Wobbly Cat Syndrome: Cerebellar Hypoplasia In Cats

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Cats are known for their grace and balance, especially for their “cat walk”. However, some cats may appear wobbly from birth, having difficulty walking, running, jumping, and even eating and drinking. If your cat is uncoordinated and experiences tremors, they may be affected by cerebellar hypoplasia, also known as wobbly cat syndrome. 

As a pet parent who wants the best for their cat, seeing your cat struggle with basic tasks may be disheartening, but most cats with cerebellar hypoplasia learn to deal with their condition as they grow older. Your feline friend can live a long and happy life just like any other cat. Here are all the details on wobbly cat syndrome, from its symptoms to its treatment.

What Is Wobbly Cat Syndrome?

The cerebellum is responsible for balance, movement, coordination, and motor skills

Wobbly cat syndrome, called cerebellar hypoplasia, is a developmental disorder in which the cerebellum of a kitten’s brain doesn’t develop properly due to their mother being infected with the feline panleukopenia virus.1 This condition can affect some or all of the kitten litter. The cerebellum is the part of your cat’s brain responsible for maintaining balance, coordinating movement, and their ability to learn movements that require practice, such as jumping.2 Kittens with wobbly cat syndrome typically experience issues with movement and mobility and may have exaggerated or wobbly movements.2

Luckily, wobbly cat syndrome is non-progressive and non-contagious.2 Affected cats can still be great pets, and the condition doesn’t worsen over time. If you’re wondering if your cat has cerebellar hypoplasia, you’ll know after they’re born. Therefore, if your adult cat starts having uncoordinated movements they didn’t have before, it’s likely not wobbly cat syndrome, and you should have them examined by a vet as soon as possible since it may indicate a neurological problem. 

What Causes Cerebellar Hypoplasia In Cats?

The primary cause of wobbly cat syndrome is when a pregnant cat gets infected with panleukopenia and passes the infection to the unborn kittens in her womb. This disorder is congenital, so kittens are born with it. While wobbly cat syndrome isn’t contagious, feline panleukopenia is and can often be fatal. Cats are infected with panleukopenia through the mouth and nose by exposure to infected animals, feces, and secretions.3

Symptoms Of Wobbly Cat Syndrome

Symptoms of wobbly cat syndrome

Cerebellar hypoplasia in cats makes them appear uncoordinated or wobbly. Cats with this condition often experience tremors, but the severity of the symptoms depends on how much the cerebellum was affected and at what stage in the cat pregnancy timeline it was affected. For example, cats that were further developed in the womb are likely to have less severe symptoms. Kittens typically start showing symptoms of wobbly cat syndrome when they’re old enough to move and walk around three weeks old. 

The main clinical sign of cerebellar hypoplasia is a lack of coordination, which can result in wobbling when standing or walking, and an inability to jump.2 The virus can also destroy cells in the retina, causing lesions.3 In most cases, mild cases of wobbly cat syndrome don’t require additional care or environmental accommodations. Mild symptoms may include uncontrollable head movements or wobbliness when running. However, severe cases of wobbly cat syndrome can cause motor function weakness and difficulty walking, eating, and drinking. Cats with severe wobbly cat syndrome will need modified environments to prevent injury and make their lives easier. 

How Is Wobbly Cat Syndrome Diagnosed?

Wobbly cat syndrome is diagnosed by looking at the clinical signs and using MRI.1 In most cases, kittens are diagnosed based on the clinical symptoms alone, along with their age, breed, and health history. However, even if a vet suspects wobbly cat syndrome, they may order other testing to have a full picture and concrete diagnosis. 

Cats without cerebellar hypoplasia should be examined if they start to experience signs of wobbliness, tremors, or difficulty walking or running because there’s likely another underlying issue causing the symptoms. Since cerebellar hypoplasia is present at birth, a cat that has never experienced symptoms before cannot suddenly get it during adulthood. However, cats with cerebellar hypoplasia may also experience worsening symptoms due to an underlying illness.2 

Treating Wobbly Cat Syndrome

While there is no treatment for wobbly cat syndrome, affected cats typically learn to compensate for their mobility issues with age

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for cerebellar hypoplasia in cats, because the condition occurs in the womb. However, while cats affected by wobbly cat syndrome may have difficulty walking, standing, running, or jumping, most of them can live a normal lifespan and make great house pets.4 In most cases, a vet will help you devise a plan to make their lives as easy as possible to help them overcome limitations. 

As these kittens grow into adults, they learn to compensate for the lack of balance, which can make them less wobbly.2 Many cats improve greatly, but they’ll still show the clinical signs of the disorder. Wobbly cat syndrome does not require any additional treatment, such as medication or vitamins for cats; instead, they may need environmental management to prevent accidents and injuries. 

How To Care For A Cat With Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Since there’s no cure for wobbly cat syndrome and the disorder doesn’t cause pain, the best thing pet parents can do is manage their cat’s environment to help them live a happier life. Modifying your home environment can help protect your cat from injury while improving their quality of life to help them accomplish basic tasks. A few modifications you can make to your home include:

  • Provide a large litter box with high sides and a low entrance to improve their balance, so they can have an easier time doing their business and maneuvering in and out of the box.5
  • Place sturdy bowls in an easily cleanable area to prevent your cat’s head tremors from affecting their ability to eat or causing messes every time they eat.5 
  • Give your cat easy access to high areas that allow them to climb around and exercise their feline nature. 
  • Put cushions under window sills to prevent injury if your cat jumps and falls when exploring the home. 
  • Utilize grip surfaces and mats to prevent slipping around the home if you don’t have carpeting. 
  • Carpeted flooring can make it easier for your cat to get around the house.5 

Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia should be indoor cats to prevent injury. Since wobbly cats can get lost or viewed as weak prey to larger predators, it’s always best to keep your cat indoors. 

Even though your cat has cerebellar hypoplasia, they still have the same requirements as other cats; they need physical and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and keep them happy and healthy to prevent behavioral and health issues. Keeping your cat entertained indoors with interactive cat toys and activities is crucial, but for cats with a lack of coordination, you may need to monitor them during playtime and block off access to some potentially dangerous areas of the home. 

If you’ve never cared for a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia, you can consult your vet for more tips and tricks to help you provide them with a quality life. 

Wobbly Cat Syndrome: Frequently Asked Questions

Can cats develop wobbly cat syndrome later in life?

Wobbly cat syndrome is congenital and present at birth. However, you likely won’t start seeing symptoms until your kitten is old enough to walk. Wobbly cat syndrome does not develop over time, so cats cannot develop it later in life. Therefore, if your cat is experiencing tremors or difficulty walking, running, or jumping, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible for examination and diagnosis. There are several causes of tremors or difficulty moving in cats, including:

  • Trauma/injury
  • Side effects of medication
  • Serious underlying illnesses like kidney disease
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Toxicity
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Nervous system diseases6

If your adult cat has never been diagnosed with wobbly cat syndrome and starts experiencing the signs of wobbly cat syndrome, it may indicate something more severe and harmful to their health. Your vet will need to complete a physical examination and use medical history and testing to determine the cause and find the best treatment plan. Of course, you should never wait to have your cat diagnosed by your vet if they start experiencing these symptoms because waiting too long can reduce the effectiveness of treatment. 

Is wobbly cat syndrome painful?

Wobbly cat syndrome is not painful, but it does cause a lack of coordination that results in wobbling when standing, walking, or trying to jump. However, the severity of the symptoms depends on when during development the kitten was infected with panleukopenia and how much of their brain was impacted. In any case, this disorder is not painful, but it can lead to injury because cats can easily fall off high furniture. 

How long do cats with wobbly cat syndrome live?

Cats with wobbly cat syndrome can live just as long as cats without it. However, as a pet parent to a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia, you’ll need to make some environmental changes to ensure the health of your cat. Since these cats may fall more often or have uncoordinated jumps, you should keep your floors padded and give them traction in the form of carpet or rubberized flooring to prevent slips and falls that can lead to injury. 

Can wobbly cat syndrome get worse?

Wobbly cat syndrome typically improves over time, although cats with cerebellar hypoplasia will still experience symptoms for the rest of their lives. Healthy cats with this disorder do not have worsening symptoms, but there are a few illnesses that can make their symptoms worse. If you notice your cat’s cerebellar hypoplasia worsening, it may indicate another underlying health issue, so you should consult your vet as soon as possible. 

Close up of a cat drinking water from a faucet

Final Notes

Wobbly cat syndrome is not contagious and will not progress over time. However, you should always monitor your cat when they’re climbing or jumping to prevent injury. While there’s no cure for cerebellar hypoplasia in cats, there are a few steps you can take to prevent injury due to accidents. Making a few changes to their home environment can greatly improve their quality of life while still allowing them to do all the activities cats enjoy, like climbing, jumping, and playing. 

Luckily, cerebellar hypoplasia is mostly preventable. Pet parents should vaccinate their cats against panleukopenia, especially if they plan on breeding them. Additionally, they should get the booster every three years to prevent the development of wobbly cat syndrome while kittens are in the womb. Unfortunately, there’s no treatment available for kittens that have already been affected, so you’ll need to take proper care of them. These cats can live as long as cats without the disorder and even live happy, healthy lives. Wondering how to care for your cat with cerebellar hypoplasia? Consult a Dutch vet. We offer telemedicine for pets, providing pet parents with the advice they need to care for their cats and improve their quality of life. Try Dutch today. 

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References

  1. Packer, Rebecca A. “Congenital and Inherited Cerebellar Disorders in Animals - Nervous System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 10 Nov. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/nervous-system/congenital-and-inherited-anomalies-of-the-nervous-system/congenital-and-inherited-cerebellar-disorders-in-animals.

  2. “Wobbly Cat Syndrome: An Interesting but Harmless Condition.” VMBS News, 22 July 2022, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/wobbly-cat-syndrome/.

  3. Squires, Richard A. “Feline Panleukopenia - Generalized Conditions.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 10 Nov. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/generalized-conditions/feline-panleukopenia/feline-panleukopenia.

  4. “Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Cats.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/neurological/c_ct_cerebellar_hypoplasia.

  5. “Cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia: Disabled Cats.” Cats Protection, https://www.cats.org.uk/help-and-advice/health/disabled-cats/cats-with-cerebellar-hypoplasia.

  6. “Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Cats.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/neurological/c_ct_tremors.

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