Electra is a 6-month-old kitten from Medina, Ohio. All of her brothers and sisters have found their furrever homes, but she has been left behind, because she walks like she’s drunk.
The vet says it is a brain thing that some kittens get, but most outgrow it,” Save Ohio Strays volunteer Sandy Barnosky said.
There are many reasons that a cat might walk like they are drunk, but it could be Cerebellar Hypoplasia, or what is more commonly known as Wobbly Cat Syndrome or Drunk Cat Syndrome.
The cat with cerebellar hypoplasia is abnormal from birth, though it may not be clear that something is wrong until the kittens are toddling around with some coordination. The cat with this disease clearly has balance issues: he walks with his legs widely placed for fear of falling and places his feet clumsily. He often leans against walls for support. Sitting still, he may look like a fairly normal cat but once focused on a toy, food bowl or friendly hand, tremors begin getting more severe as concentration becomes more intense. Still, despite the obvious impairment, cats with this condition are happy, able to feed themselves and use a litter box, and are felt to have good life quality.
Cerebellar Hypoplasia in cats is a neurological condition that affects the development of the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain responsible for coordinating movements and maintaining balance. It is a congenital condition, meaning it is present at birth, and is most commonly caused by a viral infection during the mother cat’s pregnancy, specifically the feline panleukopenia virus.
Kittens born with cerebellar hypoplasia have an underdeveloped cerebellum, which results in a range of motor coordination and balance issues. The severity of the condition can vary from mild to severe. Cats with mild cerebellar hypoplasia may exhibit slightly uncoordinated movements and have a wobbly gait, while cats with severe cerebellar hypoplasia may have difficulty walking, suffer from tremors or involuntary movements, and have problems with balance and posture.
It’s important to note that cerebellar hypoplasia in cats is not a progressive condition, meaning it does not worsen over time. However, the symptoms usually persist throughout the cat’s life. Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia can still lead happy and fulfilling lives with some adaptations. They may require a safe and secure environment to prevent injuries, and modifications to their living space, such as providing low-sided litter boxes and easy-to-access food and water bowls.
Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia require special care and attention. They can benefit from physical therapy and exercises tailored to improve their coordination and muscle strength. It’s also important to provide a stress-free environment, and plenty of mental stimulation to keep them mentally engaged.
If you suspect that your cat has cerebellar hypoplasia or if you have a kitten showing signs of this condition, it’s recommended to consult with a veterinarian who can provide a proper diagnosis and guide you on the best management strategies for your cat’s specific needs.
What Causes Cerebellar Hypoplasia?
The feline distemper virus, or the the feline panleukopenia virus, is what usually causes cerebellar hypoplasia in cats. If a pregnant mama cat has either of these viruses, or if she is vaccinated for them during her pregnancy, the live virus can pass through and attack her babies’ developing cerebellums.
A cat’s cerebellum is developing clear up until a few days before they are born; so they are vulnerable for quite some time. It can also be passed through nursing, so a mama cat should not be vaccinated until her kittens have been weaned. It can also be caused by the ringworm medicine Griseofulvin, if used during pregnancy or nursing. So again, wait until the kittens have been weaned to use it.
AKA “Drunk Cat Syndrome” or “Wobbly Cat Syndrome”
Cerebellar Hypoplasia in cats is often referred to as “wobbly cat syndrome” or “drunk cat syndrome” due to the characteristic symptoms exhibited by affected cats. These terms are colloquial names used to describe the unsteady gait and lack of coordination seen in cats with cerebellar hypoplasia.
The term “wobbly cat syndrome” is commonly used because affected cats may have a wobbly or shaky gait, making their movements appear uncoordinated.
Similarly, the term “drunk cat syndrome” is used because their movements can resemble those of an intoxicated or drunk individual, with stumbling, swaying, and a lack of balance.
It’s important to note that these terms are not medically recognized names for the condition, but are rather descriptive names used to identify and describe the symptoms seen in cats with cerebellar hypoplasia. The official medical term for the condition is cerebellar hypoplasia.
Living With A Wobbly Cat
As long as you keep your wobbly cat indoors, and give them non-tip bowls to eat and drink from, and make a few other simple modifications to their living quarters, they shouldn’t have too many problems and can live a purrfectly happy and long life.
Here are several things you can do to make life easier for a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia:
Provide a Safe and Secure Environment
Be sure that your home is cat-friendly and free from hazards. Remove any sharp objects or obstacles that the cat may bump into. Consider using baby gates or creating designated areas to limit access to potentially dangerous areas such as stairs.
Use Low-Sided Litter Boxes
Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia may have difficulty climbing in and out of high-sided litter boxes. Opt for low-sided litter boxes that are easily accessible to prevent accidents and make it easier for the cat to use the litter box independently.
Provide Stable and Secure Surfaces
Place stable and secure surfaces for your cat to walk on, such as non-slip mats or carpeting. This can help improve their traction and stability while moving around the house.
Provide Assistive Devices
Consider using assistive devices such as ramps or steps to help your cat access elevated areas like beds or couches. These devices can assist them in navigating different levels without struggling or falling.
Elevated Food and Water Bowls
Use raised, non-tip food and water bowls to make it more comfortable for the cat to eat and drink. This can help minimize neck strain and make mealtime easier for them.
Provide Soft Bedding
Provide soft bedding or blankets in comfortable areas where the cat can rest. This can help cushion their movements and provide a cozy spot for them to relax.
Interactive Toys and Mental Stimulation
Engage your cat in interactive play with toys that stimulate their mind and encourage gentle exercise. This can help keep them mentally stimulated and provide a positive outlet for their energy.
Regular Veterinary Check-Ups
Schedule regular visits with your veterinarian to monitor your cat’s condition, address any concerns, and receive guidance on managing their specific needs.
A little extra care can go a long way towards making sure your cat avoids any accidents that could be caused by his or her lack of balance.
The wobbling doesn’t get any better with age, but it also doesn’t get any worse. A cat can have various degrees of problems with their balance, depending on how badly their brain has been affected. But other than their lack of coordination, wobbly cats are normal in every other way.
Remember, each cat’s needs may vary, so it’s essential to observe and understand your cat’s specific challenges and make adjustments accordingly. Consulting with a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist can provide further guidance on how to best support and improve the quality of life for a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia.
To learn more about Cerebellar Hypoplasia, and to see a cat that has it, watch this short video called “This is Charley”.