Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats and Anesthesia: Is it Safe?

The topic of anesthesia and cats with cerebellar hypoplasia is one that I’ve seen come up time and time again. Naturally, CH cat parents are usually worried about having their cat undergo surgery and anesthesia. After all, a kitty with cerebellar hypoplasia already has a brain that doesn’t function 100%. Can anesthesia make their condition worse? Can a CH cat handle anesthesia? Is it safe?

Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats & Anesthesia: Is it Safe?

The short answer is YES – anesthesia IS safe for cats with cerebellar hypoplasia. 

We just had our first experience with Sophie and anesthesia (she was already spayed when we adopted her), and I admit – I was worried. Even though I had seen the topic come up countless times in the Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats & Kittens group on Facebook, I never paid too much attention to it because it had never been something that I was having to worry about. However, when our vet told us a couple of weeks ago that it was time for Sophie to have a dental cleaning, I immediately went into panic mode.

Dr. Caldwell (our vet) assured me that I had nothing to worry about. He explained that though Sophie’s cerebellum is not fully functioning, it is not a part of her brain that is in any way associated with her body’s processing of anesthesia drugs or medications. He explained that though there is always a very small risk associated with anesthesia, there is no more risk for Sophie than for any other cat. Phew.

That being said, there are still things that you will want to check into and do to make sure that your CH kitty has the best and safest anesthesia experience possible.

Make sure that your vet will complete the necessary health tests prior to anesthesia.

Like I mentioned before, there is always a small risk associated with anesthesia. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 100,000 animals will have some sort of reaction to an anesthetic agent. Thankfully, this risk does not increase for cats with cerebellar hypoplasia, but the risk does increase if your cat is not well. To lessen the odds of something going wrong while your cat is under anesthesia, you will want to make sure that you take your cat to a full-service vet that will complete the following checks and tests before putting your kitty under:

  • a complete health history – identifying any risk factors or medical conditions (like CH), current medications and supplements, responses to previous anesthetic events
  • a full physical examination to confirm that your cat is healthy
  • blood work to check kidney and liver function

Confirm that your cat will be constantly monitored while under anesthesia.

Not all vets will provide constant monitoring of your cat’s vital signs while she is under anesthesia. You will want to make sure that the vet you take your CH cat to will be monitoring the following things throughout the entire anesthesia process:

  • blood pressure
  • temperature
  • blood oxygen level
  • exhaled carbon dioxide level
  • heart activity (EKG)

You will also want to make sure that your cat will have an IV catheter so your vet can administer sedatives, anesthetics, sterile fluids, and pain medications. This should be done prior to anesthesia so that the veterinary team always has immediate access to your cat’s bloodstream.

Your cat should also be intubated once she has been heavily sedated or anesthetized. This means that your veterinarian will slip a tube through her mouth and down her trachea. The tube is then hooked up to an anesthetic gas/oxygen mixture. While intubated, your cat cannot accidentally inhale saliva or stomach contents if regurgitation occurs while she’s asleep. Also, if her breathing slows or stops, a technician or veterinarian can breathe for her using equipment attached to the anesthesia machine.

Sophie, CH cat in tunnel

(Side note: If your vet is AAHA accredited, you can rest assured that they will be monitoring your cat during surgery and will be providing top-notch care throughout the entire process. For more information on what it means to be AAHA accredited, click here.)

Follow all pre-anesthesia directions given by your vet.

Your vet will probably tell you not to let your cat eat or drink anything for 8-12 hours before the procedure. Please follow these directions, as they are for your cat’s safety. If your cat has recently eaten, the risk of her regurgitating while under anesthesia increases.

Be sure to let your vet and everyone who will come into contact with your cat know that she has cerebellar hypoplasia.

It is of upmost importance that your vet and any other staff at the vet’s office are aware that your cat has cerebellar hypoplasia. Not just for the anesthesia, but also so that they are not surprised when your cat’s head bobbles or she falls over when walking. You don’t want to cause them undue alarm or concern.

They also need to know to follow the “4 on the floor” rule – meaning that after holding or handling your cat, all four of her feet need to be firmly on the floor before letting go.

Don’t assume that just because your vet knows your cat has CH that everyone else will know too. Communication sometimes falls through the cracks. To be thorough, you can make a label for your cat’s carrier like I did.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats & Anesthesia: Is it Safe? - Sophie in Sleepypod

Know what to expect after the anesthesia.

Depending on the procedure and the drugs/medications that your cat is given during or after, she may or may not be extra wobbly for a little while afterwards. Our vet gave Sophie some pain medication after her dental procedure, which caused her to be out of it and a bit more wobbly and unstable than she usually is. He warned me before we took her home and explained that the effects of the medication would wear off in about 6-8 hours. As a result, he suggested that we keep her secluded to a small room so she wouldn’t accidentally hurt herself. Be sure to ask your vet what you should expect with your cat and for how long.

Thankfully, Sophie came out of her dental procedure just fine. There were no complications or issues with the anesthesia, and she is doing very well. While I worried all day long until I got the call from the vet’s office that she was awake and okay, I had some peace of mind knowing that she was in good hands.

I might have also texted Sophie’s foster mom to check with her about how Sophie did with her spay surgery all those years ago before we adopted her. She eased my fears and told me that Sophie had done just fine with the anesthesia.

If you have concerns about your CH cat and anesthesia, just be sure to have an open and honest conversation with your vet. Ask questions, express your concerns. Your vet should take the time to explain everything and calm your fears.

>> Click here to download a printable list of questions to ask your vet about anesthesia and cerebellar hypoplasia. Carrier label included! <<

By Emily