Dr. Paige Carmichael
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
(706) 542-5834 (6373-lab)

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the name of the disease?
A: Hepatocerebellar Degeneration.

Q: What causes Hepatocerebellar Degeneration?
A: This disease is an inherited disorder that affects both the liver and the cerebellum.

Q: What does the cerebellum do?
A: The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls balance.

Q: What is the function of the liver?
A: The liver detoxifies many substances as well as produces important blood proteins.

Q: When do you see the first symptoms of HCD?
A: The signs appear when the pups are between 4 and 6 weeks old.

Q: What are the first symptoms?
A: Head tilt, head bobbing, hind limb stiffness and stumbling. Some animals may act “blind”

Q: What are symptoms that can be seen later on?
A: After a few days, puppies have difficulty in standing, fall over on their sides, splay out their front legs when eating and drinking as if they are trying to stabilize themselves, have bloated abdomens and become lethargic

Q: Are the onset of signs sudden or gradual?
A: In most cases, onset of signs is very sudden.

Q: Do the puppies get progressively worse or can they stabilize?
A: In most cases, puppies will get progressively worse.

Q: How late can a puppy develop signs of HCD?
A: Puppies do not develop signs after 6-7 weeks of age.

Q: Are dogs with Hepatocerebellar Degeneration going to die?
A: Hepatocerebellar Degeneration puppies have never lived past 6 months of age.

Q: Are there any tests for this disease?
At the moment there is no definitive test. However, affected puppies have a few very characteristic red cell, white cell and blood chemistry changes (see Dr. Carmichael’s paper Carmichael KP, Miller M, Rawlings CA, Fischer A, Oliver JE, Miller BE. Clinical, hematologic, and biochemical features of a syndrome in Bernese mountain dogs characterized by hepatocerebellar degeneration. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996 Apr 15;208(8):1277-9)

Q: Is there any treatment?
A: No.

Q: Are there any other diseases HCD may be confused with?
A: Not really, but several people unfamiliar with the disease have thought they had parvo. Also, because the time
of onset is approximately around the time of the first set of vaccines, some people have thought that the
disease was related to the vaccine. It is not.

Q: Are there any other breeds of dogs that have this problem?
A: Many breeds of dogs have similar forms of Cerebellar Degeneration. However, there are no breeds that have a syndrome with the liver lesions as well.

Q: How widespread is the Hepatocerebellar Degeneration?
A: Cases have been reported throughout the country.

Q: What is the inheritance pattern?
A: Test breeding indicates that it is an autosomal recessive trait. That means that both parents have to be carriers of the trait (and be clinically normal) to produce the sick puppies.

Q: What are the chances of getting an affected dog if two carriers are mated?
A: There is a 25% chance the puppy will be affected, a 50% chance that the dog will be carrier of the disease but be normal, and a 25% chance that the dog will not be a carrier of the disease and will be normal.

Q; What happens to any pedigree information that is provided to Dr. Carmichael?
A: All information provided will be kept totally confidential and will only be seen and used by the personnel working in the lab.

Q: What can I do if I have an ataxic litter?
A: Contact Dr. Carmichael at the University of Georgia (kpc@vet.uga.edu).

Q: What is the purpose of Dr. Carmichael’s research?
A: The purpose of the research is to understand the cause of the disorder and to find a test that can detect carriers.

Q: What can we do to help?
A: We always need money to continue this research project. If you think you have a dog that has HCD please contact the Carmichael lab. We would like to be able to examine or at least know about any pup with HCD. For each pup, we would like to receive pedigree information and blood samples (5 mls of EDTA treated blood and 5 mls of serum that can be easily taken by your veterinarian).

Q: Can I donate puppies or dogs to help?
A: Yes! If you have an ataxic litter and would like to donate affected and/or clinically normal puppies or their parents to this research project, please be assured that they will be well cared for and loved.

Last modified: April 14, 2011.