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What is Ataxia?

Ataxia itself is a symptom of an underlying disorder negatively affecting the cat's sense of motion and balance. There are a number of possible disorders that can lead to an unbalanced gait. Both the duration of the loss of control and the severity of the instability may vary, depending on what is causing the issue to exist. Ataxia may be a sign of something relatively benign, or of a life-threatening disease. 

When a cat experiences a period of limited or no muscle coordination, the condition is referred to as “ataxia”. 

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Symptoms of Ataxia in Cats

The range and severity of signs associated with ataxia will vary greatly depending on the type of ataxia present, and the cause of the occurrence. Signs to watch for include:

  • “Wobbly” gait
  • Clumsy movements
  • Weakness
  • Swaying
  • Head tilting
  • Leaning
  • “Goose-stepping” (abnormally high steps)
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Behavioral changes

Types

There are three different categories of ataxia that can develop. 

Cerebellar 

Cerebellar ataxia involves the part of the brain in charge of balance and coordination. This lack of control is often present from birth, but may also be brought on by damage or inflammation to the brain. 

Vestibular 

Vestibular ataxia relates to the function of the inner ear. The nerves surrounding the inner ear send information to the brain to maintain balance. It is thought that endolymphatic fluid (the fluid in the membranes of the inner ear) can become abnormal and irritate receptors causing inflammation. 

Sensory 

Sensory ataxia often involves damaged nerves or compression of the spinal cord. This inhibits the cat's proprioception (spatial awareness of self).

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Causes of Ataxia in Cats

A great number of diseases or occurrences can cause ataxia to develop in cats. The causes are generally divided by types of ataxia.

Cerebellar

  • Bleeding of the brain (from stroke or blunt trauma)
  • Genetic defects
  • Exposure to toxins before birth
  • Viral infection (such as feline infectious peritonitis)
  • Parasitic infection (such as toxoplasmosis)
  • Meningitis
  • Insect bites
  • Benign or malignant tumors
  • Decreased blood supply to the brain
  • Hydrocephalus (water on the brain)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Hypocalcemia (low levels of calcium)
  • Immune system disorders
  • Glycogen storage disease
  • Central nervous system vasculitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Vitamin E deficiency

Vestibular

  • Bacterial ear infection
  • Fungal ear infection
  • Nasal cavity or soft palate polyps
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Bone cancer near vestibular nerves
  • Congenital disorders
  • Medication

Sensory

  • Spinal trauma
  • Tumor on the spine
  • Diabetes
  • Spinal stroke
  • Bacterial infection
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Exposure to toxins
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Diagnosis of Ataxia in Cats

Because so many possible causes of ataxia exist making a proper diagnosis can be difficult, but is necessary to provide appropriate treatment. Provide your veterinarian with your cat's full medical history to assist in the diagnostic process. Answer any questions about medications your cat is on and possible exposure to toxins, and provides a detailed explanation of your cat's diet. If severe trauma exists, the most threatening injuries will be addressed and treated first. The vet will note all symptoms and attempt to match them to the closest fitting disorder.

Full blood work will need to be run, including a complete blood count, which can indicate possible cancer growth. A biochemical profile and urinalysis can reveal how the organs are functioning, if inflammation is present and if mineral levels are abnormal in the body. An otoscopic examination of the middle ear may be performed to look for the presence of polyps, infection or foreign objects. A cerebrospinal tap may also be performed. A CT scan of the middle ear can provide information on the parts which are not visible. X-rays or ultrasounds may be needed to look for brain or spinal tumors or abnormal fluid deposits. Parasites, bacteria, fungi and viruses should be tested for.

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Treatment of Ataxia in Cats

The appropriate course of treatment will vary depending on the diagnosis and location of the underlying cause of the issue. Many conditions will require a period of hospitalization.

Supportive Care

 

Many injuries and infections require supportive care to return stability to the cat. This often involves intravenous fluid administration, feeding tubes and maintaining the general comfort of the cat. 

Antibiotics 

If a bacterial infection has been found or if wounds exist, an antibiotic may be prescribed. These prescriptions may last from one to four weeks.

Surgical Removal 

If tumors or polyps are found to be causing the ataxia, they should be surgically removed if possible. This procedure requires the use of a general anesthetic.

Medication 

Certain conditions such as diabetes and mild cases of hydrocephalus can be alleviated with medication prescriptions. These generally do not cure the condition, but do provide relief and improved quality of life.

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Recovery of Ataxia in Cats

Recovery time and overall prognosis depend on the health condition that has been identified. Some issues are benign and will not affect the cat's length of life, such as cerebral hypoplasia. Other issues are incurable and may lead to death, such as lysosomal storage disease, severe hydrocephalus, feline infecctious peritonitis or glycogen storage disease. If the cat has experienced head trauma, any brain damage may be permanent.

During severe episodes of ataxia, it may be difficult for your cat to get to its litter box or food and water dishes. It is best to move these items close to the cat's bed so that it may access them. Clean your cat's bedding regularly, as it may soil it when it can not make it to the litter box. Dietary changes and supplement administration can alleviate certain conditions such as hypoglycemia or thiamine deficiency. Be sure to provide all recommended postoperative care if your cat has undergone surgery. Some cases of ataxia may spontaneously go away, while others will require life long treatment.

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Ataxia Average Cost

From 311 quotes ranging from $200 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,200

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Ataxia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Feline long hair

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Fourteen Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Tremors, Wobbly Walk And Scratching Fits

After a Bravecto shot in March my cat can barely walk and is in a constant "crouch" position on her front legs. She has head tremors and sometimes goes into a scratching "fit". We have clumps of hair all over our house.

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm not sure that what you're describing is related to an injection given 6 months ago, unless this has been actually going on for six months. Regardless, I think it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian, as he does sound like he may be sick, and he may need treatment. Your veterinarian will be able to look at him and see what might be happening and get treatment for him. I hope that all goes well for him.

Oct. 3, 2020

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Egyptian mau

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Ten Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Unsteady Gait Head Tilt

Wondering if this is a serious condition? It has just presented itself over the last few days

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. That does sound like something that should not be ignored, in my opinion. If they are still having problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 21, 2020

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DSH

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Ten Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Rear Gait

Hi, for the past few months I have been treating my cat for IBD. She has been going diarrhea everyday since March and nothing seems to help. We tried predisolone, probiotics, a few antibiotics, and even a chemo. Over the last two months she has gotten dizzy and wobbly three times. Eyes darting, slipping all over the floor and basically completely drunk looking. But besides for that she is completely fine, she still has an appetite and wants to do her normal activities even though she is dizzy. The dizziness lasts about a good four days and I was wondering if it could be ataxia along side IBD.

Sept. 18, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Ataxia can be caused by weakness, and if her IBD is not controlled, it may be causing this sign as well. Since I cannot see her, it would be a good idea to have your veterinarian look at her and see what might be causing this problem, and see if they can help you resolve it for her.

Nov. 4, 2020

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Domestic long hair cat

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Baby 4 months

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Unknown severity

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3 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Gate Some Tenseness In Muscles

Is there something i can do to make my cat with ataxia from TBI feel more secure? His vet says hes healthy. Will his gait improve as he grows up?

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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3 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm not familiar with the acronym TBI, but I think it may be related to cerebellar hypoplasia. If that is the case, this kitten will always be a special needs kitten, and cannot go outside. With protection and a safe environment, it can live a long and healthy life. It would probably be best to talk to your veterinarian about other details, as they can examine the kitten and know more what's going on with it. I hope that all goes well with the kitten.

July 31, 2020

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Tabby cat

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Twelve Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Wobbly, Walking Slowly, Weak Looking

I’ve been reading about IVD, thinking that’s what it is, but he doesn’t have the head tilt. Should I take him to emergency vet or wait a couple days to see if it gets better?

July 16, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm not sure what IVD stands for in this context, but if he is walking slowly and not feeling good, it would probably be best to have him seen sooner rather than later. Cats do get vestibular disease, inner ear infections, and spinal cord problems. If he is eating, drinking, and generally looking okay, you may be able to wait until next week. If these things are not true, and he is not eating and generally looks bad, then I would have him seen sooner. I hope that all goes well for him.

July 16, 2020

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Lola

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Bengal

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Ataxia
No Food
Extremely Lethargic
Very Little Water

Good afternoon. Our 10 year old exclusively indoor bengal kitty has refused food for a few days minus accepting a tiny bit of sardines (we are desperate to get her some nutrition), is only drinking a tiny amount of water (maybe 10% of her usual consumption), is showing definite signs of sensory ataxia with a weak, unsteady walk, laying head down on right side (with eyes still wide open), and some swaying. Up until a few days ago, her usual behavior was lots of laying around during the day, super frisky night time running around (racing like a horse all over the place), followed by more laying around. The laying down is pretty much nonstop the last two days (which is abnormal for her), breathing looks normal, quiet minus a few meows when walking very very slowly to water bowl, and went to bathroom just outside or her liter box yesterday. I’m guessing it was her last potty break. I took her to emergency 24/7 vet last night around 7pm but with the Covid 19 stuff going on, they had me stay in parking lot. The vet doc called my cell and asked a bunch of questions, hung up to observe her walking for a few minutes, and then called me back with her initial findings. Observed the sensory ataxia, said her neck appeared quite sore, and mentioned that she could do a complete blood panel and xrays right then or send her home with pain meds and I could do the diagnostic stuff with her regular vet tomorrow (Monday). We opted for the pain meds - Buprenorphine. She’s had it twice now. No significant changes in behavior. She stayed very still in our bedroom floor all night. I brought water and food bowl along with more sardines within inches of where she was laying to encourage eating and drink. She is still drink a tiny bit of water. No more food though. Not even the sardines. Planning to take her in to regular vet first thing in morning. Are there certain diagnostic tests you suggest given her behaviors? She’s on no medications, no prior health issues, no flea and tick preventions, and she eats dry cat food. She has always peed a TON compared to most cats, so dehydration has never been a concern.

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Grey

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Russian grey

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Eight Months

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Circling One Spot Repeating Actions

Came home to find him circling between his food and water bowls and a piece of chicken on the ground but not eating or drinking. Just putting his nose to each one look up and go to the next bowl and repeat. Lasted about 3 hours. Most bizarre thing I've ever seen. He didn't behave like my cat at all. I'm curious what this behavior was. Thank you for any input.

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Pepe le pugh

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moggie

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Ataxia, Ear Infection

I got two kittens given to me from a litter of 4 born on a farm. Mum had an accident and died when they were 4.5 weeks old. When they arrived the female, black, very small kitten kept suckling on the fur of the male who was bigger and black and white. The male smelled very bad and was diagnosed with a severe ear infection. He was ok for a couple of days and then had an ataxic episode which lasted about 15 minutes. He had several attacks a day for about a month then they stopped for about three weeks. He then had episodes of ataxia at random times, probably around twice a week, then once a week until he was almost one. They didn't seem to bother him at all, I'm not sure he even noticed unless he bumped into something. He hasn't had any further episodes since he was one and, although he has slightly odd gait, especially his back legs, he is a normal, big 12 year old, no ataxia just a slightly odd walk, so whatever caused it he grew out of it. The mother was a farm cat and probably only 9 months old when the kittens were born.

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charlie

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/russian blue

dog-age-icon

13 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Clumsy Gait

took cat to vetthinking she was just anxious and mad about the 3 ferrell kittens in the basement in which are now gone. Blood work, chest exray, kidney and liver awesome. 2 days ago my atheletic cat "Charlie 13" began to walk very clumsy and awkward. not eating, yet drinking water a lot. thinking maybe some kind of sugar inbalance. IDK i do now that my computer keeps freaking out on me so i am going to give my email address... triciav23@gmail.com cell # 304 931 2295.... this is my 3rd attempt to talk to someone because of my old old laptop.She has only lost about 2 pounds, but I can feel her spine and tail bone like never before. gums look healthy, but a little running gook in one of her eyes. Thank you....

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Remy

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Siamese

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbles
Mouth Scarring

May not be ataxia, but my cat is wobbling all the time,and he is discoordinated,and clumsy. recently i noticed that the area his upper two canines rest in has started to bleed,as well as a area near his whiskers. he is not a outdoors cat,and neither does he have anything that would cause it to bleed and im not sure what to do... anyone else have any similar problems?

Ataxia Average Cost

From 311 quotes ranging from $200 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,200

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