Vestibular Disease in Cats

The cat's ability to be flexible and agile comes from the vestibular system. When the vestibular system no longer functions properly, it is called vestibular disease. Vestibular disease is broken into two categories: peripheral vestibular disease and central vestibular disease. While the disease is not life-threatening, it can be debilitating and uncomfortable for cats.

How Does the Vestibular System Work?

The main function of the vestibular system is to keep the head and body controlled while under gravitational pull. The nerves of the vestibular system begin in the brain and travel to the inner ear. When a cat is diagnosed with vestibular disease, the communication system between the central vestibular system, located in the inner ear, and the peripheral vestibular system, located in the brain, is broken down. When the vestibular system is broken, it results in an unbalanced effect in your cat.

What Causes Vestibular Disease in Cats?

There is no confirmed cause of vestibular disease. It seems to occur without reason or warning. However, it does seems to appear more commonly in the late spring and early fall and more predominately in cats of senior age. Because there is no known cause for the disease, it is called idiopathic.

Signs of Vestibular Disease

Because vestibular disease can occur on whim and no prior testing could predict its occurrence, it is best to become aware of the symptoms. Because the symptoms are drastically noticeable, it is unlikely that you would be unaware of something being wrong with your cat. Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • Dizziness
  • Uncoordinated
  • Significant head tilt
  • Falling
  • Crying out
  • Repetitive eye movement

Because your cat is confused by what is happening to them, they may show a lack of movement altogether and resign themselves to one place in your home.

Diagnosis of Vestibular Disease

Before any firm confirmation of vestibular disease can be made, other ailments must be ruled out. Illnesses such as inner ear infections, cancer of the inner ear and polyps of the inner ear all have symptoms very similar to that of vestibular disease. A thorough physical examination, blood testing and x-rays can rule out an underlying condition that could be responsible for the change in your cat. Once any underlying conditions are ruled out and based on the significant effects of your cat, a firm diagnosis of vestibular disease can be made.

Treatment of Vestibular Disease

Any underlying conditions that are present will need to be treated. That can help to determine if a case of vestibular disease exists. However, what is truly amazing about vestibular disease, aside from having no known cause, is its ability to heal on its own. In most cases of vestibular disease, little or no treatment is needed. Vestibular disease is known to get better on its own over the course of a few weeks. While there is no medication on the market that could help to speed the process along, your cat may benefit from a motion-sickness medication such as meclizine. Meclizine or a similar medication can help them to feel more balanced and decrease the severity of their symptoms.