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C2004-17

Dear Christopher Cat

We found a kitten who staggers like he’s drunk. When he turns suddenly, he falls. The veterinarian diagnosed cerebellar hypoplasia and said there’s no treatment.

Monroe seems happy, but a friend thinks we should put him to sleep. Would you tell us more about cerebellar hypoplasia and give us your opinion about euthanasia in this situation.

Christopher Responds

Euthanize everyone who walks funny? Heavens, no! My feline brother Dougie walks a little funny too, but he and I are best friends, and I couldn’t imagine life without him.

It’s likely that when Monroe was in his mother’s womb, his developing brain was exposed to the panleukopenia virus. His mom was probably a feral cat and not vaccinated for panleukopenia.

The virus inhibited the growth of part of his brain, the cerebellum. “Hypo” means under, and “plasia” means formed (as in the word plastic), so the term cerebellar hypoplasia means his cerebellum is undersized.

Most cats with cerebellar hypoplasia are uncoordinated. They sway, take large steps and fall easily, especially when they turn. Some have muscle tremors.

Signs are present at birth and do not worsen over time. Some cats even improve a bit as they learn how to compensate for the disability.

Surprisingly, even though the disorder is caused by in utero viral exposure, not all kittens in a litter are affected.

As your veterinarian said, there is no treatment. However, it’s important that Monroe live indoors, because he would be easy prey to a predator outside.

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