Cerebellar degeneration (cerebral ataxia) in Italian Spinone puppies

Cerebellar ataxia, or cerebellar degeneration, is a distressing disease sometimes affecting the Spinone. We discuss symptoms, effects, and how to compare dog insurance policies for the condition.

You may have heard of cerebellar ataxia. If you haven't but you're thinking of buying a Spinone Italiano dog, you need to read about it.

It's a serious condition which is known to affect Italian Spinone puppies and can cause you both untold distress.

Cerebellar degeneration : how to recognise symptoms

Cerebellar ataxia is the medical term for cerebellar degeneration, a disease of the brain which affects the part of the mind controlling movement in Spinone puppies.

The symptoms can easily be missed because they are very similar to the natural clumsiness of puppy-hood.   What you should look for in your pup is an extreme lack of co-ordination, poor balance and an unsteady walk.

The behaviour of affected pups will be much more marked than normal puppy antics.  Puppies may lean against walls or furniture for support and may drag their back leg, or trip over their front paws.

Cerebellar ataxia  :  when does it start?

Cerebellar degeneration tends to begin when Spinone puppies are in the first few months of life and gets worse with age. By nine or ten months it will be very pronounced and, sadly, no affected dog has been known to survive longer than twelve months.

This is a distressing, and fatal, illness.

All pups can be clumsy but you need
to make sure yours is healthy.

The pups themselves seem to cope quite well with the disease and, as far as anyone can tell, are in no pain. There is no cure for cerebral ataxia; it needs to be eradicated by not breeding from affected dogs.

The problem with that is that although adult dogs can't get the condition, they may be carriers.   Because this is a genetic illness there is now a DNA test available which identifies the relevant gene.

Responsible breeders will never use an affected dog but you do need to check before you buy - make sure you ask the breeder for a written assurance that, to the best of their knowledge, the breed line is not affected.

What to do if you suspect cerebral ataxia in your Italian Spinone puppies

If you do see any signs in your pup you need to go immediately to a vet. You must also report it to both the breeder and the Spinone Club, who will be able to give you advice on how to deal with it.

The responsible breeder will then not use that bloodline to produce any future litters.

Can I care for Italian Spinone puppies suffering from cerebellar degeneration?

Spinone puppies

Yes - it very much depends on your circumstances and ability to cope. Some people continue to care for affected dogs, others feel the animal should not be put through any possible suffering and choose euthanasia.

There is no right or wrong answer here. Each individual must make up his or her own mind. 

It's vitally important, though, that you get good advice, help and guidance from professionals - in particular your vet and local Spinone club.

How should I compare dog insurance for cerebellar degeneration?

It's always a good idea to insure a pedigree dog as soon as you become its owner. Vet's bills, no matter what the problem, can mount up quickly.

When you compare dog insurance for your new Spinone make sure you find a policy which covers inheritable disease - most don't, so if you're not sure - ask the company before you buy. 

It's important because if your Italian Spinone puppies sadly do develop cerebellar ataxia, you won't be covered for veterinary fees unless this condition is covered by the policy.

Cerebellar degeneration  :  conclusion

Let's get this in perspective. Although cerebral ataxia is a deadly condition, the development of DNA tests combined with responsible breeding programmes are trying to eradicate it in the UK - and at the time of writing there have been no reported cases in the United States.

One day, this distressing condition will be a thing of the past.

All you need to know about the Spinone Italiano