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What Is Scottish Fold Osteochondrodysplasia? Understand Your Cat!

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

vet holding the scottish fold cat in a veterinary clinic

Scottish Folds are known to be affectionate, intelligent, and friendly cats. They’re also known for their cute, folded ears. Unfortunately, their folded ears are also linked to osteochondrodysplasia. This disease can lead to chronic pain, lameness, and pet parents having to make the devastating decision to euthanize their beloved cats. But what exactly is osteochondrodysplasia? We’ll take a closer look at this devastating disease and how it affects the Scottish Fold.

What Is Osteochondrodysplasia?

Osteochondrodysplasia is a developmental abnormality that all Scottish Folds with folded ears will develop. It affects the cartilage throughout the cat’s body and causes severe distortion of the limb bones’ shape and arthritis.

It isn’t apparent which kittens will suffer from osteochondrodysplasia because when Scottish Folds are born, they are all born with straight ears. When they’re around 3 to 4 weeks old, the folds will appear, indicating they’re vulnerable to osteochondrodysplasia. This disease can be apparent in animals as young as 7 weeks old, and it causes lameness, crippling, and chronic pain. It is progressive and incurable.

The gene that causes osteochondrodysplasia is dominant. Cats that are affected by this disease are reluctant to move, which can result in obesity. As a result of all of this, Scottish Folds are a controversial breed. In Scotland, where Scottish Folds originate, they aren’t recognized as a breed because of concerns about the risk of ear infections and deafness.

What Are the Signs of Osteochondrodysplasia?

Furry red scottish fold highland breed Cat
Image Credit: Seregraff, Shutterstock

The most reliable sign that your cat will develop osteochondrodysplasia is that it will have folded ears. Scottish Folds with folded ears will suffer in varying degrees from the degenerative joint disease. It can result in the fusing of the tail, tarsi (ankles), and stifles (knees). Cats suffering from the condition may also have an abnormal gait and posture, lameness, and short misshapen limbs.

Signs might vary depending on how severe your Scottish Fold’s case is, but these signs all point to osteochondrodysplasia:

  • Abnormal bone shape
  • Bones appear shorter than normal
  • Crooked teeth due to a shorter jaw
  • Enlarged joints
  • Larger than normal head
  • Poor growth/lack of growth
  • Sideways bowing of forelimbs (front legs are more affected than the back)
  • Spinal deviation to either side of the body
  • Undershot jaw with a shorter nose

What Are the Causes of Osteochondrodysplasia?

PetMD defines osteochondrodysplasia as “an autosomal dominant genetic disorder” that can be passed by either the mother or father, and only one parent needs to be a carrier for the kittens to be potentially affected.

How Do I Care for a Scottish Fold with Osteochondrodysplasia?

Once your cat has been diagnosed with osteochondrodysplasia, your veterinarian might decide to correct the problem with surgery, but generally, the results aren’t rewarding. Anti-inflammatory and pain reliever medications are usually recommended instead because these bone deformities can cause significant pain.

The prognosis depends on the severity of the disease, so there is no definitive treatment option. Some cats will suffer from incapacitating dysplasia, while others will learn to compensate for the smaller limb size. Pet parents also have to keep the risk of obesity in mind because of the breed’s lack of mobility.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Will My Cat Be Diagnosed?

Hand holding blood samples in test tubes
Image Credit: Belova59, Pixabay

Testing for osteochondrodysplasia will include a complete blood count, urinalysis, and a biochemistry profile. They will then X-ray the affected limbs, which will show them the extent of the bone growth and structural abnormalities. To confirm the diagnosis, your vet will also take a tissue sample from the small bones for further diagnostic testing.

What Are the Signs My Cat Is in Pain?

Cats will instinctually try to hide or mask their pain, which makes it more difficult to diagnose.

If your cat is in pain, you might notice the following:
  • Abnormal posture
  • Changes to grooming habits
  • Decreased eating and drinking
  • Hiding
  • Not as active
  • Restlessness
  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Vocalizing more than usual
  • Withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of family life

Will My Cat’s Life Be Shortened?

While some owners will have to choose euthanasia, it will not be the case for all cats. The severity of the disease will make an impact on your cat’s quality of life. The average lifespan of the Scottish Fold is 11–15 years, and with the life expectancy of an average cat being 10–15 years, it’s clear that these cats can live long lives. Their pain can be managed by medications prescribed by your veterinarian.


Scottish Folds are popular for their folded ears, but unfortunately, the mutation is caused by osteochondrodysplasia. It’s a progressive, incurable disease that affects bones and joints. Depending on the severity of the conditions, it can result in lameness, deformities, chronic pain, and early death.

Featured Image Credit: Alice Rodnova, Shutterstock

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