Can Cats Be Retarded? Or Mentally Challenged?

It’s not surprising to catch your cat being clumsy. On some occasions, they will act silly and fail to understand our commands.

This often raises a question in the mind of curious owners; is my cat retarded or mentally challenged?

If you want to know the answer to this question, keep reading ahead as we explain cat disabilities and how you can test if your cat suffers from retardation.

So without further ado, let’s dig in!

Can cats be mentally retarded?

Mental retardation is a term we commonly use for people with decreased cognitive ability and below-average intelligence. The condition can make it difficult for such individuals to perform basic daily activities, like walking, speaking, and getting dressed.

So if our cat shows difficulty with daily tasks, does this mean they’re mentally retarded?

Probably not. A cat that appears confused or has trouble listening to commands is not necessarily retarded. Such changes will appear and disappear occasionally and could be caused by neurological issues, seizures, strokes, and various diseases.

But there’s more. We cannot calculate the intelligence of cats since there is no IQ test for felines. We also have yet to understand how mental retardation works in cats and the potential neurological conditions they can suffer from.

That being said, there is still proof that some cats become less intelligent after the age of nine due to a condition called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). Let’s take a look at all the reasons why cats can experience a decrease in mental ability:

Causes of mental retardation in cats

Even though you can’t define a cat as retarded, some kitties will naturally be less intelligent or become slower mentally. Fortunately, there is some research on how this occurs and why cats can experience lower cognitive abilities. Let’s take a look at it below:

1. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

CDS is the standard diagnosis for older cats that show signs of mental retardation. It is quite similar to Alzheimer’s and becomes visible in felines after the age of 10. A cat with CDS will display symptoms such as:

  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Change in sleep/wake cycle
  • Decreased interest in playing
  • Increase in litterbox accidents
  • Unable to follow previous training
  • Slower learning ability
  • Lack of grooming

Almost 50% of cats older than 15 years will develop some form of CDS. Although there is no cure or prevention, you can manage the symptoms with some help. You must get your cat diagnosed by a vet first to confirm whether they are actually suffering from CDS. 

The vet might recommend supplements/cat food with omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and vitamin E to increase your cat’s cognitive abilities. Besides that, you can also implement a routine with your cat to make them familiar with their sleeping schedule, feeding times, and litterbox.

2. Feline Hyperesthesia

Another reason your cat could be behaving in a retarded manner for short periods could be due to Feline Hyperesthesia. In this condition, the cat has a sensitive spot around its back where the tail starts. When this area is touched or scratched, it causes the cat to suddenly become aggressive and act bizarrely.

Your cat will initially try to bite you if you pet this area. They will scratch it vigorously and might even urinate at the spot. Most cats will also drool, and their pupils will become dilated. If the cat scratched themselves on that spot, they would try to chase their tail very fiercely. 

Seeing how cats react with this condition, it’s easy to see how owners might consider this as retarded behavior. The episode usually lasts for a couple of minutes, after which most cats return to their normal state. 

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Most vets believe Feline Hyperesthesia to be a neurological disorder because of its seizure-like symptoms. However, it can also be caused due to an extruding disc, arthritis, or parasites in the area. Even though there is no permanent cure for the condition, most cats with Feline Hyperesthesia can live happy and healthy lives with routine checks.

3. Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

FCH is the closest we can get to diagnosing mental retardation in cats. It causes retarded or slow growth of the brain in kittens that leads to reduced motor skills, balance, and coordination. Even though we cannot judge the intelligence of cats with FCH, they display many signs of retarded mental development in everyday activities like walking or eating.

To be more precise, FCH is usually caused when a pregnant cat gets infected with feline panleukopenia virus. The virus destroys rapidly growing cells in the body, which are normally found in the intestines or fetus. When the kittens are born, the virus remains in their body and primarily attacks their brain, or more accurately, the cerebellum. 

As a result, the cerebellum is not able to develop properly, and this leads to problems with gross motor skills down the line. Kittens with this condition will walk in a jerky or wobbly manner and will sway back and forth. They might also suffer from head tremors and intention tremors before they are about to perform an action. 

Luckily, kittens with FCH can still lead a normal life and adapt with reduced motor skills. You might need to restrict their access to heights as they won’t regain full control of their hindquarters and jumping. But with affection and care, they will be able to live just as long as any other cat.

Do cats have Down syndrome?

Being one of the most well-known mental conditions in humans, it’s easy to assume that cats can also have Down syndrome. This theory became particularly interesting when a white tiger named Kenny came to public attention in 2000. The tiger was inbred from two siblings, who gave birth to cubs that suffered from facial disfiguration and other health issues.

Unfortunately, he died due to cancer at the age of 10 years old. Whether he actually had Down syndrome or some other genetic disorder is unknown, but there is a general answer for felines.

And that is No. Cats cannot have Down Syndrome because they lack the 21st chromosome. Humans have 21 pairs of chromosomes, while cats have just 19. Down Syndrome occurs when a third 21stchromosome is present, so it is impossible for felines to have the same disease since they have fewer chromosomes in total. 

So why do we still have cats with Down Syndrome-like features? Because cats are quite diverse in terms of physical appearance. There are more than 100 breeds worldwide, all with unique physical traits. Some have flat faces, protruding tongues, and other distinct looks, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have Down Syndrome or any other genetic condition.

Take the Persian breed as an example. All of them have a flat or ‘punch’ face that might make them look deformed, but it’s standard for the breed. Similarly, Scottish Folds have ears that are always sitting on their head, Siamese have abnormally small heads, and Munchkins have short stature. But none of them suffer from mental illness or retardation, and lead complete and healthy lives.

See also  6 Cat Breeds With Short Ears

Do cats have Autism?

Enjoying their own company, being laser-focused, and getting scared of loud noises sounds like every other cat. But when you notice that autistic people are recognized by the exact same traits, it can get you wondering about your cat’s mental health.

Autism is roughly defined as a spectrum of behavior that is unlike that of the general society. A person with autism will prefer to be alone, be extremely organized, get afraid of loud noises/flashing lights, and become obsessed with certain activities. It is a life-long condition that can be managed with help from loved ones. People with autism can also possess superior intelligence and a creative spirit.

Luckily, cats cannot be autistic either. It is a genetic disability that felines cannot be diagnosed with as they lack the genetic diversity and intelligence that humans possess. In reality, the unusual behavior that your cat displays from time to time is part of their nature. 

Cats often become obsessed with certain activities and affection from their owner and will experience sudden shifts in mood as well. Many of these behaviors fall on the autism spectrum, but it could just be your cat’s personality.

If you observe any other abnormal signs and symptoms, such as aggressive grooming, drooling, and biting, it’s best to get your cat checked by a veterinarian for neurological disorders.


Can cats become depressed?

Yes, cats can become sad and depressed when they encounter an event out of their control. This could be the death of a fellow cat/owner, moving to a new house, experiencing physical abuse, and other such events. A depressed cat will show signs like:

  • Loss of interest in playing
  • Lack of socialization or interaction
  • Decrease in appetite
  • More vocalization
  • Spending more time sleeping

Do cats get anxiety?

Yes, cats can experience anxiety due to a change in their environment, history of abuse, and the addition of a family member. They can also develop separation anxiety if they do not receive sufficient interaction from their owners. When cats become anxious, they display symptoms such as:

  • Aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Mood changes
  • Increased vocalization
  • Hiding
  • Litterbox accidents

Can a cat be psychotic?

Research has proven that cats can have psychopathic tendencies. A psychotic cat will be meaner and act crazier compared to regular cats. They will also:

  • Be extremely vocal and yowl very loudly
  • Get hyper-excited with regular activities
  • Torture their prey instead of killing them quickly

In fact, there is a designated test called Cat-Tri+ to test psychopathic tendencies in cats, developed by The University of Liverpool.

How do cats become mentally retarded?

Cats can become mentally retarded due to both natural causes (diseases, genetics) and accidents that damage the brain and its development. Few of the common reasons for mental retardation in cats include:

  1. Old age (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome)
  2. Feline Hyperesthesia
  3. A fetus that became infected with panleukopenia virus
  4. Malnourishment during pregnancy
  5. Blunt trauma to the head during kittenhood

Do cats get PTSD?

Yes, cats can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to several reasons. Many cats that are rescued by shelter have either been abandoned by owners, have a history of physical abuse, or experienced life-threatening events. Such cats will display certain symptoms due to the trauma, such as:

  • Shaking/Hiding
  • Urinating or defecating in unusual places
  • Neediness and excessive attachment
  • Hypervigilance
  • Excessive meowing
  • Fearfulness
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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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