One of the most common causes in cats and dogs with neurological problems that are taken to the vet will be of the cerebellar type and therefore ataxic. It is difficult if you are not in the medical field to know well what cerebellar ataxia is. We of love on all fours will try to explain in an exhaustive manner what this disease entails and how we can keep it under control given its difficulty in diagnosing and identifying it.
What happens at a motor level to our animal
Speaking of motor and sensory function in cats, we could say that normal gait is when brainstem, cerebellum, spinal cord (both ascending and descending pathways), peripheral nerves (both motor and sensory ones), neuro-muscular junction and muscles work properly. So when we find ourselves in front of a malfunction we should be sure two questions.
In dogs and cats, when there are prosencephalic lesions, therefore of the upper nerve pathways, the variations in gait can be almost imperceptible, there are more convulsive movements (for example the animal that walks without stopping or that presses with its head against obstacles). While, on the other hand, when the vet speaks of proprioception, we are talking about special neurons that send feedback, on the position of the body and movement in space, to the somatosensory cortex and the cerebellum, which manage conscious and unconscious proprioception.
Let’s see more specifically what ataxia is
Ataxia is lack of coordination in gait, and there are three types of cerebellar ataxia: sensory or proprioceptive, cerebellar and vestibular.
Sensory ataxia occurs when there is damage to the nerve structures that usually control general proprioception, the sensory fibers of the peripheral nerves, the nerve roots, the spinal cord, the brainstem or even the forebrain. The serious part of proprioceptive ataxia is that there is a loss of awareness of itself in space, especially as regards the limbs. In severe cases the cat abducts or excessively adducts the limbs, crosses them, placing the weight of the paw on the back of the same causing also secondary injuries. In conjunction with the ataxia we will then be able to find paresis, as well as hitting the posterior train with injuries to the T2 vertebrae or even all 4 limbs.
As for cerebellar ataxia, as the name suggests, it involves lesions to the cerebellum and affected animals are unable to regulate the amplitude of movements and thus we speak of dysmetria in the form of hypermetry. Symptoms that accompany the cerebellar form are intentional tremors and an increase in the support base. Furthermore, in the case of cerebellar ataxia , there is no paresis.
Let’s end now with vestibular ataxia: it is usually associated with unilateral vestibular lesions and symptoms are deviation of movement, falling and rolling to one side. This form of ataxia could be associated with other symptoms, such as nystagmus, positional squint, and handling movements. On the other hand, when we talk about bilateral ataxia, the cat loses balance on both sides and moves its head both to the right and to the left. Another feature is that animals with vestibular ataxia have great problems going down the stairs or jumping on the bed or getting off the sofa.