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Cerebellar Degeneration in Dogs

Cerebellar Degeneration in Dogs

Cerebellar Abiotrophy (degeneration) and Cerebellar Hypoplasia are two serious conditions that can affect your dog's brain, resulting in a loss of coordination and balance. Here, our Vancouver vets discuss cerebellar degeneration and hypoplasia in dogs.

Understanding Cerebellar Hypoplasia & Degeneration in Dogs

For you to gain a better understanding of these neurological conditions in dogs, you will need to understand a few basic definitions:

  • The Cerebellum is a specific region of the brain that coordinates and fine-tunes your dog's intentional movements.
  • Degeneration is the gradual deterioration of something, in this case, the cerebellum within the dog's brain.
  • Ataxia is the loss of full control of voluntary, intentional movements. 

Cerebellar Ataxia in Dogs

Because the cerebellum controls voluntary intentional movements, any condition that damages the cerebellum can produce symptoms of ataxia (loss of full control of body movements). If your pup is displaying symptoms of cerebellar ataxia, diagnostic testing is recommended so that the underlying cause of your dog's symptoms can be determined. Conditions other than Cerebellar Hypoplasia and Cerebellar Degeneration, that can produce symptoms of cerebellar ataxia include brain tumors, infections, or congenital malformations.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important since many of the conditions which can lead to ataxia symptoms in dogs can be treated.

Diagnosing Cerebellar Ataxia in Dogs

Vets will initially rely on a complete review of clinical signs combined with a knowledge of the breed, to deliver a suspected cerebellar ataxia diagnosis.

Follow-up testing to help confirm the diagnosis will involve diagnostic tests to further rule out other possible causes for your dog's symptoms. Tests that your vet may recommend include cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, complete blood cell analysis, blood biochemistry, thyroid testing, urinalysis, brainstem auditory-evoked response, and CT or MRI brain scans.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia vs Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Degeneration)

Although the symptoms of Cerebellar Hypoplasia and Cerebellar Abiotrophy are much the same, there are some important differences between these two neurological conditions, and the outcomes may be very different.

Some of the most common symptoms of both Cerebellar Hypoplasia and Degeneration include:

  • Abnormal gait
  • Broad-based stance
  • Head tilt
  • Swaying
  • Lack of coordination when walking

Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Dogs

Cerebellar Hypoplasia is the inadequate development of the cerebellum in puppies. An underdeveloped cerebellum will mean that the pup will be unable to move or stand normally.

Causes Cerebellar Hypoplasia

  • Cerebellar Hypoplasia in dogs is typically a hereditary disease. Some of the dog breeds known to be at higher risk for this condition include Boston terriers, chow chows, bull terriers, and Airedales.

The Prognosis for Dogs With Cerebellar Hypoplasia

  • Unlike Cerebellar Abiotrophy, Cerebellar Hypoplasia is not typically degenerative, meaning that the severity of the symptoms shown by your pup is unlikely to become more severe. If your dog is diagnosed with Cerebellar Hypoplasia but retains enough coordination and control over their movements to perform basic functions, they can go on to live a good quality of life for many years to come.

Treatment for Cerebellar Hypoplasia in Dogs

  • While there is no cure or treatment for this condition, as your puppy grows up, they will likely learn to compensate for their 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 they can be very happy, loving companions.

Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Cerebellar Cortical Degeneration - CCD) in Dogs

Cerebellar Abiotrophy in dogs is an inherited degenerative disease that causes the cells of the pet's cerebellum to gradually die off. Cerebellar Degeneration in dogs leads to a loss of balance, posture, and coordination which typically becomes more severe over time. 

3 Types of Cerebellar Degeneration in Specific Dog Breeds

Cerebellar Degeneration is typically a breed-specific disease with symptoms appearing in different breeds at different stages in the lifecycle, and showing different rates of progression from one breed to another.

  • Neonatal onset with symptoms appearing in puppies soon after birth. This condition is most often seen in the following breeds: beagle, dachshund mix, Irish setter, samoyed, and Rhodesian ridgeback.
  • Juvenile onset appears in dogs around the age of 6 weeks to 6 months of age. Juvenile onset Cerebellar Degeneration strikes breeds including the Bernese mountain dog, Airedale terrier, Australian kelpie, Bavarian mountain dog, border collie, rough-coated collie, Chinese crested, and English bulldog.
  • Adult onset where symptoms appear when the dog is between 1 - 8 years old. Adult onset Cerebellar Degeneration can be seen in breeds such as the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Bernese mountain dog, Brittany, Scottish terrier, and schnauzer.

Progression of Cerebellar Degeneration in Dogs

  • Cerebellar Abiotrophy in dogs is almost always a chronic and progressive degenerative disease. Meaning that the condition will typically continue to become worse over time, and result in progressively more severe symptoms. That said, the rate of progression can vary dramatically from one dog to another. While some dogs decline rapidly and lose their ability to walk within a few short months, in other dogs the progression may take 3 to 8 years to reach a stage where the condition is debilitating. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Has your dog been diagnosed with cerebellar degeneration? Contact our Vancouver vets to have your pup seen by our neurology specialists. 

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