ASK THE VET: Wobbly kitten with this birth defect can still live a good life

Q: My friend adopted a kitten she named Clown because she's so funny to watch. Clown has a condition called CH, which makes her wobble like a drunk and sometimes fall over. What exactly is CH?

A: CH is cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition caused by incomplete (hypo-) development (-plasia) of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that coordinates balance and movement.

Clinical signs, which include swaying, poor balance and coordination, exaggerated movements, a wide stance and sometimes tremors, appear when the kitten starts to walk. As the kitten learns to compensate, these abnormalities may improve a bit, but the disability remains lifelong.

Fortunately, CH does not cause pain, and affected cats have a normal life span.

The cause is damage to the cerebellum during its development, which occurs during the last three weeks before birth and the first three weeks after birth. Damage most often results from exposure to the feline distemper virus, also called the panleukopenia virus, either from contact with an infected cat or vaccination. Severity can vary among kittens in the same litter, with some kittens appearing normal.

Because of their poor coordination, cats with CH must live indoors. Suggest your friend provide Clown with non-spill water and food bowls. A low-entry litter box is also helpful.

Clown is fortunate to have people in her life who enjoy her company and cherish the characteristics that make her special.

Q: The veterinarian told me that my new puppy, Walter, has an undescended testicle. She recommends neutering him, but I want to breed him. How can we make his testicle descend into his scrotum — or can the other testicle produce enough sperm by itself to create puppies?

A: Walter is cryptorchid, a common condition in which one or both testicles don't descend into the dog's scrotum. The word comes from the Greek language, in which "crypt" means hidden and "orchid" refers to the testicle.

Undescended testicles may hide in the abdomen, beneath the skin or, most commonly, in the inguinal canal. When only one testicle is retained, it's usually on the right.

In a normal puppy, both testicles descend into the scrotum by about two weeks of age. Testicles can easily move between the scrotum and inguinal canal in very young puppies. However, no treatment can pull an undescended testicle down into the scrotum.

Walter's retained testicle will produce testosterone but not sperm. His descended testicle will produce both.

However, experts agree that it's essential not to breed him because cryptorchidism is inherited, and the only ethical reason to breed dogs is to improve the quality of the breed.

Walter should be neutered not only to prevent the births of other cryptorchid puppies but also to protect him from suffering from two conditions that are common in dogs with retained testicles.

The first is testicular cancer. In dogs, undescended testicles are 13.6 times more likely to develop tumors than testicles that descend into the scrotum. Moreover, testicular tumors arise at a younger age in dogs with retained testicles than in dogs with descended testicles.

Testicular tumors often produce excessive estrogen and sometimes excessive testosterone, both of which cause additional medical problems.

The second disorder that occurs more frequently in dogs with undescended testicles is testicular torsion. The retained testicle twists, which constricts its blood vessels, a condition that is very painful and requires immediate surgery.

So, my advice is to keep Walter healthy by having your veterinarian neuter him.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at