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Caring for a Pet with Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Feb 18th 2021 - By Gillian Shippen, Director, Pets Need A Life Too & HandicappedPets Australia
Caring For A Pet With Cerebellar Hypoplasia 1

Tips to help improve the quality of life for pets with Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Firstly, just what is Cerebellar Hyperplasia?

Pets with cerebellar hypoplasia are born with a smaller than usual or underdeveloped cerebellum. This neurological condition is congenital and directly effects motor skills. Although more widely known as a mobility condition this condition impacts dogs, and feline cerebellar hypoplasia leaves CH cats struggling to stand, walk and difficulty controlling their movements.

In dogs, most puppies are diagnosed while they are very young as symptoms present quite quickly after birth. CH puppies may even show symptoms before they open their eyes. Most pets with cerebellar hypoplasia will begin to show obvious signs of the condition as soon as they start to walk. Although, it can occur in any breed, this neurological condition is most common in Chow Chows, Irish Setters, Airedales, Boston Terriers and Wirehaired Fox Terriers. 

In cats, most commonly, CH begins in utero, usually when the expectant mother becomes infected with feline panleukopenia virus (or feline distemper) and passes the condition on to her unborn kittens. Trauma is another cause of the condition, typically blunt force head trauma as the kitten’s brain is still developing.

To prevent the likelihood of her future kittens developing cerebellar hypoplasia, female cats should be vaccinated against distemper prior to pregnancy. 

CH is not contagious and cannot be passed on to another animal or sibling in the same litter.

Signs of Cerebellar Hyperplasia

Signs to look for: 

  • Uncontrolled tremors, often most notable in the head (or head bobbing) 
  • Loss of balance
  • Lack of coordination
  • Exaggerated movements, especially when walking.
  • Wide stance

If a puppy or kitten is displaying these symptoms, it is most likely that a vet will recommend an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. 

Although there is no cure for CH, animals with cerebellar hypoplasia are not in any pain, have a normal life expectancy and with assistance, can go on to live a normal, happy life.

Click here to download a pdf: Cerebellar-Hyperplasia information sheet

 

Levels of Cerebellar Hypoplasia Severity 

There are varying degrees of severity and impact that cerebellar hypoplasia can have on an animal’s life.

Mild Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Patients at this stage experience very little impact on their life. They may experience occasional loss of balance, an uneven gait and may have minor tremors.

Moderate Cerebellar Hypoplasia

These pets can move around on their own but may appear disoriented or distracted in their movements. Patients with moderate CH symptoms will splay their legs and experience frequent balance loss. They may be able to walk on their own occasionally, but most often they will need to be supported to walk.

Severe Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Patients with severe CH symptoms require special care and assistance to stand and walk. For those in this stage, the use of a full support wheelchair that supports both their front and back legs is needed. The wheelchair keeps them upright and balanced as the walk, run and play. Head tremors are constant and tend to flop or fall over when not using a wheelchair.  

The full support wheelchair also can be helpful with rehabilitation exercises. Most cats and dogs with this condition can lead full and active lives with the help of the full support wheelchair but stairs and uneven ground can be challenging and dangerous so supervision is essential.

For the feline patient, other than a little extra care caring for a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia is no different than any other kitten. CH cats should have no problem using a litter box, going to the bathroom or eating. They may however be a bit messier than usual.

Pat the Collie with Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Pat, a 10 year old Border Collie with CH had been coping quite well until he started to deteriorate in the hind quarters. He had not been able to walk freely, usually dragging himself along, for many years until his owners decided to try a full support wheelchair.

Click here to watch Pat's first steps in his new quad cart

Ensuring a safe environemnt for a pet with CH

Although most patients with CH can and will lead happy, healthy lives that does not mean pet owners shouldn’t take steps to adapt their environment to ensure they remain safe. Wheelchairs allow a pet with CH more freedom although they will still require supervision to ensure they do not get stuck, crash or tip over the wheelchair.  

Other ways to keep a pet with CH in a safe environment include:

  • Limiting the space they have access to
  • Keeping them away from potential obstacles so they don’t get into trouble.
  • Have non-slip flooring wherever possible, especially around toileting and feeding stations.
  • Keeping them away from other animals who may find the jerky movements of a CH patient upsetting as the CH patient may not be able to defend themselves

When it comes to those patients with moderate to severe CH, you may well have to provide a few other things to help make their lives easier. 

Feeding stations & food bowls: 

At Pets Need A Life too / HandicappedPets Australia we advocate raised bowls for dogs and cats as not only is it better for their cervical spinal region, but also because CH patients tend to be uncoordinated, they may have difficulty leaning down to eat or drink as they may also suffer from head tremors and might bob or peck at their food.

Providing a raised feeding station can help with this, as well as providing them with wide bowls so they don’t have to be so precise in their aim. Wide flat dishes are recommended for both food and water. If you wish to keep dry food out as a browsing option, a large heavy dog bowl is ideal. 

     

Another tip is to position the bowls at a slight angle to give the animal even better access to their food.

The unsteady action of a CH patient, may mean that ceramic bowls are more easily broken so it may also be wise to consider other options. There is some suggestion that plastic food bowls can cause feline chin acne, however this is not something I have seen in my years of veterinary nursing, but is worth keeping in mind. Metal dishes are an option if they have a non-slip bottom, however many cats do not like a shiny reflective surface. Some people choose to use paper plates for their CH patients, but you could also use entrée serving plates from a charity shop, or reject stores. Some people used double-sided tape to tape the bowls into place to avoid them moving while in use.

Puppy Pads

Providing Puppy Pads for both species and extra-large cat trays with easy access for cats is also essential, as CH patients are messier and accidents will happen. 

Furniture bumpers & baby gates

Putting “bumpers” around furniture legs and sharp corners will help protect your pet from injury - pool noodles cut to size and wrapped around chair legs work well. Baby gates at the bottom of stairs or to limit the area they have access to may also be necessary. Jumping is difficult for pets with CH, so you could provide ramps for them to get to their favourite areas. 

Maintaining exercise is critical for Cerebellar Hypoplasia patients.

Play with your pet.

Use the wheelchair to enable walks (yes even with cats) on a lead and hydrotherapy is also a great low impact exercise. 

Most of all…….ENJOY YOUR PET!

If you have any further questions about pets wirh Cerebellar Hypoplasia, i would be more than happy to help you out. If you have patients with other forms of mobility issues, I would also be happy to discuss other options to help them remain active. Email me at gillian@handicappedpets.com.au

You may also be interested to read:

1. Paw Knuckling Solutions for your Canine Patients

2. Euthanasia is NOT the only solution: Helping your clients to maintain their pets' mobility

About Gillian

Gillian Shippen is the Director and owner of 'Pets Need A LIfe Too, a website that advises on and sells a wide range of environmental enrichment toys for animals including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and horses as well as wheelchairs for dogs. She has spoken at conferences on the importance on environmental enrichment for all animals and has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs'.

Click here to follow Pets Need A Life Too on Facebook

Email Gillian to discuss enrichment needs for your pet: gillian@petsneedalifetoo.com

 

Click here to visit: Pet's Need A Life Too! Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory

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