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Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats

cerebellar hypoplasia in cats

If you’ve ever witnessed a kitten stumble about in a drunken manner, chances are he wasn’t drinking alcohol. Wobbly kittens could have a neurological disorder such as feline cerebellar hypoplasia, a congenital condition that results in an underdeveloped brain, which causes coordination difficulties.

In feline cerebellar hypoplasia, the cerebellum does not develop completely. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for muscle coordination and balance. This condition can result from genetic causes or external causes like trauma, infections, toxins, or nutritional deficiencies.

Signs of “Wobbly Kitten Disease” or Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Feline cerebellar hypoplasia sometimes is referred to as wobbly kitten disease, due to one of the symptoms: unsteadiness when walking. Typical signs of cerebellar hypoplasia in cats include:

  • Trouble walking, running, and jumping
  • Difficulty keeping their balance
  • Clumsiness
  • Wide-based stance
  • Head bobbing
  • Limb tremors that are aggravated by movement, eating, or focusing on a task
  • Inability to judge distance when approaching objects
  • Disequilibrium, which causes falling or flipping over

Symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, usually are first detected around four to six weeks of age, when the kitten is beginning to walk or stand.

Diagnosis typically is made by observation of symptoms and the cat’s history. There is no standard laboratory test. If an older cat’s origins are unknown, so it is not known whether the symptoms are recent or lifelong, then magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to diagnose the disorder, since the MRI would show a small cerebellum.

Causes of Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Cerebellar hypoplasia is a feline neurological disorder that is congenital, meaning it is present since birth. The condition can be prevented by properly vaccinating mother cats before they become pregnant. The most common cause of this developmental disorder is the mother cat gets infected with the feline panleukopenia (distemper) virus in the later stages of pregnancy. This virus can travel to the womb and attack the rapidly dividing cells in the kitten’s brain.

Though rare, other causes can lead to cerebellar hypoplasia in cats. If the mother cat is severely malnourished, the malnutrition will damage her kittens’ development. Head trauma to newborn kittens, whose brains still develop up to two weeks after birth, can cause cerebellar hypoplasia also.

Prognosis for Cats With Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Cerebellar hypoplasia has no cure and no treatment. However, the condition does not progress. In other words, though the cat’s symptoms will not get worse, they will not get better either. Many cats, especially those with mild symptoms and with patient owners, learn to adapt to their condition over time. Cats with this disorder can live a normal life span, and the condition is neither painful nor contagious.

Caring for a Cat With Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia require additional attention and adaptations, since the developmentally disabled cat cannot protect itself like other cats can. Cerebellar hypoplasia can make normally simple activities such as eating or using the litter box difficult without help. Caretakers of these cats should be mindful of the following precautions:

  • In case the disorder is genetic, cats with cerebellar hypoplasia should be spayed or neutered.
  • They should remain indoors to prevent injuries and accidents.
  • Their claws should remain intact and their nails kept longer to help them better balance and grip onto surfaces when walking and climbing.
  • Non-slip mats under food and water dishes make it easier to maintain balance.
  • Their litter box should be large, with easy entrance and exit. Use of a ramp could be helpful.
  • Ramps onto furniture, window sills, or cat trees would help the cat access, since jumping likely will be challenging, if not impossible.
  • Restrict access to high areas, since cats with this disorder are prone to falling.
  • Food and water dishes should be elevated, so the cat does not need to lower its head as much.

With proper care and caution, cats with mild to moderate cerebellar hypoplasia usually learn how to compensate for their deficiencies. Despite the disorder, these cats can become great pets.


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