Cerebella Abiotrophy in Horses

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 14, 2008

Cerebellar Abiotrophy in Horses

Cerebellar abiotrophy is a degenerative disease affecting the cerebellum, the portion of the horse’s brain responsible for basic balance and coordination. This condition is generally associated with purebred Arab horses or those that have Arab blood.

Very little is currently known about cerebellar abiotrophy, although veterinarians do know the disease affects cells in the cerebellum, causing loss of motor function and incoordination in horses.


Cerebellar abiotrophy most frequently affects foals that are one to six months old, although it can occasionally be seen in adult horses. Symptoms will first appear minor, usually just a slight loss of balance. Things will then become progressively worse and the horse's gait may become higher and more spastic; the head may even droop or nod.

Signs are usually progressive over a period of months, but then the condition ceases to progress. Other signs to look out for include:

  • Jerking
  • Tremors/Shakes
  • Unnatural gait
  • Collapse
  • Wide-based stance
  • The horse may fall when startled


Cerebellar abiotrophy is caused by a premature degeneration of neurons in the cerebellum. The loss of these cells affects the balance and coordination of the horse. The true cause of this condition is unknown, although it is thought to be genetic. No toxins or infectious agents have been identified.


The behavior that is associated with the early stages of cerebellar abiotrophy may be indicative of another condition or disease, so the veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and neurological exam. Other laboratory tests are not useful for diagnosing this condition, but may be used to help rule out other causes.


There is currently no treatment for cerebellar abiotrophy, as brain cells lost by the disease cannot be regained. The condition does seem to stabilize as the horse gets older and it has been reported that some horses improve slightly over time.

Living and Management

A horse that suffers from cerebellar abiotrophy should not be ridden at all as their lack of coordination makes riding dangerous for both the rider and the horse. Many horses with this condition are euthanized because they do become a danger to themselves or others.


Unfortunately, there are currently no preventive measures for cerebellar abiotrophy.

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