Cerebellar hypoplasia is a condition affecting puppies that might not be obvious to puppy owners until the puppy begins to walk and exhibits the distinct signs associated with this condition such as falling over. Several dog breeds are particularly predisposed to this condition such as Irish setters, chow chow, bull terriers, wire haired fox terriers and Boston terriers. Responsible breeders should screen their breeding stock for this inherited condition so to minimize the chances for puppies to be born with this congenital problem. However, not all cases of cerebellar hypoplasia are inherited, in some cases, this condition can occur from exposure to certain toxins.
Understanding the Condition
As the name implies, cerebellar hypoplasia affects a part of the puppy's brain that is known as the cerebellum. In this condition, a part of the puppy's cerebellum fails to develop as it should. The term hypoplasia indeed is a medical term that refers to the underdevelopment of a tissue or organ.
As mentioned, cerebellar hypopplasia is an inherited condtion, but also at times can develop from exposure to toxins, infectious agents or may stem from a nutritional problem.
As one may imagine, this underdevelopment of the cerebellum will be leading to a cascading onset of problems which can be significant, but that puppies can manage to overcome courtesy of their zest for life and ability to compensate.
Signs of Trouble
Symptoms of cerebellar hypoplasia may be present at birth, but might not be noticeable until the puppy develops. Puppy owners often notice the first signs of trouble suggesting cerebellar hypoplasia when their puppy first starts moving around and walks with an unsteady, clumsy gait. This drunk-sailor-like gait is often medically referred to as ataxic gait.
The affected puppy may often stumble and fall frequently and may appear to have difficulty in judging distance. These particular symptoms develop because the puppy's cerebellum is the part of the brain that is responsible for balance.
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Ask the Vet: Help, My Dog Ate Donuts!
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Do Dogs Fall Off Cliffs?
Yes, dogs fall off cliffs and these accidents aren't even uncommon. As we hike with our dogs, we may sometimes overestimate our dog's senses. We may take for granted that dogs naturally know what areas to avoid to prevent falls. However, the number of dogs who fall off from cliffs each year, proves to us that it makes perfect sense to protect them from a potentially life threatening fall.
Affected puppies may also exhibit visible leg tremors, jerky movements and head bobbing. Generally, such tremors tend to disappear once the puppy is sleeping, but are more intense when the puppy is active and excited. As time goes by, most puppies seem to adjust their coordination and may appear to be improving a little bit courtesy of their uncanny ability to compensate.
Will cerebellar hypoplasia affect a puppy's ability to be potty trained? It should not, considering that the cerebellum is not the part of the brain involved with potty training - "that would be the cerebrum not the cerebellum" explains veterinarian Critical Care Vet, Emergency and Critical Care Specialist.
At the Vet's Office
The veterinarian will inquire about the puppy, gathering information about the symptoms observed and when they started. A thorough medical history may help the veterinarian gather facts so to uncover any potential culprits that may cause the symptoms observed.
Symptoms of cerebellar hypoplasia can be similar to other conditions such as hypoglycemia, infectious encephalitis as seen in distemper (unlikely though if mother dog was up to date on shots before becoming pregnant) or a protozoal infection. Blood work may be recommended.
The vet will therefore consider ruling out these serious conditions. For complicated cases, a referral to a neurologist can be helpful.
Unfortunately, there are no current cures to treat this disorder. While it can be upsetting for puppy owners to accept this fact, the good news is that symptoms tend to not get worse.
Management is important to prevent these puppies from getting hurt. Access to stairs should be prevented so to prevent falls. Puppy owners must realize that they are dealing with a "special needs" pup that requires tender loving care and attention. Many of these pups have a great zest for life and with just a little help can live comfortably. Severe cases though that affect the puppy's ability to eat and drink may warrant considering euthanasia.