Vestibular Disease in Cats

Cats are known for their agility and jump effortlessly from one surface to another. So it’s understandable to be concerned when your lithe cat suddenly wobbles and seems a bit drunk.

A cat that becomes uncoordinated without warning may suffer from an imbalance disorder, a rare condition affecting cats of all ages and breeds.

Balance disorders are not life-threatening, but they can make cats feel uncomfortable. If you recognize the symptoms of this condition, you’ll know when it’s time to take your wobbly kitty to the vet.

What is Vestibular Disease in Cats?

black and white cat lying on brown bamboo chair inside room

Vestibular disease is a disorder of the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and coordination. This system also helps cats orient themselves and have a sense of direction.

The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and spinal cord (lower part of the brain), and these two areas are connected by nerves.

When the vestibular system is disrupted, cats lose balance and coordination.

What Causes Vestibular Disease in Cats?

In many cases, balance disorders in cats are idiopathic, meaning their cause is unknown. Possible causes are listed below:

  • inflammation of the middle or inner ear
  • neoplasms, especially in older cats
  • drugs that are toxic to the ear
  • polyps (benign growths)
  • inflammatory disease
  • head trauma

Genetics can also play a role. Siamese and Burmese cats are prone to developing balance disorders.

What Are the Signs of Vestibular Disease in Cats?

white and brown cat with mouth open

Symptoms of the vestibular disease appear suddenly and are associated with a lack of coordination and balance.

A pronounced tilt of the head is a clear sign of the disease. Other signs are listed below:

  • confusion
  • Confusion
  • Curling on one side
  • Furious screaming
  • Rolling on the floor
  • Lying on furniture or walls
  • Oczoplasia (involuntary movement of the eyeballs)
  • Suspended face (in tumors and inflammatory diseases)

Cats with balance disorders also experience nausea and vomiting and refuse to eat.

Symptoms are often at their worst within 24 to 48 hours of onset, after which they improve.

How is Vestibular Disease in Cats Diagnosed?

shallow focus photography of white and brown cat

There are no specific tests to diagnose balance disorders. Instead, the veterinarian relies on history, physical examination, and a series of diagnostic tests to diagnose the condition and determine the underlying cause.

Because the underlying cause can be serious, cats with symptoms of the vestibular disease should be treated immediately by a veterinarian.

When taking a history, your veterinarian will ask you the following questions:

  • What symptoms have you noticed?
  • When did the symptoms first appear?
  • What medications is your cat currently taking?
  • Has your cat recently suffered any head trauma?
  • Has your cat had a middle or inner ear infection in the past?

The physical examination also includes an otoscopic (ear examination) and a neurological examination.

Diagnostic tests include blood tests, urinalysis, X-rays, and examination of ear discharge. If the veterinarian believes the problem is deep in the cat’s brain or ear, more advanced diagnostic tests, such as an MRI scan, may be necessary. A cerebrospinal fluid analysis may also be needed.

Even if diagnostic tests are performed, remember that the cause of balance disorders in cats often remains unknown.

What Is the Treatment for Vestibular Disease in Cats?

hd wallpaper, cat, face

Treatment of vestibular disorders depends on the underlying cause, if it can be determined. For example, bacterial otitis is treated with antibiotics. Inflammatory ear disease is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.

If the cause remains unknown, treatment is symptomatic. For example, nausea medications are prescribed to relieve nausea and vomiting in a cat.

Because imbalances cause cats to lurch and be uncoordinated, make sure your cat is safe and comfortable during treatment.

  • Keep your cat in a safe and enclosed area to avoid injury.
  • Place food and water bowls and a litter box near your cat.
  • Assist the cat in eating and drinking until it regains balance and coordination.
  • Turn the cat’s position every few hours to avoid pressure points.

Cats with balance disorders often recover fully within days to weeks, with no permanent damage or recurrence. If the underlying cause is irreversible, the cat may continue to have symptoms despite treatment.


Scroll to Top