Feline Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease in a cat is a neurological disorder that can make a feline feel dizzy and off-balance. A cat's vestibular system and nerves within it play an important role in helping a cat keep his balance.

Feline Vestibular Disease

Feline vestibular disease originates in a cat's peripheral vestibular system, which is located in the inner ear, or a problem in the brain stem (central vestibular system). Vestibular disease can be lateral, occurring on one side of the head, or bilateral, affecting both sides.

Within the inner ear is the semicircular canal, which harbors an ideal ratio of endolymphatic fluid to aid in balance. When the fluid amount or the sensory cells within the lining of the semicircular canal changes, a cat becomes very dizzy, causing peripheral vestibular disease. These changes within the ear can be attributed to inflammation, toxicity from medications, nerve damage, upper respiratory tract infections, polyps or cancer in the ear, improper ear cleaning, and bacterial, parasitic or viral infections.

Central feline vestibular disease is more dangerous than its peripheral counterpart. This form of the disease occurs when there’s swelling in a cat's brain stem. This can be caused by brain cancer, encephalitis, a parasitic infection like toxoplasmosis or viral infections like feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

Symptoms and Treatment of Feline Vestibular Disease

A cat with vestibular disease will have ataxia, a condition that will make him lose his balance and not be coordinated. You might also notice his head tilt or circle around. This disease will also cause a cat to become nauseous due to motion sickness, which could result in vomiting. Symptoms can also be noticed in the behavior of a cat’s eyes, which may become deviated (strabismus) or have strange up and down, side to side or rotary movements (nystagmus).

When a cat has bilateral peripheral vestibular disease, he will look as if he's weak because of his stumbling. However, the cat will have full muscle strength. When there's central vestibular disease, a cat will place his limbs in awkward or unusual positions and his mental awareness will be lacking. In central vestibular disease, the side of the cat's body opposite to the lesion on the brain stem can be affected. This is known as the "paradoxical form" of central vestibular disease. Central vestibular disease can also cause a cat's facial muscles to lack movement or sensation.

Once a cat is diagnosed with feline vestibular disease and the veterinarian knows if it's peripheral or central, the appropriate treatment will begin by addressing its underlying cause. If the disease is caused by a bacterial, parasitic or viral infection, a cat may be prescribed antibiotics. Drugs can also be prescribed to help with nausea, inflammation and other vertigo symptoms. Surgery may be required in the case of certain infections, cancer or polyps.

The feeling after spinning quickly in an office chair may give you a small glimpse of what it's be like for a cat with feline vestibular disease. When the symptoms of this condition are noticed, you should take your cat to a veterinarian for prompt treatment, so balance can be restored in his world.