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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.

Head Tilt Average Cost

From 449 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,300

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
  • Stumbling
  • Walking in a circle
  • Falling down
  • Facial drooping
  • Facial paralysis
  • Strabismus (crossed eyes)
  • Nystagmus (eyes moving up and down or back and forth)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
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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
  • Polyps
  • Tumors
  • Cysts
  • Cancer
  • Idiopathic vestibular syndrome (no known reason)
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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.

Physical Examination

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

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. 

Urinalysis

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.

Advanced Testing

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.

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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.

Drug Reactions

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.

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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.

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Head Tilt Average Cost

From 449 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,300

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Head Tilt Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Cali

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med hair

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4 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt

My Cali was fine then one day she started falling , not eating not using bathroom. Took her to the ER they did blood work everything was good except ear infection . the next morning her eyes was moving side to side quickly and head was too. took her to vet they said take her specialist we did . ear drops & meds for vertigo and dramamine . She got better . after 6 days of not eating she started eating & returned to pretty much normal. 3 weeks later took her back to vet yesterday for check up they said her ears was not infected but had gunk in them they cleaned the one ear out. they said other ear was squeeky clean. Today head is tilted side ways is this from the removal of gunk in ear ? I'm so worried about her

Sept. 8, 2018

Cali's Owner

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Sirius

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Russian Blue

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3 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

Head Tilt When Tired
Slight Shiver

My cat Sirius has started tilting head head to the right when falling asleep, but yesterday I noticed he did it with his eyes wide open (but he was tired). I also noticed that if i put my hand on his head i can feel him shivering slightly. He does have a respiratory infection that we’ve been working on treating, he had an antibiotic shot in march but it has started to get worse again so im going to get him on antibiotics again. Could this just be something as simple as an ear infection that can get cleared up with antibiotics? Im very worried about him, i just want to make sure hes okay

Sept. 7, 2018

Sirius' Owner

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Stash

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mixed

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1 Year

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Tilted Head And Breaths Funny

My cat walks around with her head tilted to the right and it scares me. Its has slowly gotten worse what is happing to my baby. She stumbles and breathes funny. Im not sure what to do.

Sept. 7, 2018

Stash's Owner

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Feral cats

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Cat

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8 Months

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Take care of feral cats. Neighbors hate the cats. All ready killed 8 kittens by burning toxic materials and blowing on to my back porch. Now new symptoms: sudden on set tilted head, loss of balance, pupils very dilated, sleeps alot. Then 3 or 4 days pupils back to normal, still wobbly, suddenly will be walking and falls over dead.

Aug. 31, 2018

Feral cats' Owner

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Maya

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Farrell

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Tilting Head Slightly To The Right

My 12 yr old cat has recently started opening her jaw when she turns her head slighlty to the side as if she is trying to open her mouth wider. She repeats this action when I see her about 4/5 times a day. She does not seem to be in pain and eating normally. She has lost weight in the last few months, but is not too thin or skinny. She is not handled easily and would be very hard to get to a vet office , all her previous shots were given by the farm vet. Any idea what could be going on?

Aug. 15, 2018

Maya's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

At Maya's age, there may be some changes in the bones of her jaw that are causing her discomfort, or there may be a nerve problem. Without seeing her, it is hard for me to comment on what might be causing that behavior, bu tit would be a good idea to have her seen by a veterinarian, unless your farm veterinarian can come and examine her.

Aug. 15, 2018

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Newborn from feral mother

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Black and white

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3 Weeks

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt

My grandparents cat recently had a litter of kittens and shortly after having them she moved them somewhere they wouldnt be found.Today when we were over I picked up one of them and notice that the kittens head drooped to the right side, she had brought the kittens back to the porch, I then sat it down and carefully tried to bring the kittens head up to a normal position, but when it stopped half way I immediately stopped and gently let its head go back to how it was. I talked to my mother and she said it may be possible that it has some fused vertebrae, could that also be the reason? Please help, I am very worried. Also I couldnt post with out a condition rating, so I put moderate.

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Tilley

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short hair

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11 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt
Vomiting
Irritable

My cat, who is now about 11 years old has had a head tilt for the 10 years I have had her. I got her as a rescue at one years old and they (adoption agency) told me her head tilt was from issues with ear mites when she was little? She is now starting to act weird like she's in a very bad mood all of the time and doesn't want anything to do with my other two cats. She hisses at them, fights with them (she is a lot smaller than they are too). I have to try to keep them away from each other. Not sure if there is an underline additional problem. She throws up 4-5 times a week (it's normal for her over the years - I think she eats too fast but not sure)

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Fluffy

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Unknown

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2 Months

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

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Sleepiness
Tired And Lack Of Appetite

My 2 month old Kitten woke up today normal but after it had her nap, she had her head tilted downwards and seemed very tired and sleepy. It didn't want to eat anything(even though it loved eating alot) Gave it a neck massage but its still that way.

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Rusty

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Devon Rex

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15 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt To The Right

My 15 month old suddenly had a head tilt to the right with no other symptoms. He saw a neurologist who did an MRI and Spinal Tap. No infection was found but on two views of the MRI a very faint shadow appeared in the brain stem. It has been determined that he had a stroke. His tilt has gotten a little better but still appears when he jumps or runs. Anyone know if he may continue to improve?

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Solstice

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Domestic shorthair

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9 Years

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Critical severity

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

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt

Hi, my cat Solstice about 3 weeks ago started stumbling randomly and not eating or drinking. Took her to the ER vet where she was given fluids and oddly enough ate a little bit of wet science diet kitten food. Went to primary vet the following day where she had a CBC, chem profile and urinalysis. Suspected UTI but other than that, normal bloodwork. Given orabax for 2 weeks. Returned to vet a few days later as head tilt and non eating continued and was diagnosed with middle ear infection (one ear drum ruptured). Given saline for flushing ears and meclizine for motion sickness. Also given a convenia injection and cerenia injection. Eating most days, but very little and losing weight about 2 pounds so far over the 3 weeks. Still has head tilt and stumbling, now also a hard swelling behind the left ear. Was given a metacam injection for pain, and followed up with 5 days of onsior. Yesterday began dragging herself and not walking or eating again. Am wondering if this is all due to an ear infection, or possibly another cause? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much!

Head Tilt Average Cost

From 449 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,300

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