What is Cerebellar Hypoplasia?
Cerebellar hypoplasia is a non-life threatening condition that occurs when the cerebellum does not fully develop in kittens while in utero. The cerebellum is the portion of the cat’s brain responsible for fine motor skills and can affect the cat’s ability to walk, jump, run, or accomplish other tasks involving coordination and spatial recognition. Cerebellar hypoplasia is generally not a well-known condition and can therefore be mistaken for other diseases by veterinarians who have not previously encountered the condition.
Symptoms of Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats
Symptoms of cerebellar hypoplasia will vary in severity depending on the level of underdevelopment. In some cats, effects will be minor and only occur when the cat is excited or under stress. In others, the symptoms will be always present and may affect the normal daily routine. Symptoms of cerebellar hypoplasia will appear at birth and may include:
- Stumbling or wobbly gait often referred to as a “drunken sailor” walk
- Inability to jump to high surfaces
- Tremors in head or neck
- Trembling of legs
- Inability to stand
Symptoms do not worsen or progress over time, but may diminish as a cat learns to compensate.
Causes of Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats
Cerebellar hypoplasia is typically caused by some type of trauma or infection that occurred in utero, or while the mother cat was pregnant with the affected kitten. Common in utero conditions that may cause cerebellar hypoplasia are:
- Mother contracting feline panleukopenia virus while pregnant
- Mother contracting parvovirus while pregnant
- Malnutrition of mother while pregnant
- Other trauma to kittens while in the womb
Diagnosis of Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats
Diagnosis of cerebellar hypoplasia will begin with your veterinarian ruling out conditions that may present with similar neurological symptoms. Epilepsy and some infectious diseases may mimic the weakness presented by Cerebellar Hypoplasia. Your vet may order a full blood panel to rule out these diseases.
A thorough medical history and a history of the progression and first appearance of symptoms will be important in helping your vet diagnose Cerebellar Hypoplasia in your cat. One of the distinguishing features of Cerebellar Hypoplasia is that the symptoms appear immediately at birth and do not worsen or progress over time. It may be difficult to notice symptoms in very young kittens since all cats this age tend to be uncoordinated as they learn to walk, jump and explore. Noting the specific symptoms of your cat will help your veterinarian determine the severity of the condition. It will also be important to provide any available history on your cat’s mother and her condition in utero, especially if it is know that she contracted feline panleukopenia virus while pregnant.
The definitive diagnostic tool for cerebellar hypoplasia will be a CT or MRI scan of your cat’s brain, although a veterinarian very familiar with the condition may be able to diagnose without this test. In order to undergo these procedures, your cat will need to be sedated or anesthetized so that they remain still and quiet while detailed images are taken. This procedure is painless and noninvasive, although all sedation and anesthesia has some inherent risk.
Treatment of Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats
There is currently no known treatment to cure your cat of cerebellar hypoplasia. Many cats will learn to adapt to their loss of fine motor skills over time. In some cases, physical therapy may help teach your cat alternate skills that may increase mobility and quality of life.
Recovery of Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats
Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia have a good prognosis for quality and length of life. Since the condition is not progressive or fatal, symptoms will not worsen over time or affect the overall lifespan of your cat. Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia will live the same length of time as non-affected cats and have no other behavioral abnormalities or health issues as a result of the condition.
Owners of cats with cerebellar hypoplasia may wish to modify living conditions in order to accommodate their cat’s level of activity and loss of motor skills. Sides on litter boxes can be raised to allow for additional support while using the restroom. Owners have also had good success with installing ramps to areas of the home that include stairs and with teaching affected cats to meow or signal when they want to be picked up or transported to the bed, couch or area of the house they may not be able to access, given their mobility. Cats with this condition should not be allowed outdoors.
While many shelters choose to euthanize cats that suffer from cerebellar hypoplasia, it is important to note that the disease is not a death sentence and affected cats can make excellent and loving companions for those willing to provide an appropriate level of physical support.