Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is a neurological disorder that occurs when a cat's brain does 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, which is located in the back of the brain beneath the cerebrum. The cerebellum is the part of the cat's brain responsible for coordination, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills.
Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is not life-threatening, but it may 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, jumping, keeping balance, 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.
The signs of cerebellar hypoplasia are usually first detected when the kitten begins walking, typically around four to six weeks of age. Cases range from mild to severe.
Feline cerebellar hypoplasia is not painful. It is also not contagious. Fortunately, cerebellar hypoplasia does not get worse over time. The condition will also not improve over time. In severe cases, the cat may need a lot of assistance in life. However, most kittens learn to adapt as they age and can live happy, healthy lives.
Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia Causes
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. The exact cause of cerebellar hypoplasia can 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 to look for metabolic problems, issues with organ functions, or abnormal cells in blood or urine.
However, 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.
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. Fortunately, most cats with mild to moderate cerebellar hypoplasia can lead relatively normal lives with a little extra help from their owners.
A cat with cerebellar hypoplasia should never be allowed to go outdoors for her own safety. She should not be declawed as she needs all her claws to help keep her balance. Keep her nails a little longer than you would for the average cat.
Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia should always be spayed or neutered in case their condition is genetic and can be passed down.
A cat 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 the cat 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.
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 attack out of instinct.
A cat with mild to moderate cerebellar hypoplasia may be more accident-prone than the average cat, but chances are, it can learn to adapt and compensate for her differences and live a long happy life.