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Animals With Down Syndrome: Dogs, Cats, Tigers, Bears

Animals With Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is known as one of the most common genetic disorders. It is caused by abnormal cell division which in turn leads to people having an extra copy of chromosome 21 that can be whole or partial. Chromosomes are structures that carry our genes and inherited traits, and people have 23 pairs of chromosomes or 46 total chromosomes when they are born. People with Down syndrome, on the other hand, have an extra copy of one of these chromosomes. The medical term for having an extra chromosome is trisomy, which is why Down syndrome is also known as Trisomy 21.

As we mentioned above, this is the most common chromosomal condition in the U.S. and it has a huge impact on a person’s physical growth and cognitive abilities. Because the additional genetic material affects both physical and mental development, people with Down syndrome typically have speech difficulties and are at higher risk for certain medical problems. A short neck, almond-shaped eyes that slant upwards, small ears, a flattened face, a tongue that sticks out of the mouth, small hands and feet, poor muscle tone, and shorter height are just some of the most common physical symptoms of Down syndrome. This condition also impairs a person’s capacity to think, understand, and be social. According to the most recent statistics, approximately 6,000 kids are born with Down syndrome in the United States each year, which implies that this disorder affects 1 in every 700 babies.

But, can animals have Down syndrome? The answer is simple: no. Pictures and videos of animals with characteristics that resemble Down syndrome can be seen all over the Internet today and some of them even have a huge fan following across all social media platforms. The truth is that animals, like people, can also have some chromosome abnormalities, but they are unable to actually develop Down syndrome. Here’s everything you need to know about animals Down syndrome, in order to differentiate the realities from the misconceptions.

The Truth About “Animals With Down Syndrome”

Because animal’s genetic makeup is poles apart from that of people, it’s almost impossible to believe that chromosome duplication can have the same consequences on animals as it does on people. However, nowadays there are so many articles, videos, and photos of animals on the Internet with clickbait titles like “down syndrome cow or dog” or “lion with down syndrome”. These websites claim that certain animals have Down syndrome, even though that’s technically not possible. These animals actually look different due to certain chromosome disorders, inbreeding, hormone deficiencies, or other genetic conditions that have symptoms similar to the ones associated with Down syndrome.

Down Syndrome Monkey

Down Syndrome Monkey

Despite the fact that animals can’t actually develop Down syndrome, it has been proven that apes are the only creatures with chromosomal abnormalities that are somewhat similar to this genetic disorder. People have 23 pairs of chromosomes, whereas apes have 24 pairs of chromosomes. There have been some cases with gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees who were born with an extra copy of chromosome 22 also known as Trisomy 22. The first case of a chimpanzee with Trisomy 22 was reported in 1969, and this chimpanzee died very young, before reaching the age of two. In 2017, Japanese researchers reported the second case of a chimpanzee that was born in captivity and had Trisomy 22. According to them, the female chimp whose name was Kanako showed symptoms similar to those that can be seen in people with Down syndrome, such as heart problems and growth defects. The Down syndrome monkey even became blind by the time she was seven years old and sadly she passed away on 12 February 2020 at 27 years of age. She was the longest living chimpanzee with this type of chromosomal disorder known to science.

Down Syndrome Dog

Down Syndrome Dog

If you’re wondering whether or not dogs can get Down syndrome, the answer to that question is no. However, there have been a few cases where dogs with genetic abnormalities have shown signs and behaviors that resemble Trisomy 21. As we mentioned before, Down syndrome is a congenital disorder characterized by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21 in human DNA. We already mentioned that people have 23 pairs of chromosomes or a total of 46, however those with Down syndrome have 47 and due to that extra chromosome they have physical growth delay and mental challenges. Dogs, on the other hand, have 39 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 78, and as we know Down syndrome is defined by an individual having 47 chromosomes. This means that dogs technically can’t develop this condition because they simply have way more chromosomes than humans. Also, dogs simply can’t have this disorder because an extra copy of 21 chromosomes in a dog’s DNA would have entirely different effects than it would for a person.

So, even though there’s no such thing as Down syndrome dog, there are certain conditions with symptoms that closely resemble Trisomy 21. These conditions are: congenital hypothyroidism, congenital hydrocephalus, growth hormone deficiency, congenital heart problems, portosystemic shunt (PSS), and pituitary dwarfism. For example, congenital hypothyroidism in dogs is caused by low or completely absent levels of produced thyroid hormone, and this condition can cause numerous symptoms that resemble symptoms of Down syndrome such as delayed growth, weak muscle tone, short stature, large tongue, mental dullness, and delayed opening of the eyes and ears.

Cats With Down Syndrome

Cats can suffer from many of the same diseases as humans, but it’s not possible for them to have Down syndrome. However, cats can still have some neurological and other genetic disorders and therefore they can show Down syndrome-like symptoms such as strange behavior, small ears, vision problems, heart problems, low muscle tone, hearing loss, flat or upturned nose, wide set eyes, and motor dysfunction. But, unlike humans, our feline friends only have 19 pairs of chromosomes or 38 total, which means that it’s technically impossible for them to have this disorder.

Otto The Kitten and Lil Bub

Otto The Kitten
Lil Bub

But, even though cats with Down syndrome don’t exist, the Internet and social media are full of photos with so-called “Down syndrome cats”. Some of these special cats like Lil Bub, Monty, and Otto the kitten have achieved huge popularity and became social media stars due to their unique appearances. Little Otto went viral in Turkey after a veterinarian diagnosed him with Down syndrome, but the truth is that his abnormal facial features were a result of a genetic mutation or a hormone deficiency. Sadly, little Otto passed away from heart failure at just two and a half months. Lil Bub was probably the most popular cat on the Internet due to her cute and unusual appearance. Lil Bub had many genetic mutations including having extra toes and feline dwarfism, and gained immense popularity in 2011 when her photos were first posted on Tumblr and then on Reddit. Unfortunately, Lil Bub passed away on December 1, 2019 and her owner said that she was facing an aggressive bone infection at the time of her death.

Monty The Cat

Monty The Cat

Monty is a tabby cat who was also born with a chromosome abnormality similar to Down syndrome and this has affected his physical appearance. Monty was born without a nasal bridge which causes him to sneeze a lot, but despite that fact, he is a beautiful and healthy cat loved by many people throughout the world. Monty was adopted from an animal shelter in Copenhagen, Denmark at the age of three and today has more than 650.000 fans on Facebook and 665.000 followers on Instagram.

Tigers With Down Syndrome

Tigers With Down Syndrome

You may have heard of Kenny, the white tiger that became extremely popular as the “tiger Down syndrome”, because of his visible deformities. However, his symptoms were far from Down syndrome – his abnormalities were actually a result of aggressive inbreeding practices due to the rarity and value of white tigers and their beautiful fur. Due to his unique and different face, Kenny the tiger quickly became viral on the Internet and he was rescued in 2002 from an unethical breeder. The tiger, who was born in captivity, lived in Arkansas Turpentine Creek Wildlife Reserve until he unfortunately passed away in 2008. Because of the resulting genetic defects due to inbreeding, the American Zoological Association banned zoos from breeding white tigers and white lions in July 2011.