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Cerebellar Degeneration in Dogs

Cerebellar hypoplasia and cerebellar abiotrophy (degeneration) are serious conditions that can affect the cerebellum region of your dog's brain and lead to a loss of coordination and balance. Today, our vets in Diamond Bar explain more about these neurological diseases in dogs.

In order to gain a better understanding of these conditions, it can be helpful to know some basic definitions. Here are three things you should know 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? 

Ataxia is a condition relating to sensory dysfunction that results in a loss of coordination in the head, limbs, or rear end. Three kinds of ataxia are commonly seen in dogs: cerebellar, sensory, and vestibular.

Cerebellar ataxia occurs when the cerebellum is damaged. Sensory ataxia occurs when the spinal cord becomes compressed due to a bulging intervertebral disk or a tumor. Vestibular ataxia results from an issue with the inner ear or brainstem.

Along with staggering, stumbling, and falling over, signs of ataxia include head tilt, walking in circles, vomiting, nausea, and flicking of the eyes from side to side.

How is cerebellar ataxia in dogs diagnosed?

Veterinarians primarily rely on thoroughly examining clinical signs and their knowledge of the breed to diagnose suspected cerebellar ataxia. Various diagnostic tests are used to confirm the diagnosis and exclude other diseases.

These tests may include cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, complete blood cell analysis, blood biochemistry, thyroid testing, urinalysis, brainstem auditory-evoked response, and brain CT or MRI scans.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia vs Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Degeneration)

Although cerebellar hypoplasia and cerebellar abiotrophy have similar symptoms, there are some crucial differences between these two conditions, and the outcomes can vary greatly in certain cases.

The common symptoms of these conditions include abnormal gait, a broad-based stance, head tilt, and lack of coordination while walking and swaying.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Dogs

Cerebellar 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 cannot move or even stand still normally.

What causes cerebellar hypoplasia?

  • Cerebellar hypoplasia is a hereditary disease in dogs. However, kittens can acquire this disease in the womb if the mother is infected or vaccinated against certain infectious diseases.

What is the prognosis for dogs with cerebellar hypoplasia?

  • Typically, this disease is not degenerative, meaning that the severity of your dog's symptoms is unlikely to become more severe. Suppose your dog is diagnosed with cerebellar hypoplasia but retains enough coordination and control over its movements to perform basic functions. In that case, it 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, it can learn to compensate for its 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 but can be happy, loving companions.

Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Cerebellar Cortical Degeneration - CCD) in Dogs

Cerebellar abiotrophy is a degenerative disease that usually affects dogs due to inheritance. The disease attacks the cells within the cerebellum, which gradually die off over time.

This results in a loss of balance, posture, and coordination, which worsens as the disease progresses.

Cerebellar abiotrophy is specific to certain dog breeds. Depending on the breed, its symptoms appear at different times and progress at different rates.

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 dog 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?

  • Cerebellar abiotrophy in dogs is a degenerative condition that affects the cerebellum and can lead to chronic and progressive damage. This means the condition usually worsens over time, resulting in increasingly severe symptoms. However, the rate of progression can vary greatly depending on the dog. While some dogs may experience rapid decline and lose their ability to walk within a few months, others may take 3 to 8 years before the condition becomes debilitating.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Concerned about your dog's neurological symptoms? Contact your vet at Diamond Bar for a consultation.

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