By Emily Hall
“Cere-what?!” This is usually the response I hear when people ask why my cat Sophie walks funny, and I tell them she has cerebellar hypoplasia. Though it is definitely a mouthful, cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) is not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, you may already know about it as “Wobbly Cat Syndrome.”
1. Cerebellar hypoplasia is a neurological disorder.
Cerebellar hypoplasia (CH) is a disorder in which the cerebellum part of the brain doesn’t develop completely before birth. The cerebellum is responsible for motor control and coordination, so having an underdeveloped cerebellum results in jerky movements, clumsiness, and even tremors. Though there are varying degrees of severity, a cat or dog affected by CH is generally wobbly and unsteady and will often fall over when walking.
As mentioned, there are varying degrees of cerebellar hypoplasia, ranging from mild to severe. Cats or dogs with mild cases of CH may be a little unsteady on their feet or might possibly have slight head tremors, but they can generally get around with no major issues. Those with more severe CH usually can’t walk on their own and need help with things like eating and using the litter box.
2. Cats and dogs with cerebellar hypoplasia are born that way.
CH is not something that can be contracted or developed later in life. CH is a congenital condition, meaning affected animals are born with it. They don’t know any different, nor are they in any pain.
3. Cerebellar hypoplasia is most commonly caused by preventable viruses.
CH can be caused by a few different things, such as malnutrition, poisoning, or trauma while in utero; however, the most common causes are the feline panleukopenia virus for cats and the canine herpes virus for dogs. Both of these viruses can be prevented with vaccinations. If a mother cat or dog contracts these viruses while pregnant, the kittens or puppies may develop CH before birth. The condition may affect only one kitten or puppy, or the entire litter may be affected, sometimes to varying degrees.
4. There is no cure for cerebellar hypoplasia.
Though there is no treatment or cure for CH, a cat or dog can learn to compensate for the condition and therefore seemingly improve. Many CH cats can’t jump, so they instead develop excellent climbing skills. For both cats and dogs, encouraging play can also help to build up muscle strength in their legs, which in turn helps their mobility. It has also been found that hydrotherapy can be helpful in building up muscle strength in those who have more severe cases of CH.
So again, while there is no cure or official medical treatment, there are many things like play and exercise that are extremely beneficial for CH cats and dogs and developing their mobility and independence.
5. Cerebellar hypoplasia is non-progressive.
While it is unfortunate that there is no cure for CH, you can take comfort in knowing that the condition is non-progressive. CH does not get worse over time, and it doesn’t cause any pain. There are other progressive diseases and disorders out there that resemble CH though, so if a wobbly animal’s symptoms begin to worsen, please see your vet immediately as there may be something else going on.
6. CH does NOT affect lifespan.
A common misconception about cerebellar hypoplasia is that it can affect the animal’s lifespan. This is simply not true. It also does not cause any other complications. That being said, because of CH cats’ and dogs’ wobbly nature and tendency to fall, they may hurt themselves and require extra veterinary care to treat injuries. Chipped teeth are not uncommon.
7. Animals with CH can live full and happy lives.
Oftentimes people’s first reaction when they see a cat or dog with cerebellar hypoplasia is to feel sorry for them or think they couldn’t possibly have a good quality of life. These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. As mentioned before, animals with CH are born the way they are and don’t know any different. As long as they are well taken care of like any other pet, they can live long and happy lives.
Cats and dogs with CH don’t let their disability get in the way of enjoying life. In fact, from my experience, animals with CH are some of the happiest pets I’ve ever met. They are shining examples of strength, determination, and love. Spend a little time with one and you may even learn some valuable life lessons.
Read more articles by Emily Hall