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Vestibular Disease in Cats - Symptoms & Treatments

Witnessing the symptoms of Vestibular Disease or Feline Vestibular Syndrome in your cat be distressing. This post outlines some of the signs of Vestibular Disease in cats and how it might be treated.

Feline Vestibular Disease

Idiopathic vestibular disease or 'feline vestibular disease' is a balance disorder that can affect your cat's ability to walk normally and stems from issues within your kitty's vestibular system located within their inner ear. Your cat's vestibular system is responsible for controlling their balance as well as orientation and a sense of direction.

People can also suffer from vestibular problems leading to conditions such as vertigo, dizziness, an inability to concentrate, and vision problems.

Signs & Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Cats

The symptoms of vestibular disease in cats can be alarming for pet parents to witness. You may notice that your cat is perfectly normal and happy one minute, then the next minute you notice that your kitty is struggling to stand up on all fours and unable to maintain their balance when trying to walk. Many cats experiencing vestibular disease will walk in circles or fall over to one side. You may also notice involuntary eye movements, or that your cat's head is tilted peculiarly to one side.

Your kitty's symptoms will likely be most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, with many pet parents reporting an improvement in their cat's symptoms within seventy-two hours of the condition starting.

Causes of Vestibular Disease in Cats

While Siamese and Burmese cats may suffer from an inherited or congenital form of the disease, it is believed that most cases are caused by middle- or inner-ear infections. In some very rare cases tumors within the vestibular system may be the cause.

How Feline Vestibular Disease is Diagnosed

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and may recommend diagnostic testing in order to rule out more serious conditions that have symptoms that mimic vestibular disease.

Your vet may recommend one or more of the following tests based on the results of your cat's physical examination:

  • MRI
  • Blood tests
  • Skull X-rays
  • Ear cultures
  • Spinal fluid analysis
  • Testing for kidney, liver, and pancreatic function
  • Thyroid testing to determine hormone production
  • Cytology (examination of fluids found in kitty's ear canal)
  • Electrolyte tests to check for dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance
  • Urine tests screening for urinary tract infections (UTI) and kidney function

If no cause can be established for your cat's symptoms your vet may diagnose the condition as Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, which simply means that the exact cause isn’t known. 

Vestibular Disease Treatment for Cats

Treatment for vestibular disease in cats depends largely on your cat's symptoms and whether a cause for the condition has been established. If a cause has been diagnosed the underlying condition may be treated, rather than the vestibular disease itself. In cases of idiopathic vestibular disease where no cause for the condition has been found, treatment largely involves keeping your kitty safe and comfortable while they gradually recover. Typically there is a dramatic improvement in symptoms within 2-3 days.

Helping Your Cat While They Recover from Vestibular Disease

Your cat's recovery from vestibular disease will likely be relatively quick. To help your kitty feel better while they are experiencing symptoms veterinarians often recommend doing what you can to keep your feline friend safe and comfortable.

  • Make sure that your cat has a clean and comfortable place to relax, ideally on the floor so that there is no need for jumping if they decide to stand up.
  • Keep your cat restricted to a room away from stairs, with food, water, and a clean litter box within easy reach. 
  • If your cat is unable to stand at all your vet may recommend helping your cat to change positions every hour or two to help prevent sores from developing.
  • You may also need to carry your cat to the litter box and back. (Be sure not to scold your cat for accidents that may occur while kitty is suffering from vestibular disease).

Your vet may prescribe an anti-nausea medication to help your cat feel better and prevent vomiting. (Never give your cat medications designed for humans. Many medications that work for us are toxic to cats!) 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes. The services listed in this post may not be available at this hospital.

Is your cat displaying symptoms of vestibular disease? Contact our Tucson vets right away. We provide emergency care 7 days a week at our Tucson animal hospital

Vestibular Disease in Cats - Symptoms & Treatments

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