Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is a neurological disorder that occurs when a cat’s brain did not develop properly in the womb. This disorder is congenital, meaning it is present at birth. A cat with cerebellar hypoplasia has an underdeveloped cerebellum, a part of the brain located in the back of the brain beneath the cerebrum. The cerebellum is responsible for coordination, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills.
Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is not typically a life-threatening condition, but it can have a negative impact on the cat’s quality of life depending on the severity.
Signs of Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia
Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia often have trouble walking, running, keeping balanced, jumping, and locating objects. They often bob their heads and appear wobbly when walking. Some will experience splaying of their limbs or slide on their feet. They may have trouble focusing on objects and approaching them accurately, especially when it comes to litter boxes, waters bowls, and food dishes.
Signs of cerebellar hypoplasia are generally first detected when the kitten begins walking, typically around four to six weeks of age. Cases of feline cerebellar hypoplasia range from mild to severe.
Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is not a painful condition, nor is it contagious. Fortunately, cerebellar hypoplasia does not get worse over time. The condition will also not improve over time. However, most kittens learn to adapt as they age and can live happy healthy lives. In many cases, it may seem that the condition has improved because the cat has done such a great job adapting to it. In severe cases, the cat may need a lot of assistance in life. This still doesn’t mean the cat cannot experience a good quality of life.
Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia Causes
Because feline cerebellar hypoplasia begins in utero, a cat can only be born with the condition; it cannot be acquired later in life. The cause of the birth defect may come down to the mother’s experiences while pregnant. A pregnant cat may come into contact with a virus or experience a trauma that affects her fetuses. One or more of her kittens may be born with cerebellar hypoplasia.
In some cases, feline cerebellar hypoplasia is simply genetic/hereditary. The exact cause of feline cerebellar hypoplasia cannot usually be determined unless there is a known trauma or virus exposure to the mother cat.
Diagnosing Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia
There is no simple test to diagnose cerebellar hypoplasia in cats. However, your veterinarian may recommend a series of tests to rule out more serious conditions. Your vet will likely start with routine lab work like blood chemistry, complete blood count, and urinalysis. These tests may reveal metabolic problems, organ dysfunction, or abnormal cells in the blood or urine.
Your primary vet may refer you to a veterinary specialist, like a neurologist, to pursue further testing. The best way to rule out other major neurological conditions is for a veterinary specialist to conduct a CT or MRI scan. A cerebrospinal fluid tap may also be recommended to look for bacterial or viral infections. The CT or MRI may show brain abnormalities including but not limited to cerebellar hypoplasia.
Advanced diagnostics are not always necessary. Perhaps your budget is tight or you don’t want your cat to undergo a lot of testing. Your vet may be able to make a presumptive diagnosis based on your cat’s symptoms, then offer options for helping you cat life a wonderful life.
Caring for a Cat With Cerebellar Hypoplasia
There is no cure for feline cerebellar hypoplasia. Sadly, euthanasia may be the most humane option for cats with very severe cerebellar hypoplasia. The good news is that most cats with mild to moderate cerebellar hypoplasia can lead relatively normal lives with a little extra help from their owners.
Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia should always be spayed or neutered in case their condition is genetic and can be passed down.
For their own safety, cats with cerebellar hypoplasia should never be allowed to go outdoors. They should not be declawed as they need all their claws to help keep their balance. Their nails should be kept a little longer than you would keep them on the average cat. This will help them gain traction around the house.
Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia will do better with large litter boxes that are easy to get in and out of. Ramps placed in front of litter boxes and furniture can make it much easier for cats to access these areas. For safety, place baby gates at steps to prevent falls. Avoid giving easy access to very high places as these cats are more likely to fall. Help create traction where there are slick floors by laying down yoga mats or foam pads. Use non-slip mats for the food and water bowls and keep a non-slip standing surface in front of the bowls for your cat to stand on. Wide bowls for food and water may be easier for cats to access.
Be sure to carefully introduce new cats and other pets to your cat with cerebellar hypoplasia. These cats can certainly live with “normal” animals, but they may be more vulnerable if the pets are not getting along. Supervise all interactions until you are sure they are used to one another. In general, it’s best not to leave a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia alone with a larger dog. Dogs, especially those with higher prey drives, may perceive the cat as prey in distress and chase or attack out of instinct.
A cat with mild to moderate cerebellar hypoplasia may be more accident-prone than the average cat, but there’s a high likelihood the cat can learn to adapt and compensate for the differences and live a long happy life. A little help from you will go a long way.
Cerebellar Hypoplasia. Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, 2020
Cerebellar Hypoplasia: Wobbly Cats. Fairmont Animal Hospital, 2020