Cerebellar Hypoplasia in pets is commonly referred to as “Wobbles Syndrome” or abbreviated to “CH” by people more familiar with the disorder. It’s basically the equivalent of Cerebral Palsy in humans. The disorder occurs in utero and causes lack of control of basic motor functions due to an undeveloped cerebellum.
Typical causes of CH are:
- Genetic predisposition
- A nutritional deficiency
- A pregnant mother who contracts distemper
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Vaccinating a pregnant mother
- Injury/trauma to the fetus
Signs and symptoms of CH may be noticed at birth, or usually within the first few weeks of development.
Queens instinctively know that there is something wrong with their offspring. When a mother senses that one of her kittens is defective or has a poor chance of survival she will abandon, or even kill that kitten. In 2015 my moderate CH cat, Bonk, was born to a feral mom. After about two weeks, his mother stopped nursing him and actively tried to smother him by sitting on him. Sadly, she had succeeded with doing so to his littermate, but luckily Bonk was removed before he was suffocated. It was at that time some of the most notable symptoms of Cerebellar Hypoplasia were first recognized.
Cats will display one or more symptoms depending on the severity on their condition. Cats affected mildly with Cerebellar Hypoplasia I refer to as Wiggly. The may display some head bobbing and body tremors, especially when they become nervous or excited. Typically, a wide stance can be noted even when sitting, as their front limbs may be splayed for balance. They will have a slight unsteady gait when walking and will likely experience some trouble jumping.
Despite their wiggles, mild CH cats are high functioning and require very little or no extra care at all.
Moderate CH cats present some of the same indicators as their mild counterparts, but the symptoms are much more prevalent. Their movements are more spasmodic. Tremors and bobbing are more pronounced and are frequently constant except during sleep. When eating they may appear to be pecking at their food, looking not unlike a chicken. These animals will appear very wobbly on their feet. Walking is a challenge; getting from point A to point B is rarely ever as easy as a straight line. As they struggle to control their muscles, cats may need to alter their trajectory. They have a tendency to fall over after only a few steps, but they eventually get up and keep moving forward undeterred. Moderate CH cats don’t jump, but they can climb and become quite adept at it.
While these pets are able to use a litter box on their own, it is not without its obstacles. Most standard litter boxes have an entry point that may be difficult to navigate for a moderate CH cat. You can purchase a low entry litter box or modify your own by cutting the box to make a significantly lower entrance. Also consider a covered box, or at least one with high sides that cats can lean against for support. My two moderate CH cats, Bonk and Magoo, cannot stand or sit to alleviate themselves. They lay down in the litter to do their business. Sometimes accidents are simply unavoidable. Occasionally, they may roll over onto their own mess and require cleaning after they exit.
Severe CH cats are much more reliant on their owners. They remain recumbent and exhibit the inability to walk or even stand up. They simply lack any coordination to do so, however that doesn’t mean that they can’t get to where they want to go. Severe CH cats will crawl or flip-flop to reach their destination. As with moderate CH cats, carpeting or some type of rug will be easier on this cat as opposed to hardwood or smooth-surfaced flooring. Cats will often use their claws to steady themselves or help pull their bodies across the floor.
They may require some help eating and using a litter box. I have spoken to several owners of severe CH cats who have informed me that their cats will generally clue their caretakers in to their needs with specific vocalizing to indicate whether they are hungry or have to relieve themselves. Being observant and recognizing this behavior will help keep owners and their pets in sync and avoid unwanted accidents.
Severe CH cats can become expert climbers, whether climbing on and off the couch, the bed, or even going up and down a carpeted staircase.
Can Cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia Live Harmoniously with Other Pets?
CH cats can live in relative harmony with other pets; Cerebellar Hypoplasia is not contagious so there is no worry about passing the disorder along to resident cats. Aside from being accident prone and suffering an occasional chipped tooth, being afflicted with Cerebellar Hypoplasia is not indicative of other diseases or underlying health conditions.
Does Cerebellar Hypoplasia Shorten a Cat’s Lifespan?
Having CH does not shorten an animal’s life span. It is also a non-progressive syndrome, meaning that it will not get worse, but it also will not get better. It is what it is. Kittens may seem to improve as they grow into adults, strengthening their muscles and learning to adapt to their limitations. While there is no cure, the use of specially made walkers, acupuncture and hydro-therapy have proven to be effective in firming up muscles as well as improving coordination and mobility in moderate and severe cats.
Are Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats in Pain?
Despite their apparent struggle, these animals are not in any pain due to their condition. In fact they do not know that they are different from any other cat. While some people may think that they lack any quality of life, quite the opposite is true. With proper care, even severe CH pets have a very good quality of life. They enjoy playtime and cuddles and love their guardians just like any “normal” pet. Because they are so dependent, severe CH animals often form a special bond with their caretaker. They really do make the best snugglers!
Adopting a CH Cat
Granted, caring for a special needs pet is not for everyone, but if after reading this article and watching the video it is something you think you can handle, I implore you to do so as these pets are so often overlooked in the shelters.