While many kittens born with deformities or birth defects won't survive, some can pull through. The prognosis depends on the nature of the deformity and how much you're willing to do for -- and spend on -- your special-needs friend. Certain birth defects occur more frequently in purebred cats.
Kittens with spina bifida are born with an exposed spinal cord. While it's generally something you'll notice right away, you'll definitely pick up on it a couple of weeks after birth when kittens start walking. While some kittens might exhibit rear leg weakness or an odd gait, others can't walk at all and also suffer from incontinence. Spina bifida is especially common in Manx kittens. While your vet can perform surgery to keep the spinal cord covered, there's not much else that can be done with an affected kitten. Depending on the severity of the affliction, you might choose to euthanize the kitten.
Fairly common in Siamese cats, a cleft palate occurs when the two sides making up the roof of the mouth don't close when the kitten is still in utero. This deformity can be surgically repaired once the kitten is between 3 and 4 months old. In the meantime, you'll have to feed the kitten with a long nipple that ensures food goes into the part of the mouth behind the palate, or through a feeding tube inserted into the kitten's stomach.
While certain eye deformities are obvious from birth, you might not notice others until the kitten reaches the age of 6 to 8 weeks. Entropion, common in Persian and Himalayan cats, occurs when the eyelids roll inward, causing constant eye irritation. Other eye deformities include missing eyes, eyelids or tear ducts, cataracts and extremely small eyes. Some eye issues respond to surgical correction. Given proper care and kept indoors, a blind cat can have a good quality of life.
Because purebred cats draw from a smaller gene pool than the average randomly-bred feline, birth defects and deformities are more frequent. If you're planning to breed your purebred kitty, think twice if she or any of her close relatives suffer from birth defects. You should also carefully investigate the background of any potential feline breeding partners to make sure they're free of genetic flaws.
Other Birth Defects
Not all deformities are obvious at birth. Some don't show up until the kitten grows older, including various heart defects, liver shunt and neurological problems. Some deformities, such as polydactylism, or extra toes, aren't much of an issue at all. Exposure to toxins or certain medications while pregnant could cause a cat to give birth to kittens with deformities. While your vet will avoid giving potentially harmful medications to a pregnant cat, let your vet know if there is any chance your unspayed cat could be pregnant. Most deformities caused by drugs or chemicals occur in the very early stages of pregnancy.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.