Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats

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Cerebellar hypoplasia is a disease that affects people and animals alike. In cats, it can show up unexpectedly and sometimes without an apparent cause, although it has been linked to cases of the mother catching feline distemper during her pregnancy. 

In today’s article, we are looking at everything you should know about cerebellar hypoplasia in cats. 

What is cerebellar hypoplasia?

Also known as ‘wobbly cat syndrome,’ cerebellar hypoplasia is a neurologic disease that effectively makes it impossible for the cerebellum to develop to its standard size and functionality. 

Since the cerebellum and the internal ear are in charge of keeping an animal’s balance in check, the cats that are born with this condition find it hard to maintain their balance or even have the same spatial awareness as their counterparts. 

In the past, most cats that were born with these clinical signs used to be euthanized, making it impossible for veterinary researchers to study the disease. Cerebellar hypoplasia is not life-threatening in any way. Still, it can make it challenging for the cat to feed or perform activities that might not call for any effort from a pet that doesn’t have the condition. 

What causes cerebellar hypoplasia in cats?

The causes of this disease are more or less unknown. However, it does appear to be closely linked to various conditions that affect the mother of an unborn litter of kittens. Panleukopenia virus (or feline distemper virus) can be at the root of this issue in one or more of the cats that the mother gives birth to. 

On the other hand, depending on the type of vaccine that the vet uses, this biological product can cause the same outcome. 

The kittens are born with cerebellar hypoplasia, but when it comes to the virus itself, they aren’t necessarily carriers. Also, cerebellar hypoplasia is not an infectious condition to other cats or humans, so there’s nothing you should worry about in this sense. 

Symptoms

Cerebellar hypoplasia can cause various clinical manifestations in cats depending on how severe it is. Some might experience a mild form, where they lose balance on occasion and try to keep their weight evenly distributed on their legs by having a somewhat wider gait than normal.

Other cats might have a somewhat average form of the disease, which makes them ‘miss’ the spot when it comes to playing, jumping, or other activities that involve movement of various degrees. These cats also experience tremors of the head, which means that they have more difficulty eating. 

Finally, there’s a category of cats that might experience a more severe form of cerebellar hypoplasia. More often than not, it is severe to the point that they have to be fed or that they find it impossible to use the litter box as their counterparts, so they might have ‘incontinence’ but not for a cause pertaining to their urinary tract. Needless to say, this last category of cats requires a lot of time, effort, and attention on the part of those who care for them. 

Diagnosis and treatment of feline cerebellar hypoplasia 

Unlike other diseases that cats can suffer from, meaning those that can be diagnosed through a plethora of methods, whether by testing their blood or urine or by performing an ultrasound, diagnosing cerebellar hypoplasia can be very difficult. 

Besides a magnetic resonance imaging test, there’s pretty much no other way of telling whether a cat has an underdeveloped cerebellum or not. As such, many vets diagnose cats simply based on the symptoms that they show. 

As for how this condition might be treated, there is no therapy approved at this point. The focus would be to care for the cats as best as possible and keeping them indoors so that they do not end up being in danger as a result of being exposed to potentially risky situations (cars, predators, and others). 

Many cats that have mild forms of cerebellar hypoplasia can adjust and live with this condition for many years. Since CH is generally considered a congenital disease, it is highly recommended for these cats to be spayed or neutered. 

Can cerebellar hypoplasia in cats be prevented?

Yes, and at the same time, no. 

There is no way of knowing whether your female cat that is about to give birth is potentially carrying a gene that could result in one or more of the kittens having cerebellar hypoplasia. 

On the other hand, a good way of preventing the disease is to get your cat vaccinated long before the possibility of pregnancy appears on the horizon. Try to keep your cat as protected as possible while she is pregnant, such as by not allowing her to go outdoors at all and by practicing excellent hygiene after you come back home (especially if you have come in contact with other animals). 

Ideally, the cat should remain as healthy as possible so that you do not have to give her any medications or get her vaccinated urgently – as these practices might affect the fetuses and their development. 

In the end, cats that are born with cerebellar hypoplasia, especially those with mild and moderate forms, are perfectly capable of living for at least several years. The disease isn’t deadly, so there’s no point in euthanizing these animals. However, they do require more care than their counterparts. 

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