Cerebellar Hypoplasia (cer·e·bel·lar hy·po·pla·sia) is a disorder found in cats and dogs which causes jerky movements, tremors, and generally uncoordinated motion, just like ataxic cerebral palsy in humans. A cat with CH often falls down and has trouble walking or cannot seem to walk at all. CH in cats is non-progressive, meaning it does not get worse with age. Symptoms appear at birth, though they may not be noticed until the kitten starts walking at a few weeks of age. Like symptoms that come on suddenly or later in life are not CH.
The cerebellum is the part of the brain which coordinates movement and balance (i.e. fine motor skills and coordination). There are 3 areas of the cerebellum that can be underdeveloped in CH cats and the amount of underdevelopment relates to their severity level. The cerebellum "coordinates movement and balance. The cerebellum received sensory information about the position of the joints and the length of the muscles, as well as input from the auditory (hearing) and visual systems. It also monitors motor commands issued by the cerebrum. Information from the cerebrum passes first to the pons and from there to the cerebellum. The cerebellum integrates this information as it carries out coordination and error checking during motor and perceptual functions. Hand-eye coordination is an example of cerebellar control; if the cerebellum is damaged, the eyes can follow a moving object, but they will not stop at the same place as the object." - "Biology" 8th Edition by Campbell & Reece
Cerebellar Hypoplasia is most commonly caused by the kitten’s mother contracting the Panleukopenia virus, or being vaccinated against Panleukopenia, while pregnant. If the mother passes on the virus during the end of pregnancy, the kittens can be born with CH. It is thought that there is only an 11-day window in utero when the kittens can contract CH. Kittens with CH are not infected with or carriers of the Panleukopenia virus, it has only stunted their cerebellum’s growth while in the womb. Cerebellar Hypoplasia can also occur if a trauma, including malnutrition, occurs to the kittens while in the womb.
The severity level of CH and number of kittens in a litter born with CH depends on how developed the kittens were in utero when the development of the cerebellum was stunted or stopped. It is perfectly normal for one, all, or any number of kittens in a litter to have CH and for their severity levels to vary. For instance, one kitten might be born with severe CH and her siblings could be mild or not have CH at all.
Cats are born with CH and all symptoms should be noticeable at birth, though it's common not to realize it until they are a few weeks old and would normally begin walking.
There is no real prevention for CH, but it can be prevented in some cases by not vaccinating a pregnant cat. Though rare, CH can also have other causes, but stunted growth due to panleukopenia is the most common cause.
Other neurological conditions can have similar symptoms as the ataxia and tremors found in CH cats. Conditions or illnesses that sometimes look like CH include (but are not limited to):
- Exposure to toxins
- Nutritional deficiency
- Physical trauma
- Inner ear infection
- Ear polyps
- Feline Vestibular Disease
- Infectious diseases (such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Toxoplasmosis)
- Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
- Lysosomal Storage Diseases
- Brain lesions
Yes, it can, though it’s primarily diagnosed though process of elimination. There is no simple test for CH, though it can be verified through an MRI. It is always best to get a professional diagnosis from a veterinarian familiar with neurological conditions in cats as they can have many causes with most being very severe if not properly diagnosed early. It is important to keep in mind that CH does NOT progress or get worse, in fact most cats tend to learn to adapt and improve. If your cat’s symptoms are new or worsening, then it most likely not CH. To rule out many of these other conditions as a cause for your cat’s neurological issues, your vet may recommend to perform some combination of the following tests:
- Serum Chemistry Profile
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Parasitic screening
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- Electromyograph (EMG)
- Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER)
- CAT scan
CH cannot be cured as it is a congenital condition and not a disease. However, CH cats tend to become more able and mobile as they learn to compensate for their condition, so many consider their cat to “get better” to a degree.
CH cats have the same lifespan as non-CH cats.
While most veterinarian and pet care professionals will not perform declaw operations these days, it is especially important NOT to declaw a CH cat. CH cats of all severity levels are often highly dependent on their claws to help stabilize themselves and to get onto furniture.
No, CH cats should never live outdoors. Because of their balance issues and incoordination, they are highly vulnerable to predators (including cars and people) and are more likely to get hurt since they cannot get away as easily or efficiently.
Mild - Cats with mild CH are very capable and require little to no extra care. They may have an unusual gait (high step or waddle), occasional balance loss, and/or subtle head tremors. Moderate - Cats with moderate CH can get around on their own, but one end of their body may appear to be doing something else than the other end. They walk with legs splayed in a wide stance, frequently lose their balance and fall, and/or have noticeable head tremors, especially when excited or stressed. Severe - Cats with severe CH cannot walk on their own and require a great deal of special care. They cannot walk or stand, flip and flop to get around, and/or have constant head tremors.
Some CH cats can do stairs and do them well. Stair homes are best suited for mild or mild-moderate CH cats, with carpeted stairs preferred. Even if a cat is mild CH, staircases with open railings and open risers should have their sides protected (with something like plexiglass) or blocked off from your CH cat entirely, as they could tumble through and get hurt. Until you are comfortable that your cat can do stairs safely on their own, they should always be supervised when near them.
The amount of "CH kitty proofing" you'll need to do will depend on your cat's specific severity level and abilities. You may want to pad sharp corners of furniture, place extra cushions around furniture, create ramps to help them get up on furniture, raise their food dishes, or make them a wheelchair to help them get exercise if they are severe. For specific ideas on what household changes you can make for your CH kitty, see the Life with CH Cats blog: http://www.lifewithchcats.com/tag/around-the-house
You can integrate a CH cat into a multi cat household like any other cat. Go slow to allow them to get used to each other and so you can gauge their reactions. Some cats get freaked out by the jerky wobbly motions CH cats make, it may just take them extra time to figure it out.
CH cats can live on almost any floor type. Softer, more tactile flooring is preferred as severity level increases to allow the cat better mobility and softer landing when they inevitably tumble.
Most CH cats use the litterbox the same amount as non-CH cats, a couple of times per day. Some members of the CH kitty community report that their more severe CH cats only have bowel movements every 1-3 days, though. Figure out what is normal for your cat so you can better monitor their health.
Every CH kitty seems to have a different idea of what the perfect litterbox is. Experiment with multiple types and sizes of litterboxes and litter until you find a combination that your cat seems to like. Many CH cats have to potty while laying down, so are more picky about where they will go. They also may avoid the litterbox if it is dirty or is difficult to get in and out of. Some ideas to try are:
- Litterboxes with lower fronts
- Litterboxes with high sides and back
- Dog litterboxes
- Boot trays
- Under-the-bed storage containers (with the long side cut low and cut edges protected with duct tape)
- Peepee pads
- Grass (with supervision!) or fake grass indoor patches
- Different types of litter - if your kitty potties laying down, you may want to try a non-clumping, paper pellet littler like Good Mews or Yesterday’s News.
Yes, CH cats can be spayed/neutered without issue. Talk to your vet prior to scheduling surgery to go over their process and anesthesia choices (for more on anesthesia, see below).
Gas anesthesia is best for CH cats, this is most commonly isoflurane or sevoflurane. This is greatly preferred as cats wake up and recover faster from gas anesthesia, so risk of unpleasant side effects are decreased. Ketamine should be avoided as it has a fairly long duration and recovery from it makes a very unpleasant experience for a wobbly kitty. No matter the type of anesthesia used, it is very important that your vet place an IV catheter and intubate your cat during surgery. They should monitor their blood pressure level constantly throughout the surgery.
Yes, CH cats can be vaccinated normally.
If you need to treat or protect your CH cat (or any cat!) from fleas, please contact your veterinarian. They can properly dose and apply Frontline. You can also find some safe and natural flea treatments at Tiny Timmy’s Healing Journey site. Do not use over the counter flea treatments on your cat - they are not safe.
Ensure they are familiar with CH or are willing and open to learn about it. Print out a handout to bring along with you. Get a soft-sided carrier for your CH kitty. Create a cage card if she will be staying all day or overnight.
Yes, assisted “towel walking” or a wheelchair with the same concept can help a moderate-severe or severe CH cat gain leg strength and better develop some coordination. Additionally, many have had success with hydrotherapy (water therapy) in helping their cat gain muscle and coordination. See this great video for how to build a $20 wheelchair for your CH kitty..
Not usually, Cerebellar Hypoplasia is a congenital condition, which is deemed by pet insurance companies as pre-existing. Some may offer a limited health-coverage plan, though it is generally not worth the investment as any health issue that can be determined as being caused in part by your cat’s wobbliness (such as chipping a tooth) would not be covered. You may consider setting up a credit card or special savings account to contribute to each month in the case of a veterinary emergency.
CH cats are more prone to chipping their teeth, may get injured more frequently from jumping/tumbling off of furniture, but apart from general issues with uncoordination, there are none. CH cats can get the same illnesses and medical conditions as non-CH cats. Some members of the community have CH cats who are also blind, deaf, or have seizures (though none of these are common, just like with non-CH cats).
You can join the Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats & Kittens Facebook group or the CH Kitty Club Yahoo forum and pose your question and location. With thousands of members each, chances are that someone in the group lives somewhat close and can offer some advice. You can also call local no-kill shelters to see who they recommend and can interview local veterinarians about their knowledge of and sensitivity to CH before making a decision.
If you are interested in adopting a CH kitty, please check out the adoptable CH cats list to see what CH cats are in your area. You can also contact local shelters and rescues to see if they have any CH cats available for adoption.
If you need to give up a CH kitty and would like to get them on the list of adoptable CH cats, please send an email their photo, age, location, and story to firstname.lastname@example.org, post them in Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats & Kittens Facebook group,the CH Kitty Club Yahoo forum, and speak with local no-kill rescues. DO NOT TAKE YOUR CH KITTY TO A TRADITIONAL OR OPEN-ADMISSION SHELTER! Because their condition is not widely known of or understood, they are often the first to be euthanized!!