Cerebellar hypoplasia in dogs is a condition where the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls coordination, fails to fully develop while puppies are still in their mothers’ wombs.
Sometimes caused by genetic mutations, or intrinsic factors, it’s particularly prevalent in such breeds as Airedales, Boston Terriers, Bull Terriers and Chow Chows. It can also be caused by extrinsic factors such as poor nutrition on the part of the mother dog, canine herpesvirus and canine distemper, fungal diseases and tick-borne diseases, exposure to toxins and brain injury or trauma.
Although cerebellar hypoplasia affects puppies and adult dogs the same way, its symptoms typically appear in puppies when they begin exploring their world — at approximately six weeks of age. The severity of this condition ranges from mild and barely noticeable to severe, causing, among other things, tremors and uncoordinated movements, head bobbing and overall clumsiness, standing with legs wide apart to steady themselves, high stepping or overstepping when walking, poor judgment of distance and frequent falling, and difficulty eating. Luckily, these symptoms won’t worsen over time. They either stay the same or, in some puppies, even improve as they adjust to their cerebellar challenges.
While there’s no standard test to diagnose this disorder, a vet or veterinary neurologist can always order an MRI scan to detect an underdeveloped cerebellum. But first, a vet will perform a thorough physical examination of the puppy that includes a complete blood count, blood chemistry, fecal exam and/or a urinalysis in order to rule out other, possibly serious, medical conditions.
How, then, should YOU care for a canine with cerebellar hypoplasia?
1. Neuter or spay your puppy since certain types of cerebellar hypoplasia are genetic and can be inherited by his or her offspring.
2. Begin early by using a full body harness to help your puppy with his walking.
3. Depending on the severity of his condition, you may have to restrict his activities, such as climbing stairs or chasing after toys, to prevent any accidents or injuries. You may also have to help him to eat.
4. If he’s able to eat and drink on his own, make it easier for him by raising his food dish and water bowl (both should be wider than regular ones) off the floor.
5. Where applicable, set up baby gates restricting all access to any stairs, preventing him from tumbling down them and harming himself.
6. For hardwood, tile or especially slick floors, put down non-slip mats or foam pads to create traction for your pup so that when he plays and happens to fall, he’ll have a soft place to land without injuring himself.
7. Place a non-slip pad in front of his raised food dish and water bowl as well.
8. Use a specially fitted doggy wheelchair to teach him how to move forward and to help keep his legs going in the right direction.
9. For more severe cases, many vets recommend hydrotherapy. The use of an underwater treadmill, for example, helps build his muscles and improve both his gait and his mobility.
10. Regular acupuncture sessions can often work wonders too.
While there’s no cure for cerebellar hypoplasia, as your puppy grows up, he’ll likely learn to compensate for his condition and enjoy a long and loving, playful and pain free – if somewhat clumsy — life as your cherished canine companion. As always, we suggest being prepared to welcome a new dog into your home, and educating yourself on unique conditions such as cerebellar hypoplasia in dogs.
By Nomi Berger