Vestibular disease can cause a cat to have blurred vision and experience issues with their balance. Today, our Vancouver vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment of vestibular disease in cats.
Feline Vestibular Disease
Idiopathic vestibular disease or 'feline vestibular disease is a balance disorder that can affect your cat and stems from issues within your cat's vestibular system. The vestibular system in cats, humans, and other animals is responsible for controlling balance, orientation, and a sense of direction.
This system is located within the inner and middle ear. In people, vestibular disorders lead to conditions such as vertigo, dizziness, an inability to concentrate, and vision problems.
Signs 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 the kitty is struggling to stand up on all fours and unable to maintain its 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 cat'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 rare cases, tumors within the vestibular system may be the cause.
Diagnosing Feline Vestibular Disease
Your vet will perform a thorough physical exam paying particular attention to your cat's ears and may recommend diagnostic testing to rule out more serious conditions with 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:
- 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 to screen for urinary tract infections (UTI) and kidney function
If no cause can be established for your cat's symptoms your vet will diagnose the condition as an idiopathic vestibular disease, which simply means that the exact cause isn’t known.
Treating Vestibular Disease in 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 will 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 Recover
Your cat's recovery from vestibular disease should be relatively quick, but to help your kitty feel better while they are experiencing symptoms your job is to provide safety and comfort.
- 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 litter box within easy reach.
- If your cat is unable to stand at all your vet may recommend helping your cat 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 the 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!)