This condition is an underdevelopment of the cerebellum in newborn
kittens. It is also known as congenital cerebellar hypoplasia since it
is a condition that kittens are born with; it is not treatable. The
cerebellum, sometimes known as the hindbrain, is the smaller part of the
brain which lies at the back of the skull behind the cerebrum, and is
responsible for controlling balance, and muscle tone and co-ordination.
Damage to the kitten's brain whilst in the uterus can be put down to a number of causes.
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Infection by the feline panleukopaenia virus or feline distemper during pregnancy will almost certainly result in damage as the virus passes through the placental barrier to the foetus in the uterus. If the queen has been pregnant for only a short space of time the kittens are likely to die before being born and will be reabsorbed into the queen's body, whereas pregnancies which occur later will result in either stillborn or brain damaged offspring,
It is also important to note that vaccinations for these diseases if given during pregnancy will almost certainly cause birth defects. A queen should therefore not be vaccinated until she has given birth and her kittens are weaned, and during her pregnancy it is wise to try and keep her inside the home so as to lessen the risk of her contracting a disease.
The other main cause for this condition is the absorption of Griseofulvin prescribed for ringworm, and if the queen has been given this as treatment during pregnancy it is highly likely that one or more of her kittens will be born brain-damaged. If ringworm is to be treated during pregnancy the vet will be able to prescribe an alternative treatment for the duration of the pregnancy, and the Griseofulvin can be given once weaning has finished and there is no risk to the kittens.
The signs and symptoms of a kitten with cerebellar hypoplasia are that he will have tremors and jerky movements He will find it very difficult to stand or to co-ordinate movements because the muscles and balance will be compromised, and he will have a curious way of picking up his paws higher than usual to walk. He will exhibit a shaky head and unfocused gaze if he tries to look at something, and when jumping he will look uncontrolled and will have difficulty negotiating tricky walls and fences and generally getting about.
Kittens will not die from this condition, but they will have a
reduced quality of life. They can be happy as long as they are given
extra care and attention, and are protected as much as possible from
damaging themselves by jumping or climbing in places where they will
find balance to be a problem. The condition causes them no pain or
discomfort and will not worsen as they get older, and in fact they learn
how to compensate for their uncontrolled movement and will lead full
and enjoyable lives.