Degeneration of the Cerebellum of the Brain in Cats


PetMD Editorial

Published Sep. 21, 2012

Cerebellar Degeneration in Cats

Cerebellar degeneration in cats is a brain disease that affects a specific area of the brain known as the cerebellum. In cerebellar degeneration, the cells within the cerebellum die, causing neurological symptoms.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms of cerebellar degeneration in cats include:

  • An abnormal gait which often appears as a goose-step involving the front legs
  • A broad-based stance
  • Swaying
  • Muscle tremors, especially when trying to eat or perform another activity
  • Normal vision with no menace reflex
  • Head tilt
  • Lack of coordination (vestibular ataxia)
  • Normal mental activity
  • Abnormal posturing with head back, front legs rigid and hind legs flexed (decerebellate posture)
  • Progression of symptoms may or may not occur


Infection with feline panleukopenia virus either in utero or as a neonate may cause cerebellar degeneration. A genetic predisposition for the condition is seen in dogs and may also be possible in cats.


MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may reveal a smaller than normal cerebellum. Cerebrospinal fluid analysis may be normal or abnormal depending on the individual cause. Biopsy of the cerebellum is the definitive means of diagnosis.

Routine blood and urine testing may be necessary to rule out other disease conditions which may appear similar.


There is no curative treatment, but medications such as amantidine, buspirone, co-enzyme Q10 and acetyl-l-carnitine have shown some promise.

Living and Management

Because of the lack of coordination associated with this condition, restrict the cat’s activity to safe areas of the household where injury cannot occur. Avoid stairs, sharp objects, swimming pools, and other dangers.

Another effect of incoordination in the cat may present as trouble eating.  The cat may require physical aid in eating, though it can continue to eat a normal diet. Nursing care to keep the cat free of urine and feces may also be necessary.


To protect your cat and potential offspring from brain disease, avoid vaccinating pregnant queens with modified live virus vaccines, particularly the feline panleukopenia vaccine.

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