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Cerebellar Ataxia (CA) in Dogs

Cerebellar Ataxia (CA) in Dogs

Health & Safety

Cerebellar ataxia is a hereditary neurological condition that can affect dogs, and that has been identified as being prevalent enough within the Italian Spinone dog breed as to pose a significant risk to the genetic health of the breed as a whole. It has also recently been reported in some Hungarian Vizslas.

Cerebellar ataxia is a degenerative brain condition that acts on the cerebellum, the area of the brain that is responsible for controlling movement, and which leads to a lack of coordination and general clumsiness in puppies born with the condition. This earliest warning of the condition can be easy to miss, as pups are generally rather clumsy and uncoordinated, but in affected pups, the condition can usually be determined by poor balance and often, unsuccessful attempts to walk normally.

Affected pups may also tend to trip over their own feet a lot, fall or lean onto walls and furniture for support, and potentially, drag their hind limbs.

The condition is hereditary, and because of the mode of inheritance, a litter may potentially contain both healthy pups and those affected by the condition.

Whilst pups born with the condition might seem to be only lightly affected whilst still young, cerebellar ataxia is a progressive disease that worsens as the pups age, and by the time they are eight to ten months old, symptoms will be very pronounced.

Ultimately, the condition is fatal, and pups affected by the condition rarely live past their first birthday.

In order to prevent the spread of the condition across the Italian Spinone breed and safeguard the future hereditary health of the breed, The Kennel Club strongly advises Italian Spinone breeders to have their breeding stock and any mating matches tested for the condition before breeding, in order to avoid breeding affected litters.

In this article we will look at cerebellar ataxia in the Italian Spinone in more detail, including how the heredity of the condition works, and how to get your dog tested. Read on to learn more.

More about cerebellar ataxia

The signature cerebellar degeneration caused by the condition begins at a young age, and because it usually proves fatal within a year, affected pups don’t tend to live long enough to be bred from.

Symptoms may become apparent at any time from the stage where the pups start walking to a few months of age, and by the time they are eight to ten months old, it will be very pronounced and prove fatal shortly afterwards.

Whilst not painful to the pups, they will never be able to lead a full and active life, and as mentioned, will die at a young age.

This is why pre-breeding screening for the condition in dogs of the Italian Spinone breed is so important, in order to ensure that litters are born healthy and go on to lead long, full lives.

How does the heredity of the condition work?

Cerebellar ataxia is passed from dog to dog by means of autosomal recessive heredity, which means that in order to be affected by the condition, any given dog needs to have inherited a certain combination of the gene mutation responsible for the condition from both sides of their parentage.

Dogs are described as clear, carriers or affected, and whilst carriers will not become ill with the condition themselves, they can still pass the gene mutation on to their offspring, who may then be affected depending on the status of the other dog in the mating match.

The heredity of the condition can be outlined in simple terms as follows:

  • Two clear dogs will have a clear litter.
  • Two affected dogs will have an affected litter.
  • Two carriers will produce a mixed litter of 50% carriers, 25% clear and 25% affected.
  • A clear dog and an affected dog will produce a litter of carriers.
  • A clear dog and a carrier will produce 50% clear and 50% carriers.
  • A carrier and an affected dog will produce 50% carriers and 50% affected.

How to get your dog tested

If you own an Italian Spinone that you wish to breed from, pre-breeding testing of both your own dog and the mating match is vital, in order to ensure that they will produce a healthy litter. Puppy buyers (particularly those buying pedigree dogs registered with The Kennel Club and especially, under the Assured Breeder scheme) will usually ask to see evidence of the litter’s status before committing to a purchase.

If you own an Italian Spinone that you do not wish to breed from, testing is unnecessary, as even if your dog is a carrier, they will not pass this on-and dogs with the condition do not live to adulthood, and so the affected form of the condition will not be lurking in the background to become a problem later.

In order to get your dog tested, you just need to ask your vet to take a DNA sample from your dog in the form of a blood sample or buccal swab, and then send it off to one of The Kennel Club’s approved laboratories. They will then return the results of your dog’s status to you directly.