What is Head Tilt?
Vestibular syndrome is not a specific disease but a collection of neurological symptoms and behaviors that are caused by a disruption or dysfunction in the vestibular system. This intricate and complicated system of nerves and anatomical elements is responsible for your cat’s sense of balance. The vestibular system also coordinates the movements of your cat's eyes, neck, head and limbs. If vestibular disease is suspected, your veterinarian will need to pinpoint the location of the problem and determine whether the symptoms are originating from the inner ear (peripheral) or the brain stem (central).
If your cat is holding its head on an angle and having trouble keeping its balance, it may be suffering from vestibular syndrome. Vestibular syndrome is a condition that occurs suddenly. It can cause your cat to stumble, fall, list to one side, or tilt its head. You may notice your cats’ eyes moving erratically from one side to another as it struggles to keep its balance. Head tilt is usually one of the first obvious signs of vestibular syndrome.
Symptoms of Head Tilt in Cats
The most obvious symptom of head tilt or vestibular syndrome in cats is the odd slant at which your cat holds its head upright. This head tilt occurs in both inner ear and brain stem disorders. Other symptoms may include the following:
- Lack of balance (ataxia)
- Uncoordinated movement
- Walking in a circle
- Falling down
- Facial drooping
- Facial paralysis
- Strabismus (crossed eyes)
- Nystagmus (eyes moving up and down or back and forth)
Causes of Head Tilt in Cats
In many cases, your cat’s head tilt may be a symptom of a benign transitory anomaly. However, it may also indicate a serious underlying health condition. Your cat needs immediate medical evaluation to ensure the best and quickest way to resolve the issue. Here are the most common reasons for head tilt in cats:
- Bacterial infections
- Inflammatory disease
- Reaction to drugs
- Idiopathic vestibular syndrome (no known reason)
Diagnosis of Head Tilt in Cats
Your cat’s obvious head tilt will be a major symptom your veterinarian will consider when diagnosing the systemic reason for your cat’s health issue. Other diagnostic tests, observations and evaluations may include:
Complete Medical History
Your veterinarian will want a complete history of your cat’s health including any unusual behaviors or symptoms noticed prior to the head tilt.
A thorough physical examination is necessary for your veterinarian to determine the cause of the head tilt. This examination may include watching your cat walk around the examination room, taking vital signs and performing both an otoscopic (ear) and neurological exam.
Blood tests will help your veterinarian diagnose infections and inflammation that may be causing the head tilt. Test results that register as abnormal help your veterinarian decide what may be the underlying cause of your cat’s vestibular condition.
By examining your cat’s urine, the veterinarian can see if there is anything abnormal in the test results that would aid in diagnosing the cause of the head tilt.
In some cases, specialized scans that offer advanced imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) may be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis, especially when the problem appears to be located deep within your cat’s ear or skull.
Treatment of Head Tilt in Cats
Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome
A wait-and-see approach is often used when idiopathic vestibular syndrome is suspected. Your cat’s head tilt will usually disappear on its own, and it seldom returns.
Infections and Inflammation
Your veterinarian will choose appropriate medications depending upon the underlying cause of your cat’s head tilt. Some medicines, like ear drops, may be prescribed as well as oral medications.
Polyps or Tumors
Depending upon the location and size of the polyp or tumor, your veterinarian may recommend surgery to remove the cause of the head tilt.
If your cat is having a toxic reaction to a drug, your veterinarian will change medicines and evaluate your cat to see if it needs additional hydration, especially if vomiting has occurred.
Recovery of Head Tilt in Cats
Your cat’s recovery period will depend upon your veterinarian’s diagnosis of the underlying cause of the head tilt. Even a simple ear infection will need follow-up appointments to ensure the infection is under control and that no additional damage has occurred within the cat’s ear.
Cats who have had surgical intervention to repair the cause of the head tilt need extra care while recuperating. Your veterinarian will want to see your cat on a routine basis until it is completely healed.
If your cat experienced severe vomiting along with the head tilt, your veterinarian may need to keep your cat on IV medications until the vomiting resolves.
Head Tilt Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat had a little bout with fleas. I had sprayed some vinegar and water on her. I rubbed it into her coat. I don't have a lot of money. I noticed yesterday she stayed in my bed all day. She didn't come out and ask for food and normally she is talking away to get some. She is 16. I was just noticing that she kind of is flicking her head.It is liks she is trying to sleep but than does a quick flick.I am concerned.
Add a comment to Calico's experience
Was this experience helpful?
My white kitten is walking with her head tilted to the left and she is not walking straight she did have some weird liquid oozing out of her ear she has been vomiting and having constant diarrhea
Ok thank you i think she has ear mits I'm more worried about her balance being off in everything she does
Add a comment to Snow angel's experience
Was this experience helpful?
To whom it may concern,
Our cat, Shadow, has become ill. He is normally a pretty social and fiery can with lots of energy. Over the last couple of days he has become anti social and if anyone would come up to him he would lay there and not move. We live in south east QLD so we have been checking him for ticks but he doesnt go outside and doesnt have any contact with any other animals. He has a slight head tilt, moving slowly. He is still urinating normally and still eating dry food, but only in small quantities. We originally thought it could be stress as the house has just been repainted and he doesnt like change. He hasnt touched any of the paint so it cant be poison. If his condition doesnt improve we are getting him to a vet on Monday (Saturday today).
Were you affected at all by Cyclone Debbie? I know it affected around Townsville and Mackay but I am not sure how far down it went, collateral damage and all. Water, soil and other contaminates can affect your surrounding environment and a curious Shadow may have picked something up. Whilst Shadow hasn’t physically touched the paint, fumes may affect him still especially if the area wasn’t well ventilated. Liver disease, kidney disease, poisoning, dietary problems, tumours, hormonal disease, ear infections, other infections etc… are all causes which may display with these symptoms. It is good that he is still drinking and eating (if only a little), if you see no improvement over the weekend visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
hello Doctor..my cat is in very critical situation her neck is moved to left side and her eyes also moves right left..kindly tell me what can i do
Hi Dr. Turner,
Luckly we werent affected by the Cyclone and only had alot of rain over a 48 hour period. Shadow is an indoors cat and doesnt go outside. Shadows symptoms have changed. He has lost his head tilt but this eyes are squinted and his third eyelids are showing slightly. He is still lethargic and will only stay in dark places. Seems to be light sensitive. He is sneezing now was well but it sounds different. My family and I think it could be a cold. Our Doberman has recently had a small cold and we think that Shadow could have caught it off her. The dont touch each other but they come very close at a screen door. Could this be a possiblility? If his condition doesnt improve we are taking him to a vet tomorrow. Thanks for your help.
Add a comment to Shadow's experience
Was this experience helpful?
what to do ifmy kitten has tilt head 8 weeks kitten started only today but know when i touched it dident meww but first time i did it it hurt him please help
Head tilt and neck pain may be due to atlantoaxial subluxation, trauma, vestibular problems, infections, congenital disorders etc… Due to the varied possible causes, it would be best to have Prines checked by her Veterinarian to see what the underlying cause is. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Add a comment to prines's experience
Was this experience helpful?
I adopted a 3 week old kitten that was abandoned. I bottle fed her and she has been a very healthy growing kitten. She is 4 1/2 months old. She lives with 5 other cats and as of Monday now 2 dogs. Her head tilt developed the day our 9 yr old Male GSD lost his life to Kidney disease and his enlarged heart caused his sudden death. We notice later that day after we had buried Dillon that she now had a head tilt so it appeared out of nowhere. I was a trained Vet Tech and have seen this before even though I don't work in the field any longer. Her pupils remain the same size and are not darting around at all. She is eating and playing normally except she will get a little off balance understandably. I am concerned as she is special. What do you think?
There are different causes of head tilt in cats including infections, trauma, ear mites, poisoning or vestibular disease (idiopathic); checking her ears for infection from the smell and presence of any debris may indicate some infection, if there is an infection present cleaning and the administration of antibiotics would be the usual course of action. If there is no sign of infection or symptoms of poisoning, a wait and see approach maybe taken to see if there is any improvement; otherwise a visit to your Veterinarian may help narrow down a diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
My cat had involuntary eye movement (which stopped about 3 days later), a head tilt, and loss of balance. Her head tilt remains (about two weeks later), although it's usually only when she walks. She is better on her feet, but she's still a little wobbly and has difficulty jumping. She's been on antibiotics for ten days (twice a day). Will the head tilt eventually go away and will she fully recover? How much longer should it take?
my cat have head tilt and his eyes are moving continusely and neck too kindly tell me what can i do
a week ago someone hit my cat and her rare left leg becomes fracture and i consult with Vet but he says that she have a major fracture it could not recover because her all bones are fractured only one is less fracture and then he ask me that her fracture will not recover if we bandge it,she will get ill and her leg will swell very badly than i say what can we do now the Vet asked me to cut his leg from knee and then the Vet cut her leg about 2 days before and gave some medicines,i gave her medicines according to Vet advice .yesterday she was fine but today i see my cat she is in very critical condition her head moved continously and then moved at the right side her eyes also move,she can not walk even so please tell me what can i do
Add a comment to Corona's experience
Was this experience helpful?