Animals with Down syndrome are far from helpless. There are a number of treatment options available for this genetic disorder in both humans and animals. As previously mentioned, animals can use medications or therapeutic techniques to alter the genes through a procedure called gene therapy. This allows individuals to replace defective genes with healthy ones. Similarly, animals can be treated with gene therapy in order to replace faulty white tiger chromosomes with ones that are normal or disease-free.
A few of the specific “animals with Down syndrome” that frequently appear on the internet have even attracted their own quasi-followings online. Chief among them may be Kenny the tiger, a rare white cat rescued from an unethical breeder in 2002 by Arkansas’ Turpentine Creek Wildlife Reserve, where he lived until his death in 2008.
White tigers are extremely rare to begin with and Kenny was particularly unique because, in addition to his beautiful white coat, he suffered from genetic facial deformities including an abnormally short snout and wide face.
Then, online publishers and social media users took a look at Kenny’s face and made the rather large jump to the conclusion that he had Down syndrome. In fact, it takes some careful scrolling through Google results before you see pages that are publishing the truth: the notion of animals with Down syndrome is almost completely fallacious.
In truth, Kenny’s deformities are the result of generations of inbreeding rather than the kind of chromosomal mutation that accounts for Down syndrome in humans. Because white tigers like Kenny are so rare in nature yet so desired for their unique fur, most that are alive today are the result of aggressive breeding programs that make heavy use of inbreeding between white tigers in order to try and keep the white fur trait alive.
The American Zoological Association actually banned these kinds of breeding practices in 2011, stating that “Breeding practices that increase the physical expression of single rare alleles (i.e., rare genetic traits)…has been clearly linked with various abnormal, debilitating, and, at times, lethal, external and internal conditions and characteristics.”
Despite the sad truth about Kenny having long since been known, many still mistakenly believe he had Down syndrome. One online video about Kenny and his supposed Down syndrome (a video that mocks the condition, no less) has more than 1.2 million views:
many animal organizations have begun working towards ensuring that animals with Down syndrome receive the care and love that they deserve. For example, one such organization, the International Down Syndrome Society, has launched an extensive grant program called “Grants for Angel Investors” that aims to support organizations that have programs dedicated to caring for Down syndrome animal. Specifically, this program seeks donations from private individuals, foundations, and corporations.
And Kenny is far from the only feline to be falsely advertised as having Down syndrome. Otto the kitten became an internet sensation in his home country of Turkey. When the tiny cat passed away at only a little more than two months old in 2014, online publishers reported that his early death was related to the effects of Down syndrome.