Kitten being cradled in owners arms.

Some pets are born special, but that doesn’t make them any less lovable. Their care is just as, if not more, important than for those with more typical needs. Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital provides quality pet wellness care for all of our patients, no matter their obstacles.

For kittens, one of the more common congenital challenges we diagnose is something called cerebellar hypoplasia. While this may sound like an overwhelming diagnosis, these sweet babies are often capable of a quality life. 

Understanding Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats

A lot needs to happen during development of healthy cats, and there isn’t a lot of room for error. One of the most common places that developmental missteps take place is within the nervous system. 

The cerebellum is a very important part of the nervous system, nestled at the base of the brain. Its primary function is to provide those involuntary reflexes that we take for granted in normal movement. From navigating uneven terrain, to knowing how high to pick up your feet, to turning the head to maintain balance, the cerebellum helps us to have smooth, coordinated movements. 

During development, the cerebellum is still developing up until the last few days before birth, and continues its maturation for a few weeks after, making it very susceptible to damaging influences.

We commonly diagnose cerebellar hypoplasia, or underdevelopment of the cerebellum, in cats as a result of infection with feline distemper. Feline distemper is caused by the panleukopenia virus, which can affect a kitten through its mother before birth or through infection shortly after birth.

Because many feline distemper vaccines are made from a weakened form of the live panleukopenia virus, mother cats who are vaccinated during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth can infect their kittens by way of the vaccine. This is just one reason it is important to have your pet’s vaccinations administered by a knowledgeable professional. Ideally, a cat would be well-vaccinated against feline distemper prior to becoming pregnant. 

Kittens affected by cerebellar hypoplasia:

  • Walk with a wide-based stance
  • May lean against things for support
  • Appear normal until they begin to move
  • May have tremors, especially as they focus on something
  • Often fall more than a normal kitten

Since we are helpless to fix a defect in development, there is no treatment for cerebellar hypoplasia in kittens. Many of them can live normal, happy lives, though, with some help. 

Pet Wellness Care for Special Needs Animals

Our furry friends with special needs such as cerebellar hypoplasia require a little extra attention when it comes to pet wellness care. 

Cats can be affected to varying degrees by birth defects such as cerebellar hypoplasia, so regular wellness examinations can help us to help you determine how to help your specific pet. 

In general, you should consider:

  • Keeping your cat indoors as they may be more susceptible to accidents and injury
  • Providing no-spill food and water sources
  • Ensuring your cat’s access to the litter box is unobstructed and easy to navigate
  • Providing steps and stools to allow your cat access to favorite kitty spots
  • Constructing ways for your cat to lean against secure surfaces when navigating your home

For the most part, pet wellness care for a cerebellar hypoplasia kitten is the same as care for any other kitten. We recommend vaccinating to prevent disease and parasite prevention such as heartworm and flea preventives. Spay and neuter is also important.  

Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia can live normal and enjoyable lives with the help of a caring owner. If you have a special needs pet, don’t hesitate to ask us for help. We take our role of helping animals of all kinds very seriously.