Manx are a famously tailless breed of cat. While a lack of tail is their identifying feature (although some Manx cats have short tails and some actually have completely normal ones!), it is important to also recognise that this comes hand in hand with some health and welfare issues that are over-represented in the breed.
This does not mean that all Manx cats will get these health issues, but it does mean that they are more likely to get them than your average cat which is why it is important to educate yourself as an owner.
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Remember that there are lots of different genetically inherited conditions in lots of different cat breeds, and to learn more about them, see this blog.
What is a syndrome and why is this specific to Manx cats?
A ‘Syndrome’ is just a fancy word for a group of medical signs often found together. Manx syndrome is an umbrella term used to describe a number of conditions often seen in Manx cats.
These conditions are genetic, being inherited from one generation of cat to the next, and are specifically related to the Manx cats with either a very shortened or an absent tail. The Manx gene mutation which causes taillessness (called sacrococcygeal or sacrocaudal dysgenesis by vets) can negatively impact on the development of the spinal cord. This in turn leads to a number of health conditions that we will discuss now.
Spina bifida is a developmental abnormality characterised by failure of fusion of the vertebral arch (bones of the spine) during foetal development before birth, leaving a cleft along the midline of the spine. This will therefore be present from birth, with visible signs as early as a few weeks.
This cleft leaves the spinal cord, which consists of highly sensitive nerve tissue, partly or completely exposed. It may even be able to protrude, leading to a variety of neurological symptoms. These vary from mild to severe and can include:
- Weakness in hind limbs, with a limping/ hopping gait
- Urinary incontinence – unintentional weeing which can in turn lead to secondary urinary tract infections
- Constipation – after a long time this can lead to megacolon (you can read about megacolon in this blog)
- Partial paralysis of the hind limbs
Spina bifida may be associated with other spinal cord developmental abnormalities too, these include;
- Enlarged central canal of the spine, containing excess cerebrospinal fluid
- This can be an infection risk and be painful
- Cysts or cavities in the spinal cord
- This can cause a pins and needles sensation, pain and/or wobbliness
- Defective bone marrow development
- This can cause anaemia (low number of red blood cells) and weaken immunity (due to a low number of white blood cells) as blood cells are made here
- Shortened, misaligned or fused vertebrae
- Malformed sacral or pelvic bones
To learn more about these issues please see this article.
How is it diagnosed?
A vet will start by taking the history of your cat (possibly including asking questions about his or her parents) and conducting a general physical exam. Quite often a Manx cat presenting with these symptoms will be diagnosed quite quickly and certainly, due to the well-recognised breed association.
Vets may also undertake further diagnostic imaging tests such as X-ray, MRI or myelography (which is injecting a contrast medium into the spine region to allow better visualisation of the spinal cord) to gain a better picture of the syndrome in your cat.
What are the treatment options?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment at present for Manx syndrome. However, a lot can be done to manage and reduce the negative associated symptoms and increase the comfort of your cat. This is known as palliative care and can include;
- Pain relief
- Supportive care including fluid therapy, supplementary oxygen and nursing in the vet clinic
- Inducing urination by massaging the bladder or using an indwelling urinary catheter
- Treating constipation- diet changes, increasing hydration, laxatives and suppositories are all options here
- Treating UTIs with antibiotics
- Alleviating the pain and discomfort of hind limb paralysis with supportive care and anti-inflammatories
- Medical treatment for seizures
I hope you found this summary useful. Ultimately one of the most helpful things you could do is to talk with your vet. Whether you are a new owner or not and even if your cat doesn’t have any symptoms. They will be happy to discuss the options available for you, as each case is different and so is each cat.
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