Wobbly cats

by Greg Mayer

I’d never heard of feline cerebellar hypoplasia before, but apparently it’s a non-fatal neurological condition that causes the cat to be  “wobbly” in its movements. Ralphee, a wobbly kitten from, apparently, Queensland, is becoming an internet star.

Part of Ralphee’s fame comes from her companionship with a d*g named Max. From Wakaleo Animal Channel, the group that posted the video (Wakaleo is a genus of extinct marsupial carnivore):

Ralphee’s condition is a neurological disorder known as feline cerebellar hypoplasia. A kitten is born with “CH” when their cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls fine motor skills and coordination, is underdeveloped at birth.

These cats are known for their “drunken sailor” walk, which is why they’re known endearingly as “wobbly cats.”

Unless a CH cat has other health issues, their life expectancy is the same as a cat’s without CH. Since the condition is non-progressive, it will never get worse — and in some cases, owners say that their cats become more capable over time.

Ever since Ralphee was brought home, Max is never far away. He appears to be forever curious and watches over Ralphee wherever she goes. Ralphee is growing more mischievous by the day and loves to see what Max is doing as well. She will often get excited when he is nearby and leap in the air before playfully charging in his direction.

Despite her condition, Ralphee is a happy cat who, like most kittens loves affection and causing all sorts of trouble wherever she goes.

Ralphee’s movements reminded me of waltzing mice, a breed of domestic mouse that is prized for its circular “dancing” movements, and was developed in China over 2000 years ago. In the mice, though, the curious movements are due to an inner ear problem, not a cerebellar problem. (Jerry’s father used to keep waltzing mice when he was a kid!) Ralphee also seems to have the Manx cat trait of a stump tail– not sure if she’s genetically Manx, or just lost her tail somehow.

h/t Andrew Sullivan


  1. James Lee Phelan
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    There are 2 cats at the Humane Society in my city with this condition. These siblings were given the shelter names of Weeble and Wobble (of course they were!) and are adorable. Apparently this condition does not get worse with age and the cats are not in pain because of it. If anyone out there would like to adopt these guys I’d be happy to post a link to their adoption page.

    • James Lee Phelan
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Whoops. My bad. Weeble and Wobble are in Memphis, Tennessee.

  2. rickflick
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    My daughter is a vet, and raised one of these wobbly cats abandoned by a customer. I found it a little off-putting at first. She would round a corner, become startled, and leap suddenly into the wall – bam! But she quickly endeared herself to everyone around. Even the dog.

  3. Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve known six CH cats, including two brother-sister pairs. Disability ranged from mild (slight stiff-legged gait) to severe (flopping rather than walking). Kittens can be born this way if the mother becomes ill with distemper when pregnant (another reason to trap and vaccinate homeless cats). Some CH cats have seizures but most are normal other than the wobbly gait (and messy eating!). The CH cats that I knew were intelligent, active, confident creatures who loved human company and were quite dominant with other cats, easily holding their own in a crowd of several dozen “normal” felines.
    Good memories of some beautiful cat personalities.

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Oops, forgot this: A CH cat website!

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      Kittens can be born this way if the mother becomes ill with distemper when pregnant (another reason to trap and vaccinate homeless cats).

      …another reason to trap, vaccinate, and neuter homeless cats!

  4. Merilee
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Awwwwww…what a sweet and patient dog, too. The kitten’s movements almost look like Parkinson’s in humans.

  5. Azhael
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    A very similar condition can be found in some ball python phases like the one called “spider”. The colour mutation is sought after and the degree of expression of the “wobble” is unpredictable. This unfortunately means that a shit load of ball pythons are produced every year that have this condition. It is disgusting to see people making excuses or down right ignoring the condition just because it is commercially profitable and the colours are “cool”.

  6. Posted May 9, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Amazing how flexible the brain is that, with all that extra unconscious motion going on, the cat is still able to see, maneuver, and otherwise function.


    • still learning
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Might not hsve the best hunting skills though, with all that head-shaking and twitching. The prey would be fore-warned that a cat was approaching.

    • gravityfly
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Is there a human analogue for this condition?

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink


        • gravityfly
          Posted May 10, 2014 at 3:34 am | Permalink

          Thanks! It seems the symptoms are more severe in humans.

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted May 10, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

            I imagine it wouldn’t go well with bipedalism.

  7. SA Gould
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Shelter south of me has about 6 wobblies, they have their own room. They do alright- can get up and down to be in the windowsill- but they are older and worse off than the cute kitten.

  8. Posted May 9, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    This makes me worried that some sick f*cks might try to breed this into cats, to make a new breed of cute ‘wobbly cats’, I really hope that doesn’t happen, I feel sorry for those ‘munchkin’ cats too, bred with daschund-like short legs.

    • still learning
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      I agree!

    • Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      It’s an acquired condition, not inherited. Most CH cats are worse off than the bouncy kitten in the video. When I worked at the shelter, very few visitors found any of the “neuros” appealing, but a few dedicated staff and volunteers spent hours with them.

      I do agree about not breeding for deformities (short legs, no tail, no hair, crinkled ears, etc.). It’s never good for the cats.

  9. Rachel
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I used to have a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia. William the Bobbleheaded. He was a good and faithful kitty, who lived to the respectable age of 15 1/2.

  10. brian faux
    Posted May 10, 2014 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    Wow! For 40 years I have thought that Phillip Marlow saying `crazy as a pair of waltzing mice`was just a typical Chandler turn of phrase – but to find that there are such things is very satisfying.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted May 10, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Chandler was a genius.

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