What is Manx Syndrome in Cats?
Manx syndrome is a collection of problems that can affect tailless cats. Cats with Manx syndrome—also called sacrocaudal dysgenesis or spina bifida—may have issues with their hind end.
These troubles are the result of poor formation of the bottom portion of their spine (backbone) and spinal cord, the bundle of nerves carrying messages from the brain to the rest of the body. Problems in development in the lowest portion of the spine or spinal cord can result in difficulty walking or challenges with bladder and bowel control. The spinal cord runs through a canal that is protected by the vertebrae (small bones forming the backbone) that make up the spine. The tail is a continuation of the spine.
Affected cats can have a slight wobble of the back legs and rump. They may have weakness in their rump and even develop hind limb paralysis in extreme cases. Sometimes these issues are severe. Manx kittens may die in utero or shortly after birth if affected. However, these abnormalities can be less severe and are more manageable.
Manx cats have a genetic mutation often resulting in a shortened or absent tail, and thus, a shorter spine. Because this genetic mutation is so prevalent in the Manx cat breed, the syndrome is named after them.
Symptoms of Manx Syndrome in Cats
A few common symptoms of Manx syndrome are:
Lack of tail
Weakness in the rear end
Wobbly gait when walking
Lack of feeling in the back legs or around the anus and genitals
Paralysis of one or both back legs
Inability to jump onto high surfaces
Causes of Manx Syndrome in Cats
Manx syndrome is a genetic disease, meaning that a cat inherits the disease from their parents. Unless a cat has a history of tail trauma, tailless cats often have a genetic mutation. Any breed of tailless cat can be affected by sacrocaudal dysgenesis; however, it’s much more common in the Manx breed than others.
The Manx breed is one of the oldest known cat breeds. Manx cats can come in several varieties classified on the length of their tail. The main classifications are:
Rumpy, with no tail
Rumpy riser, a very small tail nub that sticks up
Stumpy, a shortened tail
Longy, a nearly full-length tail
Full tailed, a normal tail length
This tail mutation is a highly dominant gene, meaning that when tailless cats breed, they have kittens that carry their tailless gene. When a cat with no tail is bred with a cat with a full tail, their kittens may have no tail, a shortened tail, or a long tail.
If two cats without a tail are bred together, they may have very serious shortening of the spine. They may also develop spinal deformities that can lead to the most severe form of Manx syndrome. Kittens that are born from these types of cats often do not survive or may need to be humanely euthanized.
For these reasons, Rumpies shouldn’t be bred together.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Manx Syndrome in Cats
Manx syndrome is typically diagnosed when cats are young, usually once kittens begin to walk. A vet will go through a cat's health and family history and then perform a physical exam. Several tests will be recommended to rule out other diseases that can look similar.
Your veterinarian may recommend X-rays of your cat's hind legs and spine. A neurological exam may be done. Severely affected cats may be tested for other neurologic diseases that can look like Manx syndrome. A urinalysis (an exam of the urine to test for disease) or urine culture (a test for the presence of bacteria in the urine) may also be recommended.
Treatment of Manx Syndrome in Cats
There’s no cure for Manx syndrome. However, it can be managed with proper care, such as good hygiene and keeping your cat comfortable.
If your cat is unable to urinate on their own, your veterinarian may teach you how to help your cat relieve their bladder. Stool softeners may also be prescribed to manage constipation.
It’s very important that you keep your tailless cat clean. It’s not uncommon for cats with Manx syndrome to have urine or feces that gets stuck on their backside due to the shortened or absent tail and nerve sensations in the area.
If this stool or urine is left on the skin, it can lead to secondary skin and urinary tract infections. Diapers may be helpful to put on cats with poor fecal control to avoid accidents in the house. If so, it’s important that they be changed regularly to avoid diaper rash.
Recovery and Management of Manx Syndrome in Cats
There’s no specific treatment or surgery for Manx syndrome, which is a lifelong condition. Cats may be so severely affected that it’s impossible for them to maintain a good quality of life. For these cats, humane euthanasia may be recommended.
Often, cats aren’t as severely affected and can have an excellent quality of life with a few changes to their environment and extra care given to their personal hygiene. Sanitary wipes, like Douxo Antiseptic wipes, may be helpful in keeping your cat’s backside clean.
All cats—especially cats with Manx syndrome—should remain indoors due to high safety risks. Not being able to jump and run to get away from dogs, cars, and other dangers would make outdoor life unsafe.
Jumping can be a challenge and may not be possible for affected cats. Be sure to lower your cat’s houses and beds. A ramp to a window seat makes a perfect addition to your cat’s home.
Prevention of Manx Syndrome in Cats
Manx syndrome can only be prevented with responsible breeding. If two tailless cats are bred together, they are at an increased likelihood of developing severe Manx syndrome.
Manx Syndrome in Cats FAQs
How long can a cat live with Manx syndrome?
Cats with Manx syndrome have varying lifespans, depending on the severity of their condition. Cats that are mildly affected can live long, happy lives with minimal issues when supportive care is given.
Cats with severe Manx syndrome may have short lifespans due to secondary conditions, such as chronic urinary tract infections, skin infections, trouble with their bowel movements, and poor mobility.
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