Is spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in Maine Coon cats painful?

Answer to the title question: While SMA can cause discomfort and weakness, it is not typically considered a painful condition in cats (source: ChatGPT)That does not say it does not cause pain. It does say that it causes discomfort which is a mild form of pain isn't it?! This is one of several inherited diseases linked to this cat breed, all of which cause discomfort to varying degrees. Hip dysplasia simply causes pain, bad pain I'd suggest as it causes arthritis - bone on bone. There is a question mark over whether it is cruel to breed this cat under the current circumstances as managed by the cat associations.  They accept these problems. They should not. It is unethical to continue breeding cats like this.

Note: UC Davis in the US have a DNA test for this disease.

Affected by SMA. Image in public domain believed.

RELATED: the above picture accompanies a page on 15 facts about this disease - LINK.

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disorder that affects the motor neurons of cats, leading to muscle weakness and wasting. SMA has been reported in various cat breeds, including Maine Coon cats. It can start young at around 3 months of age. That, to me, is significant as it means that the cat will be burdened with SMA symptoms all their lives. I could not find any reliable information on the impact SMA has on the lifespan of Maine Coons. This greatly surprised me. But for SMA in children it can dramatically shorten lives depending it severity.

How common is it?

The prevalence (how often it occurs) of SMA in Maine Coon cats specifically is not well-documented in the scientific literature (comment: we should know this information). In general, the frequency of SMA in a particular breed can vary depending on the breeding practices of individual breeders and the prevalence of carriers in the breeding population.

If you suspect that your Maine Coon cat may have SMA, it is recommended to consult with a veterinarian who can perform a thorough physical examination and appropriate diagnostic tests. Genetic testing can also be used to identify carriers of the SMA gene in breeding cats, which can help to reduce the incidence of the disease in future generations.


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in cats is a progressive neuromuscular disorder that affects the motor neurons in the spinal cord, resulting in muscle weakness and wasting. While SMA can cause discomfort and weakness, it is not typically considered a painful condition in cats.

Comment on the above: This information comes from ChatGPT. It concerns cats obviously. It is remarkable that when you search for information about SMA in humans you get a different assessment on whether it is painful. Here is an example online:
"Fatigue, trouble breathing, and leg weakness are symptoms of adult-onset SMA."
This does not indicate pain per se but it does indicate distress and perhaps stress. Trouble breathing will be at best uncomfortable which is a mild form of pain.

Symptoms in cats

Symptoms of SMA can include difficulty jumping or climbing, decreased muscle tone, and muscle tremors or twitches. As the disease progresses, cats may experience difficulty standing or walking, and may become unable to support their weight. In severe cases, respiratory and swallowing difficulties can occur, which may require intervention to ensure the cat's comfort and well-being.

While SMA itself is not typically considered painful, cats with SMA may be at increased risk for injuries or other health complications due to their muscle weakness and limited mobility. It is important to work closely with a veterinarian to manage the cat's symptoms and ensure their comfort and quality of life. Pain management strategies may be appropriate for cats with additional conditions or injuries that cause discomfort.


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