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Vestibular Disease

General Information

Vestibular disease is a disturbance of the cat's vestibular or balancing and orientation system. With vestibular disease, the cat's head is tilted to one side, the eyes move back and forth very rapidly, and walking is unsteady and awkward. When walking, the cat usually drifts to the side to which the head tilts.

This disease occurs most frequently during the late summer and fall, and its onset is sudden. The cause of the disease is unknown, but most cats recover within 2-6 weeks. Because other conditions, such as middle ear infections or brain disorders, may cause similar signs, various blood tests and radiographs (x-rays) may be necessary to establish the diagnosis.

Important Points in Treatment

1. Give all medication as directed. Call the doctor if you cannot give the medication.

2. Follow the instructions checked.

____Feed the normal diet.

____A special diet is required. Feed as follows:

3. Activity: It is essential that your cat be kept indoors while its ability to move is impaired. Allowing the cat to go outdoors could result in severe injury from automobiles, dogs, etc. Confine your cat to an area of the house where it will be safe from stairs, open windows and high ledges, etc.

Notify the Doctor if Any of the Following Occur:

* Your cat has fainting spells, convulsions or seizures.

* Your cat's signs worsen.

* Your cat's signs recur after an apparent recovery.

Question and Answer

What is vestibular disease in cats?

Vestibular disease in cats is a sudden disturbance of the peripheral vestibular system. The vestibular system normally helps maintain balance. The cat will have a head tilt, its eyes frequently will move back and forth, and it may fall or roll. Vestibular disease is a common condition of cats of any age. It rarely is observed in cats under one year of age.

What causes vestibular disease in cats?

The cause of vestibular disease in cats is unknown. An abnormal flow of fluid in the canals of the inner ear may play a part. A previous upper respiratory infection is suspected as the cause in some patients but the relationship is unclear. Some investigators report a higher number of cases in the summer and early fall, possibly after outbreaks of respiratory disease, but this has not been proven. The disease may occur at other times of the year.

What are the signs of vestibular disease in cats?

The cat with vestibular disease will have a sudden onset of severe disorientation. It will fall and roll, it will lean to one side, and it will meow (vocalize). Generally the cat will have a tendency to panic when picked up. The cat will tilt its head to one side; have abnormal eye movements, such as involuntary rapid movement of the eyeball; poor coordination; and be reluctant to walk. The cat may prefer to stay in a crouched position or with its legs spread out.

How is vestibular disease diagnosed in cats?

Diagnosis of vestibular disease in cats is made primarily through history and physical examination. The veterinarian will want to rule out other problems that can cause similar signs. These include disorders of the inner ear, such as an ear infection. Occasionally radiographs (X-rays) may be required to evaluate the bony portions of the ear. Neurological problems (such as facial weakness or facial paralysis, deafness, and ruptured ear membranes) may cause signs similar to vestibular disease. It is important to know if your cat has eaten any drugs or other potentially toxic substances. If the cat eats a Blue-tailed Lizard In the southeastern United States, it may have signs similar to vestibular disease.

How is vestibular disease treated in cats?

Treatment is supportive, as no specific treatment exists for vestibular disease in cats. Most cats can be cared for at home. Severely affected cats may require a short period of hospitalization for supportive care. Activity is restricted according to the degree of disorientation and impaired motor functioning. The cat should be kept away from stairs to prevent falling. Fluids may be administered intravenously (through a vein) in a few cats. Medication for sedation may be needed in cats with severe disorientation or severe abnormal movements. If an ear infection cannot be ruled out, antibiotics may be prescribed.

What is the prognosis for cats with vestibular disease?

Despite initial alarming and incapacitating signs, the prognosis (outcome) for rapid and complete recovery for cats with vestibular disease is excellent. Improvement starts within 72 hours, and affected cats usually are back to normal within 2 to 3 weeks. The head tilt is the final sign to resolve, and a mild head tilt may remain after the cat has recovered. If the signs do not improve rapidly, other causes of the signs should be pursued. Signs such as head tilt and poor coordination may return temporarily with stress, such as general anesthesia, but this condition rarely recurs.

The information on this page was obtained from the site www.vetmedcenter.com