue.
  5. Hallucinations- All cats can seem to see things we don’t at times. However, when your cat is actually seeing or hearing things that don’t exist, it is a problem.
  6. Rippling or Rolling Skin- This is usually in the dorsal lumbar region or on the cat’s back. While some rippling is normal, this condition is named for the effect because it happens for longer periods.
  7. Salivation- This is self-explanatory; it means lots of drooling.
  8. Trance Like State- Cats can zone out, but they typically respond if you call their name, even if they don’t come to you. When your cat doesn’t respond at all, they are in a trance-like state.
  9. Tail Chasing or Self Tail Mutilation- Unlike dogs, most cats don’t chase their tails, and they certainly don’t bite or scratch at them unless they have fleas or a skin condition. Watch out for this behavior in addition to other signs on this list.
  10. Uncontrolled Urination- Think of uncontrolled urination like a child who hasn’t yet potty trained. If your cat pees wherever they are during an episode of unusual behavior, get them to the vet.
  11. Vocalization- Vocalization can manifest like being in heat or simply be other noises for extended periods of time. However, some breeds, like Siamese cats, are ‘talky,’ so this on its own is not enough to be a real concern.

Happily, most cats with Feline Hyperesthesia have a positive prognosis and live full lives. Sadly, some of these symptoms can lead to secondary issues. Infections from excess grooming or self-harm are the most dangerous. Anxiety is another major concern.

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Will A Cat with Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia Act Retarded?

People often mistake a physical symptom such as motor difficulties for a cat being ‘retarded.’ While the term does apply to the physical state sometimes, it’s not a lack of intelligence when your cat has Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia. These special kitties are most recognized for their unusual ‘drunken or wobbly’ walking patterns. They still have a high level of sensorimotor intelligence which is proof that they are not retarded with this condition.

The part of the brain connected to their ability to move or walk is literally the culprit here. In a way, this condition does come from ‘retardation’ or, more accurately, from stunted development in the cerebellum, which controls fine motor skills. Often this happens if kittens suffer damage in the womb or the mother contracts Feline Panleukopenia Virus while pregnant.

Here are symptoms of feline cerebellar hypoplasia:

  • Walking in a jerky fashion
  • While walking, swaying back and forth
  • Hypermetria which is a walk that is like a goose-step
  • Head tremors that are mild
  • Intention tremors which are tremors that happen just before a kitten tries to perform a movement

Rather than acting like they lack the brains to do normal kitty activities, cats with Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia have trouble running, walking, or jumping. They may not have full control over their paws or hindquarters. However, most CH cats are just as bright, loving, and playful as their physically standard counterparts.

Could My Cat Be Autistic Instead of Retarded

Cats often behave very similarly to autistic humans. Since your cat cannot be retarded, but they can have anxiety, it’s normal to wonder if they might have some other neurological condition like autism. While no research indicates a cat can be autistic, they certainly can behave as such.

Cats, like autistic humans, enjoy cuddling up in enclosed spaces, are easily spooked by bright lights and loud noises, and are easily overstimulated. Also, like autistic humans, cats are intelligent, enjoy routine, and are excellent at bouts of hyperfocus. Chalk this one up to anthropomorphizing or seeking human traits in animals.

What is normal for a cat is less common in people. Hence, a human can have autism as a part of being neurodivergent, but for your cat, it’s just another part of their daily behavior. Strange noises and bizarre outbursts are part of the fun with cats. Feline behavior may frustrate you sometimes, but it is also endearing and cat-like.

Especially if you are a first-time cat owner, try not to worry too much about odd ‘autistic’ cat behavior. Ask your veterinarian for advice if the behavior causes a problem, but otherwise, you just have a standard-issue cat.

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Can Cats Be Born with Down Syndrome?

Your cat does not have Down Syndrome. Cats cannot have Down Syndrome because they lack the twenty-first chromosome. To have down syndrome, you need to have a partial or an extra full copy of the chromosome twenty-one. You can’t have this disorder without that chromosome.

If your cat has crossed eyes, or a misshapen face, stunted ears, or some other trait you perceive as Down Syndrome-like, it is caused by something else. Inbreeding, genetic mutation, and damage are all culprits. This is another case of humans seeking to compare what we see in other species to things that are (as far as we know) uniquely human.

Here is a chart showing some characteristics of some cats that make their owners believe that their cat has down syndrome

Down Syndrome Characteristics according to the Mayo ClinicBreed of Cat that has this characteristic normally proving that it is not due to having Down Syndrome
Flattened Face Persian cats have a face that is flat.
Small HeadSiamese cats have a head that smaller than the average cat.
Protruding TongueMany breeds of cats may stick their tongues out due to a problem with a tooth according to Dr Debra Primovic.
Mis-shaped EarsThe Scottish Fold is a breed that has folded ears that look odd.
Small hands and feetThe Munchkin cat breed has very tiny paws.
Short Heightthe Devon Rex breed of cat has a small stature and big ears with huge eyes.

Enjoy your unique-looking pet. So long as your vet says they check out and are healthy, you only need to worry about the same things as any cat owner.

Final Thoughts

Here is a video showing how to care for a cat that suffering from cerebella hypoplasia:

Your cat can have a form of mental retardation, although this condition due to cognitive dysfunction syndrome is rare,

Nevertheless, you cat cannot be autistic, or otherwise unusual simply because they do things you think are weird or even stupid. Cats are strange creatures that appear to have adopted us several thousand years ago because humans couldn’t handle their own pest problems. While some traits emerged, like meowing after reaching maturity to ‘talk’ to humans, most human traits are not shared with our pets.

It is easy to look at something and compare it to something else, but this sort of abstract thinking is not a medical diagnosis. Humans are incredibly talented in the creativity and worry departments. Though there are legitimate health issues we mistake for autism and down syndrome in cats, these conditions are possible in humans and not in cats.

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