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What is Head Tilt / Vestibular Syndrome?

A head tilt may be mild and caused by something easy to treat, such as an ear infection or polyp. when a head tilt occurs in conjunction with other more serious signs (such as vomiting and ataxia), we may be dealing with Vestibular Syndrome.

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 at 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.

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Head Tilt / Vestibular Syndrome Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,300

Symptoms of Head Tilt / Vestibular Syndrome in Cats

The most obvious symptom of 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 of vestibular syndrome 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 / Vestibular Syndrome 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 / Vestibular Syndrome 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 / Vestibular Syndrome 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 / Vestibular Syndrome 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 / Vestibular Syndrome Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,300

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Head Tilt / Vestibular Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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unknown

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Three Months

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Unknown severity

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16 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Falling Over

My kitten keeps falling over when she tries to walk. Her head keeps shaking uncontrollably

Dec. 20, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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16 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. Balance issues and trembling may indicate an issue with the cerebellum area of the brain and cab be seen with certain infections or inflammation. Other considerations would include an ear infection or toxicity. Regardless, your little one needs to be seen by a vet so we can determine what is going on and start the most appropriate treatment.

Dec. 20, 2020

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Kitten

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7 weeks

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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

Throwing His Head Back And Can’T Walk

What can help with this

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, I'm sorry that your kitten is not feeling good. Without being able to examine your kitten, I'm not sure what to do to help him or her I think he may have a problem with blood sugar, or he may have a problem with his nervous system. It would be best to have the kitten seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine him and see what might be going on, and let you know what treatment might help. I hope that all goes well for the kitten.

Oct. 3, 2020

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Head Tilt / Vestibular Syndrome Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,300

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

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