Cerebellar hypoplasia might sound scary, but as long as you know how to manage it, your kitten can live a normal life.
woman with kitten; wobbly kitten syndrome
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Kittens are known to be clumsy, especially in their first few days of life. But they gain their footing, so to speak, as they grow. If, however, that clumsiness remains or you spot other unusual movement patterns in your kitten, that could signal a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, otherwise known as wobbly kitten syndrome.

While it may sound alarming, the good news is kittens with this painless condition typically live long, healthy lives. It just requires some extra management from their people.

What is Wobbly Kitten Syndrome?

Kittens with wobbly kitten syndrome are born with an underdeveloped portion of their brain called the cerebellum. It's notably smaller in size than it should be, which affects cats' movement patterns.

"The cerebellum controls intentional movement, and when it's too small or underdeveloped, intentional movement is affected," says Alicen Tracey, DVM, a small animal general practitioner in Waterloo, Iowa, and a member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.

What Causes Wobbly Kitten Syndrome?

The cause of cerebellar hypoplasia in cats is usually congenital, meaning kittens are born with it. In most cases, it's the result of the kitten's mother contracting the panleukopenia virus. Other types of in utero influences, like the pregnant mother being exposed to kittens, can sometimes be the cause as well, Tracey says. Other progressive neurologic diseases or toxins may play a role, too.

What are the Symptoms of Wobbly Kitten Syndrome?

Kittens with this non-contagious condition will look unstable or uncoordinated. They may sway, or they could even have fine tremors, which is where the name "wobbly" comes from. The disease varies in severity, so while some kittens are only mildly affected and may simply seem a bit uncoordinated or clumsy, other kittens exhibit more noticeable swaying or staggering. They typically start showing signs when they begin moving around, generally around 2 or 3 weeks old.

How is Wobbly Kitten Syndrome Diagnosed?

The only way cerebellar hypoplasia can be definitively diagnosed is through an MRI, but most kittens are diagnosed based on symptoms and other factors like age, breed, and history, Tracey says. Your vet will want to get a full picture.

"Even if wobbly kitten syndrome is suspected, your veterinarian will most likely recommend lab work or X-rays to make sure there isn't anything else going on that could be causing similar symptoms like toxins, low blood sugar, or other disorders," she adds.

Treatment of Wobbly Kitten Syndrome

Unfortunately, there's no treatment or cure for wobbly kitten syndrome, so cats live with the condition their entire lives. While that might sound disheartening, think about it from the kittens' perspective. "Kittens who are born with this syndrome don't know anything different," Tracey says, adding that the condition doesn't cause pain.

What's the Prognosis of Wobbly Kitten Syndrome?

You will need to take extra steps to protect your kitten from getting hurt or injuring herself, as cats with this condition may be more accident prone, Tracey says. That's why it's crucial you set your home up for a clumsy kitten. For instance, don't allow your kitten to climb on high cat trees or jump onto high surfaces. Instead, lower cat trees and towers or provide more steps or surfaces for your kitten to maneuver more easily in the home. You may even need to help your kitten get up and down surfaces.

Here are some other tips for wobbly kitties:

  • Keep your cat indoors
  • Place food and water at floor level
  • Put mats and grippy surfaces on your floors
  • Barricade stairwells using baby gates
  • Buy litter boxes with low entrances so cats can get in and out easily

Can a kitten with this condition live with other cats? Depending on the severity of symptoms, the kitten (or cat if you've adopted one later in life) may be able to live with other cats.

"Coordinated play and fighting will be affected, so cats with this condition should be monitored around other cats to ensure that there is no bullying and that they can stand up for themselves," Tracey says.

Generally, she's found that wobbly kittens do well with other cats.

How to Prevent Wobbly Kitten Syndrome

The best way to prevent wobbly kitty syndrome is to vaccinate female cats against the feline panleukopenia virus before they have kittens.