Skip navigation

Hereditary and Congenital Conditions in Cats

Share article on Facebook Share article on Pinterest Share article on Twitter (opens new window)
striped British shorthair cat lying with her kitten on a white fur rug

Did you know there’s a difference between congenital and hereditary conditions in cats? Plus, nearly any cat can be affected by these conditions, no matter their age, size, or breed. As a cat parent, you may find it helpful to learn more about the differences between these two classifications, along with which ones are more common in our feline friends.

Congenital and Hereditary Diseases in Cats

When describing various cat health conditions, the terms congenital and hereditary are frequently used interchangeably, but there are some distinctions.

A congenital disease is present from birth. There can be multiple reasons for congenital disease, including environmental or something the mother was exposed to while pregnant, but many have unknown causes.

A hereditary disorder is defined as a mutation in the genes being passed down from parents to offspring. These are also referred to as inherited. Depending on the disorder, it may have been passed down through many generations. It is not out of the ordinary for hereditary disorders to go for months or years without showing any signs.

Congenital Cataracts in Cats

Cataracts in cats work practically the same as they do in people. The lens of the eye, which is normally clear, becomes cloudy or opaque, limiting the amount of light that can reach the retina. While some cats can go unbothered by their cataracts, it can affect a cat’s vision if the issue progresses significantly.

Feline cataracts can be both hereditary and congenital. Certain cat breeds such as the Himalayan, British Shorthair, and Birman are predisposed to inheriting this ocular condition. Though some felines may have a higher chance of getting cataracts, cats of any age or breed can still be diagnosed. Besides genetics, cataracts can also be caused by cancer, trauma to the eye, various diseases, and infections.

In the early stages of your cat’s cataract, it’s quite likely that they will not show any signs. Once the issue progresses, you’ll notice a cloudier appearance on their eye(s), and they may not be as graceful when moving about.

If you take your cat in for regular veterinary check-ups, there’s a much higher chance that your veterinarian will catch the cataract in an earlier stage.

Cat Congenital Eye Defects

Besides cataracts, a handful of other congenital eye defects could affect your feline friend.

  • Glaucoma: high pressure within the eyes
  • Coloboma of the iris: misshapen iris
  • Iris cysts: form on the surface of the eye, sometimes behind the iris
  • Retinal dysplasia: creates folds on the retina
  • Dermoid: tumor-like cyst that can appear on the eyelid or cornea

Though each of these conditions affects the eye, each has varying signs, treatments, and prognosis outcomes. Since each health issue is unique, it’s crucial that you seek professional medical advice.

Is FIP in Cats Hereditary?

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease that can be caused by feline coronavirus (FCoV). Particular cats are genetically predisposed to catching this disease. In more instances than not, this disease is passed from one cat to another. This can occur in multi-cat households or in areas where large numbers of cats are housed next to one another, such as a boarding facility or animal shelter.

FIP is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment, but thankfully, it is not a common condition.

Scottish fold cat resting on a beige couch at home

Congenital Hypothyroidism in Cats Symptoms

Hypothyroidism is a condition when a cat does not have enough of their thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism can be congenital, meaning it’s present when the cat is born, or it can be acquired late in life.

Both congenital and acquired hypothyroidism in cats are relatively rare. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with some of the most common symptoms. These can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Dry skin or fur
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unsteady when walking
  • Changes in weight

It’s entirely possible for your feline friend to show additional symptoms, but they can vary based on whether your cat has congenital or acquired hypothyroidism.

In order to officially be diagnosed, your cat’s veterinarian will need to run a few blood tests. Treatment for hypothyroidism typically involves oral medication.

Congenital Heart Murmur in Cats

A heart murmur is when the heart makes an unusual sound during blood flow. Heart murmurs in cats can be congenital, which is when they are born with this issue, or it can be acquired years later.

Your veterinarian can diagnose heart murmurs by listening to your cat’s heart with a stethoscope. The actual treatment for a murmur can vary greatly from one cat to another. Your veterinarian will take into consideration the underlying cause of your pal’s heart murmur.

If a more serious cardiac disease is present, your cat may need immediate care and medication. Other heart murmurs may not require any treatment. Instead, your veterinarian might recommend regular monitoring to ensure that your best pal’s condition does not change.

Congenital Heart Defects in Cats

Besides heart murmurs, many other congenital heart defects can affect cats—congenital heart disease being one of the more well-known. A few others include,

  • Aortic stenosis: a narrowed aortic valve
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis: a narrowed or obstructed pulmonary valve
  • Mitral valve dysplasia: malformation of the mitral valve
  • Endocardial fibroelastosis: thickening of the heart’s muscular tissue
  • Atrial septal defect: a hole in the heart allowing blood flow from the left to the right atria

Since these are congenital defects, they form while the kitten is still in the womb. While many have unknown causes, some professionals believe that these conditions can be caused by the substances or medications the mother consumes while pregnant.

Although heart defects can be serious, many of them are not overly common. Treatment can vary significantly based on your cat’s current health and condition.

Congenital Kidney Disease in Cats

Kidney disease in cats can encompass a wide range of issues in which one or both kidneys are affected. Some of these include,

  • Renal agenesis: failure of kidney formation
  • Renal dysplasia: kidney malformation
  • Polycystic kidney disease: multiple cysts form on the kidneys
  • Nephroblastoma: tumor(s) on the kidney
  • Renal ectopia: displacement of one or both kidneys

Like many other congenital health issues that can affect cats, kidney disease can also be brought on by multiple factors, including certain medications or dietary habits.

Decreased appetite, lethargy, increased thirst, more trips to the litter box, weight loss, and bloating can all be possible symptoms of kidney disease. If you notice your cat showing multiple of these symptoms, it’s crucial that you schedule an appointment with their veterinarian as soon as possible.

To officially diagnose your cat with kidney disease, various tests will need to be run, including blood and urine. Some veterinarians may also want to get some X-rays and an ultrasound. On top of these, your cat will also undergo a complete physical examination.

As the cat’s parent, you will be asked many questions about your pal’s current health and behavior, their medical history, and any recent symptoms they have been experiencing. It’s additionally crucial to recall if there have been any recent incidents that could have caused these symptoms.

Treatment for kidney disease varies based on your cat’s specific, underlying condition. In many instances, there is no cure, and treatment, though beneficial, will be a lifelong commitment.

Depending on your cat’s condition, they may be prescribed pills as a form of treatment. Giving a cat a pill isn’t always the easiest task, so check out these helpful tips first.

In the case of many hereditary or congenital health issues in cats, once they are diagnosed, providing them the treatment they need will be an ongoing responsibility. However, you and your veterinarian can work out the best treatment plan for your feline friend. Your veterinarian can walk you through many helpful tips and answer any questions or concerns you may have.

It’s essential that you begin scheduling your cat’s annual veterinary check-ups the very week you bring your new friend home. These yearly appointments allow a professional to keep an eye on your best bud’s health. Plus, by keeping up with these visits, in the instance that your cat does develop a health condition, there will be an increased chance of catching the problem early on and beginning treatment that much sooner.

Though many of these hereditary and congenital issues do not have cures, with proper treatment, in many cases, cats can continue to live a happy and healthy life.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


happy dog being walked on a trail by a woman in a purple top

Fit Facts on Exercise and Dogs

Does a daily walk do the trick? What about racing around the backyard? Find out more about how much exercise your dog truly needs.


Grey and white Sphynx cat with green eyes stretches out towards a black and white toy

All About Sphynx Cats

Affectionate, playful, and nearly hairless, Sphnyx cats are quite unique!


Happy Pomeranian with its tongue out lays in grass

10 Fun Facts About Pomeranians

Pomeranians are known for being bold in spite of their small size. Find out some fun facts about this fascinating breed.