Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Feline cerebellar hypoplasia occurs when kittens become infected with feline panleukopenia, or feline distemper. Kittens can catch this virus from their mother during birth, or shortly following birth. In kittens, the virus can infect and damage the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for regulating motor control. Feline cerebellar hypoplasia therefore leads to a chronic lack of physical coordination known as ataxia. 

Causes of Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

The primary cause of cerebellar hypoplasia in cats is infection with feline distemper while still in the womb, during birth or immediately following birth. Most kittens who are born with feline distemper, or who acquire it shortly following birth, will die from the viral infection. Those kittens who survive will generally suffer from feline cerebellar hypoplasia.

Cerebellar hypoplasia in cats can also occur as the result of a brain injury suffered while still in the womb. If a pregnant cat is exposed to toxins, her kittens are at risk for being born with cerebellar hypoplasia. Kittens may also be born with congenital cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition in which the cerebellum fails to develop properly for no discernible reason.

Symptoms of Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats

The symptoms of cerebellar hypoplasia may vary, depending on the extent of the damage to your cat's cerebellum. Symptoms generally do not worsen with age, and may even improve slightly as the cat learns to cope with its condition.

Symptoms of feline cerebellar hypoplasia include:

  • Rhythmic tremors of the legs
  • Swaying or unsteadiness of the torso
  • Bobbing of the head
  • Exceptionally wide stance
  • Lack of physical coordination, sometimes leading to collapse
  • Exaggerated movements when walking or eating
  • A spastic appearance when walking

Symptoms of feline cerebellar hypoplasia first begin to occur when the kitten is about six weeks of age. Most owners notice that something is wrong with their kitten when it tries to learn to walk and begins to display uncoordinated movements.

Diagnosing Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Your vet will need a complete physical exam in order to diagnose feline cerebellar hypoplasia. If you're aware of any illness or viral infection on the part of your kitten's mother, tell your vet. Diagnosis is usually made based on your kitten's age at the onset of symptoms, classification of symptoms and any prior history of viral infection on the part of your kitten or his mother.

Your vet may perform a complete blood count, urinalysis and biochemical profile. These procedures rule out the possibility that your kitten's symptoms are caused by another illness. Your vet may want to take X-rays of the abdomen and chest. An MRI can help your vet evaluate the extent of any damage to your kitten's brain.

Treating Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

There is no cure for feline cerebellar hypoplasia. Your cat will have to live with this condition for the rest of his life. Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia should avoid stairs, climbing and strenuous activities, since they could easily hurt themselves. They should also be kept strictly indoors. 

In serious cases, cerebellar hypoplasia may inhibit the cat's ability to perform basic functions. These cats should be euthanized.

The good news is that cerebellar hypoplasia doesn't cause your cat any pain. With supportive therapy, he can live happily for many years.