Cerebellar hypoplasia and cerebellar abiotrophy (degeneration) are serious conditions that can effect the cerebellum region of your dog's brain and lead to a loss of coordination and balance. Today our veterinary neurologist explains more about these neurological diseases in dogs.
In order to gain a better understand of these conditions some basic definitions can be handy. Here are 3 things you should know in order to understand cerebellar hypoplasia and cerebellar abiotrophy in dogs:
- The Cerebellum is a specific region of the brain that coordinates and fine-tunes your dog's voluntary (intentional) movements.
- Degeneration is the gradual deterioration of something, in this case the cerebellum.
- Ataxia is the loss of full control of movements.
What is cerebellar ataxia in dogs?
Any condition that damages the cerebellum can produce symptoms of ataxia (loss of full control of voluntary body movements). Whenever a dog shows signs of cerebellar ataxia diagnostic testing is recommended in order to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms such as brain tumors, infections, or congenital malformations. Diagnostic testing is key since many of the conditions which can lead to ataxia are readily treatable.
How is cerebellar ataxia in dogs diagnosed?
Primarily vets rely on a complete review of clinical signs combined with a knowledge of the breed, to deliver a diagnosis of suspected cerebellar ataxia.
Diagnostic testing to help confirm the diagnosis involves a variety of tests to rule out other diseases. Such tests can include cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, complete blood cell analysis, blood biochemistry, thyroid testing, urinalysis, brainstem auditory-evoked response, and CT or MRI scans of the brain.
Cerebellar Hypoplasia vs Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Degeneration)
While the symptoms of cerebellar hypoplasia and cerebellar abiotrophy are much the same there are a couple of important differences between these two conditions, and the outcomes in some cases can also be very different. Common symptoms of these conditions include: abnormal gait, broad-based stance, head tilt, lack of coordination when walking, and swaying.
Cerebellar Hypoplasia in DogsCerebellar hypoplasia in dogs is a condition characterized by the inadequate development of the cerebellum. Since the cerebellum is responsible for fine-tuning motor movements, affected pets will be unable to move or even stand still normally.
What causes cerebellar hypoplasia?
- Cerebellar hypoplasia is typically a hereditary disease in dogs, although kittens can acquire this disease in utero if the pregnant mother is infected by, or vaccinated against, specific infectious diseases.
What is the prognosis for dogs with cerebellar hypoplasia?
- Typically this disease is not degenerative, meaning that the severity of the symptoms shown by your dog are unlikely to become more severe. If your dog is diagnosed with cerebellar hypoplasia but retains enough coordination and control over their movements to perform basic functions, they can go on to live a good quality of life.
How is cerebellar hypoplasia treated in dogs?
- While there is no cure or treatment for this condition, as your puppy grows-up they can learn to compensate for their condition and go on to live a long, happy, and pain free life. Pets with cerebellar hypoplasia can often benefit from the use of a dog wheelchair to help support them and keep them mobile. Poor coordination means these dogs may require additional attention, however they can be happy, loving companions.
Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Cerebellar Cortical Degeneration - CCD) in Dogs
Unlike cerebellar hypoplasia, cerebellar abiotrophy in dogs is most often an inherited degenerative disease which attacks the cells within the cerebellum, causing the cells to gradually die off. This conditions leads to a loss of balance, posture and coordination which typically become more severe over time.
Cerebellar abiotrophy tends to be a breed specific disease with symptoms appearing in different breeds at different times, and showing different rates of progression from one breed to another.
There are 3 types of cerebellar degeneration seen in dogs:
- Neonatal onset with symptoms appearing in puppies soon after birth. (Most often seen in Beagle, Coton de Tulear, Dachshund mix, Irish Setter, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Samoyed)
- Juvenile onset which appears in dogs around the age of 6 weeks to 6 months. (Strikes breeds including the Airedale Terrier, Australian Kelpie, Bavarian Mountain Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Border Collie, Chinese Crested Dog, English Bulldog, and Rough Coated Collie)
- Adult onset where symptoms appear when the dogs is between 1 - 8 years old. (Seen in breeds such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bernese Mountain Dog, Brittany Spaniel, Scottish Terrier, and Schnauzer)
How does cerebellar degeneration progress?
- The cerebellar degeneration associated with cerebellar abiotrophy in dogs is almost always chronic and progressive. Meaning that the condition will most often continue to worsen over time, producing progressively more severe symptoms. That said, the rate of progression can vary dramatically from one dog to another. While some dogs decline rapidly and lose their ability to walk within a few short months, in other dogs the progression may take 3 to 8 years to become debilitating.