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Cerebellar Hypoplasia Lingo 101

November 12, 2011

It’s no wonder why many folks simply call them “wobbly cats.”

The term is certainly a bit more manageable, endearing and less complicated than cerebellar hypoplasia. But like these sweet kittens, the official term shouldn’t be intimidating. Here’s a closer look at what these words mean:

Cerebellar: This is pretty much a no-brainer, well, as they say! Cerebellar is the adjective form of cerebellum, which is the portion of the brain that manages movement and balance.

Hypoplasia: Let’s break this one down. In the medical world, the prefix, hypo, means deficient or less than normal. The suffix, plasia, means development or formation. So when the two are combined, we’re talking about the deficient development of something in the body. The hypoplasia of anything is usually a congenital condition, meaning it’s something you’re born with. However, it’s important to remember that the cerebellum can still be damaged a few weeks after birth.

When cerebellar and hypoplasia are paired, we’re talking about the deficient development of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement and balance. Since the cerebellum isn’t fully developed, neither are these abilities.

Easy, right?

Another term that often crosses paths with cerebellar hypoplasia is cerebellar ataxia.

Photo courtesy Mar Vista Vet

Ataxia is a noun that means the inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements (sound familiar?), or more specifically that there’s disfunction in the part of the nervous system that coordinates movement.

There are several types of ataxia, so from here on out, let’s clarify that we mean cerebellar ataxia — that the disfunction stems from an issue in the cerebellum, as opposed to another part of the central nervous system.

So, a cat who is born with an underdeveloped cerebellum (CH cats) would have cerebellar ataxia, or to put it another way, exhibit cerebellar ataxic characteristics.

Here’s where it gets a bit more complicated. It sounds like a CH cat may have cerebellar ataxia, but a cat with cerebellar ataxia may not have CH. I think that’s because technically, CH is the deficient development of the cerebellum, whereas cerebellar ataxia could be caused by an injury to the cerebellum. However, from what I’ve read, any injury to the cerebellum may stunt its growth, so either way the two may be somewhat related.

The severity of cerebellar ataxia depends on which parts of the cerebellum are injured or undeveloped. To better understand the types of cerebellar ataxia, we have to take a closer look at the cerebellum. The cerebellum’s functions can be divided into three roles:

  • Vestibulocerebellum: Regulates balance and eye moments. If this part of the cerebellum is damaged or under-formed, it can result in balance and walking issues.
  • Spinocerebellum: Regulates body and limb movements.
  • Cerebrocerebellum: Is involved with planning movement and evaluating sensory information.If any of those parts of the cerebellum are damaged or underdeveloped, the cat will consequently experience a lack of ability in that regard. This is why CH has multiple characteristics including intention tremors(also known as head tremors), hypotonia (low muscle tone), asynergy (the lack of coordination between muscles, limbs or joints) and dysmetria (an inability to judge distance or scale).Whew! And there we go. Hopefully this has been somewhat helpful. And now, class dismissed!
8 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim Murray permalink
    January 28, 2014 8:41 pm

    My cat is super wobbly, needs help to urinate, but is otherwise healthy. Is it common for a CH cat to have trouble urinating?

    • Tammy permalink
      January 12, 2015 7:57 am

      Yes, that is very common. Not necessarily needing help with actually urinating, just help with staying upright during. My Mollywobbles is pretty mild, she doesn’t need any help in that regard, but her whole hindquarters is weaker than her front, and when she walks, you can just see that she doesn’t have the same level of control over it. She’s just wobbly!

  2. March 12, 2015 2:46 pm

    Hey Tammy! I found this post extremely helpful. I also have a disable cat…well a few! I have a cat that has spina bifida, aka manx syndrome. It’s not the same as the above condition but similar. He has no sphincter muscle, meaning he can’t express his bladder and colon and his bladder leaks all the time. He wears a diaper 24/7. I express his bladder and colon manually 3 times per day. I was told he wouldn’t live past 2 months… he is now a happy 2 year old! Keep up the great work!

  3. Carol permalink
    November 7, 2015 8:39 pm

    Hi! I am looking for insight into my cat’s condition. She was “normal,” until one day I found her lying in a pool of bile. She is 2 years old. At that point she had no appetite and could no longer jump. Giving her warmed chicken baby food brought her appetite back. Last week she jumped down from the bed. There was a bit of clutter at the base of the bed and she had no idea how to get out of “her hole.”

    She also shakes her head from time to time. Unsure the problem, but the vet said “something neurological.” Any thoughts on your part? Thank you! (I bought her in Dec. ’14 and this happened to her in July ’15.)

    • Emmy Traub permalink
      November 16, 2016 7:00 pm

      Carol, I hate to hear about your cat’s trauma. It sounds like she had a stroke. I had two dogs that suffered a stroke. It is neurological. I hope your cat is ok now. I found this page when I was looking up information on CH cats. I met a sweet cat at my vet’s office with CH. I think my Maine Coon cat has some form of CH. His issue is with his vision. I think he has some dysmetria. I have 9 rescue cats so life is fun. Poor ZZ jumps at anything that moves around him and he acts like he can’t see everything around him like he should. Add to that, he is missing most of his teeth. So, I’m thinking he had some kind of head injury as a kitten. He also tends to lash out at everyone (cats, dog, and people).

      Amanda, bless you for the info and for loving these special cats like you do.

  4. Mickie Williams permalink
    November 6, 2016 5:59 am

    A female cat that was very pregnant was taken to the humane society as part of thier TNR program.i was told they would terminate her pregnancy and spay her.when i picked her up they said she will need to b warm and quiet for a day or two rather than the half day recovery of the other cats.i kept her in for a week.her 👅 would hang out when she became more alert i let her out of the crate.she is dislpaying all the characteristic of ch.could not put her back with colony.could this have occured due to the sedative

  5. hayley permalink
    January 22, 2019 11:23 am

    My kitten is about 9 months old and I have always noticed her having a little trouble jumping, she would wobble a little and I thought it was strange but chalked it up to her needing practice or something. Recently though she has gotten a lot worse she won’t jump on or off anything and she is very wobbly when she walks. She won’t play at all either she just lays there, alert but won’t do anything.


  1. 2 Reasons (Other Than CH) Why a Cat May Wobble « Life with Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats

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