Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your cat.

Why Is My Cat Acting Drunk?

Learn about why cats sometimes act drunk.

If your cat ever suddenly acts drunk (wobbling, vomiting, and tilting the head to one side), it's probably a vestibular problem.

Vestibular Syndrome in Cats

Vestibular syndrome is a condition during which a cat's inner ear develops an abnormality that disturbs the vestibular system. The vestibular system is what orients the cat and lets them know where their body is in space. A vestibular problem causes extreme dizziness, which manifests as the following signs:

  • Anguished meowing
  • Head tilted to one side
  • Rolling around on the floor
  • Falling over
  • Inability to walk in a straight line
  • Leaning against walls or furniture to walk
  • Nystagmus, or fast movement of the eyes back and forth
  • Acting "out of it"

What Causes Feline Vestibular Syndrome?

Sometimes, the signs listed above can be caused by inner or middle ear infections, brain or inner ear tumors, and certain toxins or medications.

However, most cases of feline vestibular syndrome are idiopathic, which means that an inciting cause isn't apparent. Scientists don't yet know what causes idiopathic vestibular syndrome. Some ideas include viruses and parasites.

What to Do If Your Cat Acts Drunk

If your cat suddenly looks wobbly, unable to stand, presses his head against solid objects, has a head tilt, develops nystagmus (rapidly moving eyes), or can't seem to walk straight, get to a veterinarian right away.

The veterinarian will do a thorough physical exam and some blood work. Other testing may be performed to rule out other conditions.

Treatment of Vestibular Syndrome in Cats

If vestibular syndrome is diagnosed, the treatment is symptomatic. That means there is no way to treat the cause of the condition. In most cases, the cat slowly gets better over time on his own.

In the meantime, treatment is aimed at keeping the cat safe by blocking off access to stairs and keeping the kitty on a low surface. Medications as directed by the veterinarian for motion sickness, helping the kitty eat and drink regularly, and helping get the cat to and from the litter box often are nursing care that will be required for a short time.

Signs of vestibular syndrome in cats usually start to improve about 24-48 hours after they begin.

Learn more: "Vestibular Disease in Cats."

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