Vestibular Disease in Cats

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Cats may sometimes suddenly lose their ability to orient themselves and become somewhat tipsy. And some cats are more than just a little dizzy—they cannot even stand. That is quite a worry for an unprepared owner.

We term this feline vestibular syndrome, or idiopathic vestibular disease. Now that's a big mouthful of words. What we are really saying is that the vestibular system, which is a part of "control central" for the cat's balance, gets out of kilter for no obvious reason.

Cause of Vestibular Disease in Cats

The root of the problem is proposed to be changes involving the peripheral vestibular system which is seated deep within the inner ear. Current thinking is that the special endolymphatic fluid in the semicircular canals or the interface with the special sensory cells lining the canals becomes abnormal. Inflammation, abnormal endolymph fluid circulation, or toxic insults involving the receptors or nerve have all been proposed to result in these balance problems. No one has been able to confirm a single common cause for these cases.

There is no obvious pattern to this problem. We see cases here, there and everywhere, though some studies find a slightly increased incidence of this disorder in late summer and early fall. Some veterinarians also see a tentative association with recent outbreaks of respiratory infections.

Signs of Feline Vestibular Syndrome

The signs of vestibular disease in cats can be quite alarming to owners, who often believe their feline friend is having a stroke. These signs include:

Sometimes, if both ears are affected, the head may not be tilted much and the kitty may not want to move at all. Affected cats are most certainly as puzzled by these sudden occurrences as we are.

Other Potential Causes of Balance Problems in Cats

If your cat develops any or all of the above signs, your veterinarian will do a thorough examination to determine whether vestibular disease is to blame. Some other conditions that cause balance problems in cats include:

Treatment of Vestibular Syndrome in Cats

Excellent improvement in the signs of vestibular disease is usually seen in 2-3 days. It can take a few weeks to fully recover normal head orientation and full mobility. A cat with any of the signs of vestibular disease should be assessed by a veterinarian promptly, and if idiopathic vestibular disease is confirmed, it is a better diagnosis than many others that produce these sorts of signs.

Treatment for vestibular disease is supportive and includes:

In more serious cases, your veterinarian will advise admission to the hospital so that more aggressive supportive care such as sedation, intravenous fluid, and injectable medications can be provided.

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