Congenital Brain Diseases in Cats

Congenital Brain Diseases in Cats

Congenital Brain Diseases in Cats

Congenital brain diseases in cats are those which pass from a mother to her young while the young are developing in the womb. One of the most serious of these is caused by the feline panleucopaenia virus, a form of cat ‘flu which causes a fall in a cat’s I white blood cells, but which arrests the development of the brain cells in unborn kittens. If your cat has this condition before she gives birth, you should be aware that her kittens will be affected by it too.

The cerebellum of a cat’s brain is responsible for co-ordinating its movements. Feline panleucopaenia attacks the cerebellum cells of unborn kittens affecting their sense of balance when they are born.

The feline panleucopaenia virus attacks cells which are dividing rapidly in the body, which is why its effects are most obvious in the intestinal tract. In the case of a pregnant female however, the virus crosses the placenta, and attacks the part of the brain called the cerebellum, which is responsible for controlling the kitten’s sense of balance. This is the area right at the back of the brain.

The symptoms become apparent soon after birth, with the kitten being unable to stand normally, suffering from a loss of balance and co-ordination described as ataxia. The damage to the cerebellum means that this area of the brain has not developed properly, and so cannot function effectively.


There is no possible treatment for this illness, since by the time the kittens are born the damage has already occurred.

The death rate from feline panleucopaenia among kittens is high, as it is in adult cats, so that most of the litter may actually be born dead or die shortly afterwards. Worse still is the fact that this virus can linger for a long time — perhaps up to a year in the domestic environment, and is resistant to disinfectants.

  • This disease is also known as feline infectious enteritis, because of its effects on the digestive tract.
  • There is a key difference between a congenital condition and an inherited one. In a congenital affliction, a kitten is born with a condition, which is passed from mother to her young via the placenta — as in the case of feline panleucopaenia.
  • The resulting condition in kittens caused by feline panleucopaenia is called cerebellar hypoplasia, because the cerebellum is smaller than normal, and is undeveloped as a result of the viral infection.
  • New-born kittens only acquire protection against feline panleucopaenia in the first milk or colostrum — the female cat cannot transfer antibodies against the infection to her offspring prior to birth.

What does ‘feline panleucopaenia’ mean?

Feline panleucopaenia, is a form of cat ‘flu that affects the digestive system and causes a dramatic fall in the number of white cells in a cat’s blood stream.

Should I arrange for my cat to have a feline panleucopaenia booster now she is pregnant?

Yes, if she is due for a booster so that she can pass on immunity to her kittens. However, discuss this with your vet, because a ‘live’ vaccine, which contains a mild form of the virus, will be dangerous as it will cross the placental barrier.

Our kittens have cerebellar ataxia. Will their condition improve?

There will be no further degeneration in their condition; in fact there may be a slight improvement as they adjust to the condition.

Urine sampling and testing

Collecting a urine sample from your cat may not be easy, but it is very important when your vet needs to investigate your pet’s state of health. Always try to keep a watch on the cat’s urinary habits, as this can alert you to a potential problem at an early stage. This can be difficult when a cat regularly ventures outside, but you may also pick up an indication that all is not well by other signs such as increased thirst or even soiling around the home.

Testing urine can provide vital insight into various aspects of feline health and can detect disorders such as diabetes. By lining your cat’s litter tray with foil or clean gravel, you can collect a sample of your cat’s urine for testing.

How much urine should I provide?

Only a small amount is generally needed. Ask your vet at the outset, but in most cases, a little more than a few drops will be adequate.

How should I take the sample to my vet?

Take it in a clean jar which has no traces of deposits (sugar could interfere with test readings). It helps to have a relatively broad-necked container into which you can funnel the fluid easily. Use foil to make a funnel.

My vet suspects that my cat has diabetes mellitus. What will a urine sample show? In diabetes mellitus, glucose accumulates in the blood rather than being taken up by cells around the body. The glucose level is so high that some is lost in the urine, and this shows up in a urine test.In order to obtain a urine sample, the easiest way is to keep your cat indoors, and persuade her to use a litter tray. Instead of providing the usually absorbent cat litter however, simply line the tray instead with tin foil and possibly a little gravel, which should have been well-washed beforehand in a colander and then allowed to dry. Try to tilt the tray very slightly, so the urine will run down to one end, away from this litter. You can then carefully pour the urine into a clean container, or remove it with a pipette if you prefer.


Your vet will be able to carry out a number of tests on your cat’s urine, checking for the presence of dissolved chemicals, which will give an insight into kidney function. Bacteriology may also be possible, in the case of a suspected infection of the urinary tract. Working from the urine sample, it is often possible to identify the exact bacteria present and then treat the cause of the infection with the most appropriate drug. This can be achieved by testing the sensitivity of the particular bacteria to a range of antibiotics and similar drugs.

  • In all cases however, it is important that the sample is uncontaminated and as fresh as possible. Keep your cat confined overnight, so that in the morning it should be possible to collect a sample which can be taken straight to your vet.
  • Your vet may want to admit your cat, so that a urine sample can be collected directly from the bladder by means of a catheter (a tube which is passed up the urethra under anaesthetic). This method is often preferred in cases of cystitis.
  • The cat’s urine can be tested for pH using a simple test paper. It should be on the acid side of the pH scale. Dietary changes may be advised if an alkaline reading results, as this is likely to result in bacterial infection.