Maine Coon Cats can suffer from a wide range of health problems, including genetic diseases, infectious diseases and parasites. In general, Maine Coons are hardy and robust cats.

I. Genetic Diseases :

By Maine Coon Cats several health issues can be genetically inherited and are identified.

Here are the four common genetic diseases by Maine Coon Cats.

• H.C.M (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) :


Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is characterized by an abnormal thickness of the heart-muscle, mainly at the height of the left side of the heart.
Because of the thickening of the heart-muscle the heart becomes less elastic, through which the heart can fill itself less easy. A second consequence is that there is less space for the blood left in the left ventricle, which causes a smaller amount of blood to be pumped around at each heartbeat than normal. The thick heart-muscle can create turbulence in the blood, or the leaking of some valves. This can then cause a heart-murmur, which can be heard by a vet with a stethoscope.

Cats with HCM can get fluid in or around their lungs which can lead to difficult breathing. Other animals may show no signs at all, but they can suddenly drop dead, mostly because of a sudden very severe rhythm disturbance. Some cats develop blood clots that may cause paralysis of the hind legs.

HCM is not a congenital defect, but a disease that develops very slowly. Cats that have HCM very often show no signs before they are six months old, and it can take several years before you can make a diagnosis of HCM. Therefore you must have a specialist performing an echocardiography report on several occasions.

In the Maine Coon breed, the A31P mutation in the cardiac myosin binding protein C gene (MYBPC3) has been found to be associated with increased risk for HCM.
The A31P breed specific mutation for inherited HCM in Maine Coon cats produces moderate to severe cardiac disease which can lead to sudden death by age 4 years or less for cats that carry two copies of the mutation (homozygous). Cats that carry one copy of the mutation (heterozygous) have a longer life expectancy, but may still develop HCM. The mutation is a single base pair change in MYBPC3 that disrupts the production of the cardiac myosin binding protein C needed for normal heart muscle development.

We have 3 cases :

- "homozygous normal" (two copies of the normal gene, i.e. no defective gene): This means the cat is negative for this particular form of HCM.
- "heterozygous" (one copy of the normal gene and one copy of the defective gene): This means the cat may develop this form of HCM.
- "Homozygous mutant" (two copies of the defective gene). There is some evidence that these cats are more likely to develop moderate to severe disease earlier in life when compared to heterozygous cats.

A negative result on the Maine Coon HCM genetic test means that the cat does not have this specific genetic mutation. However, cats may still go on to develop HCM due to other mutations, as yet unidentified, but for which there is already considerable evidence of existence. In addition, cats may also develop other forms of heart disease for other reasons, for example, associated with high blood pressure. A positive result on the Maine Coon HCM genetic test means that the cat carries either one (heterozygous) or two (homozygous) defective copies of the MYBPC3 gene and is likely to develop cardiac disease. All results will specify whether a genotype is heterozygous or homozygous.

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• P.K.D (Polycystic Kidney Disease) :


This is also genetically inherited. PKD is also known to affect Persian and Persian-related cats.
The cat has multiple cysts on its kidneys. They grow in number and size as the cat ages, ultimately ending in renal, or kidney failure. The rate of cyst growth can be slower in some cats, but it remains a fatal condition.

Whether a cat becomes ill of PKD or not depends on the size and number of cysts in both kidneys. A cat will display kidney failure (kidney insufficiency) when the cysts occupy too much room in the kidney, and normal kidney tissue is forced out. When there is too little normal kidney tissue left, the kidneys will not be able to function normally and the cat will fall ill. The first symptoms of disease usually occur between the age of 3 and 10 years, but sometimes it is seen at a much younger age.

In the beginning the symptoms are very vague. A cat will drink and urinate more than usual, appetite will become less and the coat will seem less shiny than before. When kidney insufficiency progresses, the animal will start to eat less, will lose weight with possibly also vomiting. Sometimes there is blood present in the urine and extremely bad breath can also be noticed. Once kidney failure has occurred, it is incurable. With an adapted treatment these animals can still reach a high age. It is important to know that not all cats with PKD will develop kidney failure. Animals with very little or very small cysts will probably never show any signs of PKD.

Until now there is no means available to prevent the development of PKD or to stop the growth of cysts.

Recently the gene responsible for PKD in cats has been isolated by researchers in the US.
A DNA test like this will not give any information about the size or number of cysts, and the DNA test is especially useful for very young animals because they might have such small cysts that they cannot be detected in the ultrasound, or for animals with a doubtful ultrasound test result (for example an animal with only one cyst in one kidney). Ultrasound still is a quick and convenient way to diagnose PKD in adult animals. Most animals do not have to be sedated.

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• S.M.A. (Spinal muscular atrophy) :


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a disorder caused by death of spinal cord neurons that activate skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs.

Loss of neurons in the first few months of life leads to muscle weakness and atrophy that first becomes apparent at 3-4 months of age.

Affected kittens develop an odd gait with a sway of the hindquarters and stand with the hocks nearly touching. They may also stand with toes out in the front. By 5-6 months of age they are too weak in the hindquarters to readily jump up on furniture and often have a clumsy landing when jumping down. The long hair Maine Coon Cats may hide it, but careful feeling of the limbs will reveal reduced muscle mass.

Affected kittens are not in pain, they eat and play avidly, they are not incontinent, and most live very comfortably as indoor cats for many years. As of this writing, the oldest affected cats of which we know are 8-9 years of age.

SMA in Maine Coon Cats is caused by large deletion on cat chromosome A1 that removed 2 genes. Identification of the SMA mutation has allowed design of a laboratory test to detect the deletion in DNA from cat cheek cells, blood, or frozen semen.

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• Pyruvate Kinase (PK) Deficiency :


Pyruvate Kinase (PK) is an enzyme critical to the anaerobic glycolytic pathway of energy production in the erythrocyte. If erythrocytes are deficient in PK they are unable to sustain normal cell metabolism and hence are destroyed prematurely. This deficiency manifests as an hemolytic anemia of variable severity with a strong regenerative response. The clinical signs of disease reflect the anemic status of the animal and include exercise intolerance, weakness, heart-murmur and splenomegaly.

PK is inherited as an autosomal recessive condition. Heterozygotes (carriers) do not have any clinical signs of disease and live normal lives. They are able to propagate mutations throughout the population however and it is therefore important that carrier animals are detected prior to breeding. PK Deficiency can be detected, using molecular genetic testing techniques. These tests identify both affected and carrier animals. It is also possible to identify animals deficient in PK activity through enzyme analysis in those breeds where a molecular genetic test is not available.

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• Feline Hip Dysplasia (HD) :

normal hips

Radiograph of a cat with normal hips.

HD degree 3

Radiograph of a cat with HD, degree 3, in both hips.

La Hip Dysplasia is a hereditary defect in the socket joint (in the pelvis) which means that it is not as deep as it normally should be. Because of this the ball does not fit exactly in the socket joint and the surfaces begin to rub against each other, causing the cartilage to degenerate. Then the joint surface is made up solely of bone (the cartilage having been worn away) leaving a bone-against-bone joint surface which is painful for the cat. The problem is that the body cannot renew the cartilage, and the body tries to repair the damage by increasing bone production which only serves to make the problem worse. Cats in general are very good at not showing pain and can suffer from HD without limping at all. Instead they may move more carefully or less than cats normally do, and may also avoid jumping. Cats with a mild degree of HD may not suffer at all.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Cats:

Hip dysplasia is one of the most common skeletal disorders seen clinically in dogs, but is much less common in cats. When it does occur, purebred cats and females are more commonly affected; Maine Coons seem particularly predisposed. Clinical signs tend to show up early, usually between 4 and 12 months of age, although signs of osteoarthritis can first present later in life. The early signs of this disease are caused by looseness in the joints; later signs are related to joint degeneration.

Since hip dysplasia affects the rear limbs, this is where cat owners should look for signs of the disease. The main signs of hip dysplasia are rear lameness characterized by a bunny-hopping or swaying gait, pain or weakness in one or both hind legs, difficulty rising, exercise intolerance, reluctance to run or jump (up the stairs, onto furniture, counters, etc), and sometimes an audible clicking sound coming from the hips when the cat rises or walks (called “crepitus”). Other signs include a narrow hind-end stance, poor pelvic limb conformation and musculature, hypertrophy (enlargement) of the shoulder muscles from overuse and sometimes an arched appearance of the spine caused by the shifting of weight to the forelimbs because the rear end hurts. These signs can be subtle. They can be intermittent or persistent and tend to worsen after activity. Affected cats may seem fine most of the time but be stiff in the morning or after a catnap. Obesity or rapid weight gain can exacerbate the lameness and pain associated with this disease.

Left untreated, hip dysplasia will progress, and the symptoms will become more obvious. Cat owners should be especially aware of signs in kittens as they near maturity, and they should not simply write-off the signs in older cats as a natural decline due to aging. Proper treatment can reduce the discomfort caused by hip dysplasia and allow the cat to remain active and happy.

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia in cats:

Hip dysplasia is an uncommon, painful and degenerative disease that causes arthritis-like symptoms and general hind end lameness. It is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that lead to laxity (looseness) in one or both hip joints. Diagnosing this disorder can be difficult, because a number of other diseases cause similar clinical signs and must be ruled out before a definitive diagnosis of hip dysplasia can be made.

There are several ways to detect hip dysplasia, whether or not clinical signs are present. This is important because some breeders may wish to have their cats tested before breeding them. The older and more common method is recommended by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (the OFA), which will assess the hips of cats under the same rules, guidelines and fee schedules applicable to dogs.

Treating Hip Dysplasia in cats:

While there is no cure for hip dysplasia in cats, there are things that you can do to alleviate the animal's pain and help maintain your cat's quality of life. Depending on the severity of the condition, your veterinarian will recommend a course of action that may contain surgical and non-surgical options.

II. Infectious Diseases :

Most of the major infectious diseases can be prevented through timely vaccinations, but vaccination do not provide protection 100% of the time.

The immune system plays a pivotal role in maintaining your cat's health. One of the most important functions of this complex system of specialized cells and molecules is to protect cats from disease and infection caused by viruses, bacteria, and a host of other microbes and parasites.

Vaccines help prepare your cat's immune system to fend off invasion by a particular disease-causing organism. Vaccines contain antigens, which to the immune system "look" like the organism but don't, ideally, cause disease. When a vaccine is administered, the immune system mounts a protective response. Then if your cat is subsequently exposed to the disease-causing organism, its immune system is prepared to either prevent infection or reduce the severity of disease.

Though vaccines play an important role in controlling infectious diseases, most do not induce complete protection from disease, nor do they induce the same degree of protection in all cats. For extra protection, you should make every effort to reduce your cat's exposure to infected cats or contaminated environments.

What vaccines are currently available for my cat :

• Feline Coryza :

Several virus and bacteria are responsible for Feline Coryza.

This is caused by Herpesvirus (FHV-1) and Calicivirus (FCV) for the virus and Bordetella and Chlamydia for the bacteria.

The main symptoms are conjunctivitis, sneezing, nasal discharge, and sometimes oral ulcers, coughing, and joint pain.

It is transmitted through direct contact with an infected cat, and the highest rates of infection are in cats between five weeks and nine months of age, especially those residing in multiple-cat environments with a history of respiratory tract disease.

It is highly contagious, and can be fatal in kittens or elderly cats. Affected cats can become carriers, who excrete the virus intermittently throughout their lives, especially when stressed.

• Panleukopenia :

Feline panleukopenia (also called feline distemper) is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease. Signs include extreme listlessness and loss of appetite. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are frequently seen, but some cats die suddenly with few clinical signs. A high percentage of cats with panleukopenia-especially kittens-die from the infection. Feline panleukopenia virus is shed in the feces of an infected cat and can survive extremes of temperature and humidity for months to years. The virus is resistant to most available disinfectants.

Until recent years panleukopenia was the most serious infectious disease of cats, killing thousands every year. Thanks to the highly effective vaccines currently available, panleukopenia is now considered an uncommon disease. Immunity induced by panleukopenia vaccines is excellent, and most vaccinated cats are completely protected from infection and disease. Vaccination is recommended for all cats.

• Feline Leukemia Virus :

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is the leading viral killer of cats. The virus is spread in the saliva and nasal secretions of infected cats.

Infection is transmitted through prolonged contact with infected cats, bite wounds, and from an infected mother cat to her kittens. Disease caused by FeLV is very serious, and it is estimated that fewer than 20% of infected cats will survive more than three years after being infected. Anemia (a deficiency of oxygen-carrying red blood cells), cancer, and secondary infections resulting from immune deficiency are the most common consequences of infection.

• Rabies :

Rabies is an increasing threat to cats. Rabies is routinely fatal and is a major public health concern. It attacks the nervous system and travels to the brain. Frequently fatal, rabies is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals. Because of the potential for human exposure, rabies vaccination is recommended for all cats and is required by law in many countries.

There are two forms of rabies: paralytic and furious.
In the early symptom (prodomal) stage of rabies infection, the cat will show only mild signs of CNS abnormalities. This stage will last from one to three days. Most cats will then progress to either the furious stage, the paralytic stage, or a combination of the two, while others succumb to the infection without displaying any major symptoms.

Furious rabies is characterized by extreme behavioral changes, including overt aggression and attack behavior. Paralytic rabies, also referred to as dumb rabies, is characterized by weakness and loss of coordination in the cat, followed by paralysis. This is a fast-moving virus. If it is not treated soon after the symptoms have begun, the prognosis is poor. Therefore, if your cat has been in a fight with another animal, or has been bitten or scratched by another animal, or if you have any reason to suspect that your pet has come into contact with a rabid animal (even if your pet has been vaccinated against the virus), you must take your cat to a veterinarian for preventive care immediately.

Feline Diseases without vaccination :

• Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) :

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is another viral killer of cats. The primary mode of virus spread is through bite wounds, so cats that get outdoors and fight are at greatest risk of infection. Cats in households with stable social structures where housemates get along well are at little risk.

Infected cats may appear normal for years. However, infection eventually leads to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat's ability to protect itself against other infections. The same bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi that may be found in the everyday environment - where they usually do not affect healthy animals - are responsible for many of the diseases associated with FIV.

Keeping cats indoors and away from potentially infected cats that might bite them markedly reduces their likelihood of contracting FIV infection. Vaccines to help protect against FIV infection are available. Not all vaccinated cats will be protected, so preventing exposure will remain important even for vaccinated pets. In addition, vaccination may have an impact on future FIV test results. It is important that you discuss the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination with your veterinarian to help you decide whether FIV vaccines should be administered to your cat.

• Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) :

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) results from infection with feline coronavirus. Many different strains of the virus can infect cats, but most do not produce serious disease: usually less than 1 to 5 percent of coronavirus-infected cats develop FIP.

Coronaviruses are shed primarily in the feces of infected cats. Most cats become infected by ingesting the virus, either as a result of direct contact with an infected cat or by exposure to virus-contaminated surfaces such as litter boxes, feeding bowls, bedding, clothing, or toys. A high percentage of cats residing in multiple-cat environments are exposed and ultimately infected with feline coronavirus, but exposure is far less common in households with fewer cats. Even though cats of all ages can develop the disease, most of those that develop FIP are younger than two years. Individuals with FIP rarely survive regardless of treatment. A vaccine to prevent FIP is available, but considerable controversy surrounds its ability to prevent disease.

III. Parasites :

Parasites come in many sizes, shapes and levels of "severity" for our pets. This collection of parasites are those commonly found on dogs and other species, sometimes affecting humans (called a zoonotic disease).

• Fleas :

Fleas are the most common of all external feline parasites, and the consequences of infestation will be terribly uncomfortable for most cats and can be the source of deadly disease for some. Flea bites cause horrible itching, and a hypersensitive cat's incessant scratching may open wounds in the skin that are vulnerable to serious infection. Indeed, these tiny, wingless creatures often carry infectious agents themselves - such as dog and cat tapeworm and the bacteria that causes cat-scratch disease in people.

A flea's life cycle lasts about a month, though it can go on for longer than that, depending on temperature and humidity. (It prefers a warm and moist climate.) During the cycle, the insect moves through a complete metamorphosis - from egg to larvae to pupa to adult - and is most dangerous in the larval and adult stages. In the larval stage, fleas need blood to support their growth, and in the adult stage, females need it to complete their reproductive cycle.

After feeding on an animal's blood, adult females reproduce speedily and efficiently, typically laying hundreds - or even thousands - of eggs at the rate of about one per hour over the course of several weeks or months. A female will usually have a blood meal, lay a few eggs, have another blood meal, lay some more eggs, and so on.

Obsessive scratching is the clearest indication that a cat is infested with fleas - especially if the weather is warm and muggy. On close inspection, the insects can be seen with the naked eye, usually on the animal's belly, back or near the tail. Fleas may also by detected by having the animal stand on a large piece of white paper or a pillowcase and running a fine-toothed comb through its coat. The fleas, along with small black specks (their feces), will be caught in the teeth of the comb or, if any feces has fallen from the comb, be visible on the white background.

There are only two ways to counter flea infestation: You must rid your cat of the insects, and you must also get them out of the environment where your cat spends time - your home and outdoor property if your cat or his animal roommate is allowed to wander outside. Ridding the environment of fleas requires meticulous vacuuming, the use of flea-killing products, and perhaps even the services of a professional exterminator.

• Roundworms :

Roundworms (Toxascaris leonina and Toxocara cati) are the most common intestinal parasite of cats, with an estimated prevalence of 25% to 75%, and often higher in kittens. The adult roundworms are 3 to 5 inches long, cream-colored, and live in the cat's intestine. The adult female worm produces fertile eggs that are passed in the infected cat's feces. The eggs require several days to several weeks to develop into the infective larva stage.

Cats become infected with Toxocara cati by ingesting eggs or by eating rodents (transport hosts) that have larvae in their tissues. Kittens can become infected by larvae that are passed through an infected queen's milk. In those cases, it is possible for kittens to become infected soon after birth. Cats become infected with Toxascaris leonina in a manner similar to Toxocara cati, but unlike Toxocara, the parasite is not transmitted through the milk.

Roundworm infections can potentially become life-threatening if the numbers are so great that intestinal blockage occurs. Usually, roundworm infections are relatively benign when compared to other intestinal parasites. However, infected kittens are in serious danger if left untreated. Diagnosis is confirmed by finding parasite eggs in the stool during microscopic examination. Many medications are effective, but reducing exposure to the feces of an infected cats and prohibiting hunting are the best means of prevention. Treatment of queens prior to breeding reduces the likelihood that the parasite will infect kittens.

Visceral larval migrans and ocular larval migrans are diseases caused by the migration of Toxocara larvae through the tissue of people, particularly children. Although these diseases are rare, they can be quite serious, especially when they occur in young children. They can be easily avoided by preventing ingestion of Toxocara eggs in contaminated soil or on the hands.

• Hookworms :

Hookworms (Ancylostoma and Uncinaria) are less than 1/2 inch long, slender, thread-like worms that as adults live in the cat's intestine. Because of their small size, they usually are not visible in the feces of infected cats. Hookworms are long-lived and are capable of living as long as the cat.

Adult cats usually become infected by larvae that penetrate their skin or that are ingested. Once the larvae gain entrance into the host, they migrate to the lungs and then to the intestines to develop into adult worms. It is uncertain whether cats can become infected by eating rodents containing larvae in their tissues, or ingesting queen's milk that contain larvae.

Severe parasitism can cause anemia due to blood loss from the intestines where the worms attach themselves. The cat's feces will appear black and tarry due to blood in the feces. If too much blood is lost, the cat can become anemic and may die if left untreated. Fortunately, like roundworms, these worms are easily diagnosed and treated. Good sanitation and daily cleaning of the litter box are keys to controlling hookworm infections.

Hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin. As they migrate under the skin, they cause a dermatitis called cutaneous larval migrans.

• Toxoplasmosis :

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common parasitic diseases and has been found in nearly all warm-blooded animals, including pets and humans. Despite the high prevalence of T. gondii infection, the parasite rarely causes significant clinical disease in cats-or any species.

The life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii is complex and involves two types of host—definitive and intermediate. Cats, both wild and domestic, are the only definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii. This means that the parasite can only produce oocysts (eggs) when infecting a cat. When a cat ingests an infected prey (or other infected raw meat) the parasite is released into the cat's digestive tract. The organisms then multiply in the wall of the small intestine and produce oocysts during what is known as the intraintestinal infection cycle. These oocysts are then excreted in great numbers in the cat's feces. Cats previously unexposed to T. gondii will usually begin shedding oocysts between three and 10 days after ingestion of infected tissue, and continue shedding for around 10 to 14 days, during which time many millions of oocysts may be produced. Oocysts are very resistant and may survive in the environment for well over a year.

Most cats infected with T. gondii will not show any symptoms. Occasionally, however, clinical disease—toxoplasmosis—occurs. When disease does occur, it may develop when the cat's immune response is not adequate to stop the spread of tachyzoite forms. The disease is more likely to occur in cats with suppressed immune systems, including young kittens and cats with feline leukemia virus (FELV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

The most common symptoms of toxoplasmosis include fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Most cats that have toxoplasmosis can recover with treatment. Treatment usually involves a course of an antibiotic called Clindamycin.

No vaccine is as yet available to prevent either T. gondii infection or toxoplasmosis in cats, humans, or other species.

• Ear Mites :

Ear problems in general are uncommon in cats, but among the afflictions that do occur, ear-mite infestation is frequently diagnosed. Although it can’t hop or fly, an ear mite—otherwise known as Otodectes cynotis—can crawl. And if one of these minuscule parasites enters your cat’s ear, makes itself at home, and starts to breed, it can cause major damage unless promptly evicted.

The typical external signs are quite obvious: the cat’s outer ear is likely to be inflamed, and the animal will hold its ears flat against its head, scratch at them almost without letup, and shake its head frequently—as if trying to dislodge a bothersome object. They are also detectable by the mess they make inside an infested animal’s ear canal—a dark, gooey, foul-smelling accumulation of wax and mite debris in which the tiny critter thrives.

If ear mite infestation is suspected, the cat owner should seek veterinary care without delay. Aside from relieving the animal’s discomfort, treatment can curb infection stemming from the mutilation of the ears and face that results from aggressive and nonstop scratching. Veterinary care can also prevent a serious ear disease called otitis externa—an infection of the outer ear that, if untreated, can progress to the middle and inner ear and damage the ear drum, which can permanently affect the animal’s hearing and sense of balance.

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Maine coot cats breeding in Alsace - France
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