Scottish Fold Health Issues & Health Risks
How predisposed to diseases are Scottish Folds and how to prevent them
Lovely Scottish Folds bring a smile on anyone’s face. Their most distinctive trait is, of course, their folded ears. Those who already own a Fold or have been passionate about these cats may know what their cute ears involve.
Sometimes, we humans fail to see beyond the glamor of physical traits. Yet, when we adopt another being to be part of the family, we need to think about their own health and happiness. Scottish Folds are cats prone to certain health problems. We will discuss at large these risks and how to handle it.
History & genetics of the Scottish Fold
The breed has started developing back in the 60s. As the name suggests, the first folded eared cat comes from Scotland. This farm female cat named Susie gave birth to a litter of kittens. Out of the little ones, two had the distinct fold in the ears. However, only one of them passed the responsible gene along.
Since we are talking about genes, let us settle the matter. The fold of the ears that people crave is the result of a dominant gene. This gene, called the Fd gene, creates a mutation that affects the bones and cartilage of the cats. So you could say there is more than meets the eye and it is not all pretty.
A Scottish Fold with folded ears can carry one or two copies of the Fd gene. The 1-copy carriers are heterozygous cats whereas the 2-copies carriers are homozygous cats. The health level of Folds comes down to the breeding process:
- 2 Fd genes cat + no Fd gene cat results in all folded-eared kittens. It is considered unethical.
- 1 Fd gene cat + no Fd gene cat results in 50% chance of folded-eared cats and 50% chance of non-folds.
- 1 Fd gene cat + 1 Fd gene cat results in folded kittens, but they will develop serious conditions. It is unethical to cross this way.
- 2 Fd gene cat + 2 Fd gene cat results in lethal cases.
Along the way, precise breeding guidelines have been developed. This allows for crossings between one fold gene and a straight-eared cat. Mating Scottish Fold cats among them is seen as unethical and not recommended.
If you want to breed Scottish Folds, I suggest reading this article which explains in great detail the genetics of Scottish Fold kittens.
Scottish Folds are generally healthy cats, but their genes and overall build expose them to certain conditions:
Congenital Osteodystrophy (COD)
The name is quite descriptive. This is a congenital disease that affects the cartilage and bones in the limbs, vertebra and tail. This causes the bones to thicken, in time leading to reduced mobility.
Since every cat is different, symptoms can come up as early as childhood or later in life. At the same time, some cats may face the effects of the disease while some could live healthily. No matter the case, studies show that all fold cats have it.
The ears are also the result of this cartilage damage. Usually, homozygous cats are the ones most affected by it. They experience severe pain and their bones and joints suffer from early years. Heterozygous cats experience a milder form later on or no symptoms at all.
This is also the reason why breeding recommendations are for Folds with non-folds. It reduces the risk of cats suffering from stiff tails, shortened legs or arthritic joints.
Arthritis develops gradually over time and prevents the cats from moving with freedom. Even basic postures or movements like using the litter box become difficult. On top of that, pain will have your Fold suffering every day.
The disease is not life threatening, but it can lower the quality of life. Since there is no cure for it and some cats may become unable to move, doctors suggest euthanasia.
Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)
Inherited from parents, the condition consists of various cysts forming in the kidneys. The cysts are small and contain fluid. In time, they multiply and grow, preventing the kidneys from working properly.
Your Fold could develop this condition anywhere between 2 and 10 years of age. There are 50% chances of a kitten getting the disease from an affected parent. The outcome is always sad ending in kidney failure.
The disease affects the heart muscle. Ranging in severity, affected cats can either reach a fatal end or live for years with the disease when mild. Similar to PKD, cats inherit this condition from their parents. With proper investigation, you can find out if your Fold has it before it reaches 2 years of age.
With the heart muscle not functioning well, the blood flow to all body parts gets restricted. Shortly, the body gives up.
Mites, ear infections or even deafness have been extensively debated at first. Many claim that the combination of genes and the tight fold of the ears can cause problems along the way. To this day, some still sustain banning of breeding Scottish Folds.
However, with the breeding process regulated in time, these concerns disappeared. Breeders showed on and on that such problems are under control. Also, if you pair a healthy lifestyle and good care with a healthy crossing, Folds are perfectly healthy cats.
Life expectancy of Scottish Folds
A healthy Fold can live up to 15 years. This is an average life span for cats in general.
Although the particular genetics make Folds contenders for disease, they can live long and happy lives.
There are many factors involved in life expectancy:
- Care & grooming
- Nutrition & activity
- Medical care
Read more about life expectancy and how to prolong it in this article.
How to choose a properly breed Scottish Fold
If you are set on adopting a sweet Scottish Fold, then you should know a thing or two when choosing. The way the cat was bred can make a big difference in how long they will live. Here is what to consider:
Research breeders in your area and ask for recommendations. The respected ones come with great reviews and people have had positive experiences. Such breeders will only produce legit cats. They are professionals who know the risks of breeding two Folds and will avoid it.
Take your time to talk to breeders and see how they come off. Ask questions about the parents, about the cat’s nutrition and other specific details. A knowledgeable breeder will come across as confident.
This is where you find out whether your future pet is healthy or not. If the parents were both Scottish Folds, you should run. Such crossing results in a purebred, but not a healthy one. Respected and respectful breeders would never do this.
You should be able to see documents on both parents and details about their health. When getting a baby Fold, you cannot tell of any potential problems. Their ears are straight and stiffness is not installed yet.
Neutered or Spayed Cat
A good breeder will always neuter or spay their litters. If you come across one that sells you non-neutered kittens, it is not a good sign. The reason behind this is simple. Breeders base their business on producing one-of-a-kind cats. They would never pass on cats that can be bred further.
Cleaning and grooming tips
Ask the breeder about the cat’s needs. One that knows the Scottish Fold breed inside out, will not hesitate to tell you in detail how to care for it.
Ear cleaning in particular is an important issue with Folds. If your breeder seems hesitant or lacking knowledge, then maybe move on to another source.
These points are breeder related. But you can prolong your future Fold’s life by choosing one with better chances. We all love the folded ears, but how would you feel about a straight-eared Fold?
Straight-eared Scottish Fold – their ears grow straight because they lack the Fd gene. Nonetheless, they are Scottish Folds. Give it a good thought and decide whether cuteness trumps health. These Folds are generally healthier, live longer lives and cost less. Plus they have all the other personality traits that make Folds such dear cats.
Folded Scottish Folds – they are your common Scottish Folds with the to-die-for ears. The properly bred ones carry one copy of the Fd gene and have the distinctive look. They are fairly healthy as well. The condition is to offer them a good environment, nutrition and care. Even if they develop the typical diseases, you can help control the symptoms.
Homozygous Folded Folds – they break breeding guideline and results in suffering cats. No breeder should cross two Folds at the cost of the cat’s well-being. Unfortunately, such mating happens when breeders want to obtain all-fold litters. Early one, they start to experience pain and mobility problems. Their life expectancy is around 5 years for these poor guys. You can avoid adopting such cats by checking them:
- The tail should not be in a downward stiff position.
- The legs, especially the hind legs, should show no sign of lameness.
- When moving, the cats should have no trouble doing so. Watch the cat for slow, calculated moves or avoiding activity altogether. This can indicate they are in pain.
Care, grooming & medical needs of a Scottish Fold
Even though Folds are prone to certain conditions, it is nothing severe. Much like any cat, a Scottish Fold should be able to live long and healthy.
After you cleared out the breeding problem, the responsibility falls upon yourself. A huge factor in the well-being of these cats is how you care for them.
Nutrition & environment
This is true for humans as well. What you eat determines how your body performs. Scottish Folds need quality food and a regular feeding schedule. Animals are creatures of habit, they know when to expect food.
- Stick to your feeding plan of two times a day – early in the morning and in the afternoon or evening.
- Try not to divert from investing in good quality foods – your little Fold might eat anything you give them, but their health may take the toll.
- Water is essential – don’t forget to always have a bowl of water for them and to freshen it up daily. You, human, should know better than anyone how important water is.
- Less carbs – Folds don’t deal so well with carbs. Food that are good for them focus on proteins and fibers. Avoid raw meats or leftovers from your plate.
- Clean and cozy environment – your Fold will appreciate a neat and warm home. They are big groomers who spend a lot of time on cleaning. Let some lean air into your house daily and vacuum those hairy carpets.
Read more about the Scottish Fold diet and food in this article.
Folds are moderately active cats. They love playing games, running around or exploring the outdoors. At the same time, they have a tendency to gain weight, which can cause them some obesity issues. Keep them active with stimulating games and toys. Check out the best toys for a Scottish Fold in this article. They love spending quality time with their dearest owner.
If you live in a house with outdoor space, let them roam in the yard. However, be sure to give them a brush when they come back in.
Regular brushing are your key words. They are not demanding cats in terms of grooming. The shorthair Folds need a good brushing once a week. The longhaired Fold does need brushing twice a week and more often if spending time outside. You need to make sure you get tangles out of their coat.
Scottish Folds have a dense, double-layered coat. This means their fur will hold on to dust, dirt and debris more than your regular cat. Use a comb with 2 sets of teeth, a shorter one and a longer one. This way you reach all the way to their skin and get the dirt and dead hair out. Bonus, they get a good massage.
Eye cleaning, teeth cleaning and nail trimming need regular attention as well. Your vet can give you advice on how to do it and what products to use.
Ear cleaning is an important matter with Scottish Folds. Since they have that cute fold, their ears retain more dirt. Also, the tight closed cavity allows for infections or mites to appear. Use a wet cloth or a cotton ball together with lukewarm water or a dedicated solution. Be gentle when handling the ear. Softly unfold it and clean the dirt. Avoid cotton swabs since they can cause damage to the internal ear.
Pay attention and schedule regular doctor appointments. It needs a bit of investment on your side, money, time and effort wise. Here’s what you should have in mind for long-term health and fitness:
- Veterinarian check-ups (general consults for pain or stiffness in their limbs, X-rays, MRI or CTs)
- Vaccinations (we have an article on this too, attached link)
- Dental care and hygiene – the vet can show you how and what to use.
All things considered, Scottish Folds can live healthy lives. Do you have all these aspects covered: responsible breeding, consistent care and lots of affection? Then there is no reason why a Scottish Fold is not a good option for your household and family.