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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”. 

Ataxia Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,200

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

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Feline long hair

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Fourteen Years

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Unknown severity

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0 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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0 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

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

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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Ataxia Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,200

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