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What is Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain?

Swelling of the brainstem and brain can be dangerous for cats, necessitating immediate, emergency treatment.

Swelling of the brain or brain stem in a cat is not a stand-alone illness. Instead, these are symptoms of either illness or head trauma. Swelling of either the brain or brain stem leads to symptoms that can be alarming. If a cat has been hit in the head, has begun to develop brain tumors, or has contracted meningitis or encephalitis, brainstem and brain swelling can develop.

Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain Average Cost

From 500 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

Symptoms of Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain in Cats

The symptoms of a swelling of the brain can include:

  • Extreme weakness
  • Inability to walk
  • Seizures
  • Unresponsive and dull
  • Possibly comatose

If the cat suffered a head injury, the cat’s owner and vet may notice several symptoms:

  • Head tilt
  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Limb rigidity
  • Bleeding from one or both ears
  • Floppy (flaccid) limbs
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Odd eye movements
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Causes of Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain in Cats

Cats can develop a swollen brain or brain stem for several reasons, which may include:

  • Brain tumor
  • Brain abscess or infection
  • Toxicosis (poisoning from ingested substances)
  • Distemper, which affects the brain
  • Inflammatory illness of the brain
  • Ingesting a high dosage of drugs
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • granulomatous meningoencephalitis (GME)
  • Hypocalcemia (low blood calcium)

Illnesses unique to cats, such as FeLV, FIP or feline nonsuppurative meningoencephalomyelitis, also called staggering disease, can cause brain symptoms and paralysis. 

If the cat’s brain has begun to swell, this can develop because of a lack of oxygen, lowered blood flow to the brain, toxins, brain tumors, and metabolic disorders (diabetes, for instance).

If the cat suffered a head injury, causes may include:

  • Falls from a high distance
  • Car accidents
  • Blows to the head
  • Deliberate attacks
  • Being trampled
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Diagnosis of Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain in Cats

Because swelling of the brainstem or brain is serious, and potentially deadly, it’s important to get a veterinary diagnosis as fast as possible. Once the vet knows the cat is suffering neurological symptoms, they will take a full health history and conduct a full examination of the cat. the vet will also run several neurological exams, looking at brain function. They will be looking for where damage has taken place.

The vet determines the cat’s level of consciousness, looks at its pupils and how they respond to light. If the cat is comatose, a deeper, more complete neurological exam will have to wait until it is more alert.

The vet also looks for illnesses as the cause of the edema (swelling) of the brain or brain stem. If the cat was injured, the vet looks for other injuries, such as to bones, its chest and abdomen.

The cat will be X-rayed and may also undergo a CT scan as the vet looks for spinal or skull fractures. 

In a neurological exam, the cat’s gait (walk), forelegs, neck, hind legs, torso and tail are closely examined. The vet tests the cat’s reflexes as well to determine where the injury or illness within the brain have taken place.

Blood will be taken so the cat can be tested for metabolic disorders such as diabetes. Lead poisoning and some infections that affect the brain are also considered. A biochemical profile and urinalysis will also be conducted.

The vet may need to order an electroencephalogram, which records the electrical activity in the brain. This test can help the vet narrow down the cause of the injury or illness. Finally, the cat will undergo an MRI of the brain, which helps identify brain abnormalities or tumors.

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Treatment of Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain in Cats

The treatment of cerebral edema (swelling of the brain or brain stem) should be started just as soon as underlying causes have been narrowed down. The cat may need supplemental oxygen and regular monitoring of its neurological status. Medications for edema include mannitol, which is a diuretic. This helps to bring brain swelling down. It also helps to lower the pressure within the cat’s skull. This should only be given to cats with a poor neurological assessment. If mannitol doesn’t help, hypertonic saline can be given through a slow IV. Steroids can decrease the level of inflammation of the tissues of the brain. Even though they can be helpful, their use for brain edema is controversial.

Barbiturates work to slow the brain’s metabolic rate, making them useful for animals suffering from head injuries that cause seizures.

If the cat has a head injury, surgery to reduce compression of brain tissue may be helpful. The vet wants to prevent hypoxia, or lowered oxygenation of the cat’s brain and body. The cat may also receive fluid therapy, which helps to maintain the normal fluids that surround the brain and brainstem.

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Recovery of Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain in Cats

If the cat received immediate veterinary treatment, its prognosis can be good, depending on what the vet has found. During recovery, the cat should be kept indoors so it doesn’t suffer more injuries from other animals. 

Depending on the severity of the swelling of the brain or brain stem, the cat may need to stay in the animal hospital until it has recovered. It may not be aware that water and food are close by, so a feeding tube may be necessary. Because the cat can’t bathe or groom itself, frequent bathing will also be necessary.

The cat’s owner should closely monitor the cat, making note of its mental attitude, alertness and behaviors. Anything out of the ordinary should be reported to the vet.

Some illnesses that affect the brain, such as FIP, are usually fatal. The cat with FIP needs at-home nursing care and should be made as comfortable as possible.

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Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain Average Cost

From 500 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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cat

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12.5 years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Head Pressing; Pacing; Twitching

I believe my cat had ICP toward end(5 days with injury) which caused a slow heart rate and high bp (Cushing reflex). He had been treated for 1 year with small cell intestinal lymphoma. If we had treated the ICP and got it stabilized, I wonder if he may have recovered? (we made the choice to euthanize). I know it’s all speculation of course but I was hoping you could maybe shed some light on it for me if you knew anything about it? I also know the underlying issue (cancer) would need to be fixed also to prevent ICP from occurring again. I believe he had stroke from his lymphoma or tumor.

Aug. 6, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, and I am sorry for your loss. While this can be very difficult to accept, it is sort of our job to make sure that our pets do not suffer, as they give us so much love. Sometimes, it is possible to do something, but it may not be in the best interest of our pet, in the end. From your description, it sounds like you made the right decision, even though I know it was a hard one for you. Again, I am sorry for your loss.

Aug. 6, 2020

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kitt

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Maincoon

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1 Month

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

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

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Bloody Nose
Bloody Nose Swollen Head

kitten was accidentlly stepped on and head is filled with fluid and its swollen it was so bleeding from its nose for hours and theres no way to take it to a vet

Aug. 23, 2018

kitt's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Unfortunately there is no ‘home treatment’ option available in this case, I cannot recommend anything else apart from finding a charity clinic or other organisation to take a look at him. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 23, 2018

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Bonnie

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short 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

Weak Back Leg

Hello my cat woke up one morning was unable to walk I was told to give her loxicom the next day she was no better as one of her pupils has enlarged and she was having seizures from the first day the vet told me when I went back she had swelling to the brain and thinks she had a stroke was given tablets to stop seizures and antibiotics to take the swelling down she has had no accidents at all I woke up the next morning to find her with her tongue hanging out not seeming to recognise me she was still convulsing and died on the way to the vets can you tell me what happened

May 30, 2018

Bonnie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Without knowing more about Bonnie, or being able to see her, I'm not sure that I can shed any light on what might have happened, but from your description, it seems that she may have had a toxin, a brain injury, or a stroke that affected the majority of her brain. I am very sorry for your loss, that is very sad.

May 30, 2018

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Valentine

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Highland fold

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Rapid Eye Movement

My cat just got a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine. He vomited, had diarrea, and swelled quite badly. It’s been 10 hrs and he is doing better but his eyes are moving side to side and it looks like there is a neurological problem. What is the possible outcome of all these? I’m happy he is still alive but what is his future?

May 17, 2018

Valentine's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Without seeing Valentine and assessing his neurologic status, I'm not sure how to comment on his long term prognosis. If he had a severe reaction to a vaccination, he should be seen by an emergency veterinarian to see if he needs any treatment to prevent any long term problems. I hope that he is okay.

May 17, 2018

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Tootsie

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Black shorthair

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Nervous Of Everything
Lack Of Confidence

Hi my cat went out one morning a normal confident a little bit arrogant and healthy and came back that afternoon completely different, not confident, nervous of everything she walks past, forgets she has not been attacked by the shoes for example and will have the same reaction every time. But eating ok. Vets done all the tests and all came back ok apart from questionable swelling on th cerribular?

April 19, 2018

Tootsie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Without knowing more about Tootsie's history and neurologic status, I'm afraid that I can't really comment on what might be going on with her. Your veterinarians seem to be dong a good job of identifying her problem, and it would be best to follow up with them if she is not improving. She may need a referral to a specialist, depending on what has been found.

April 19, 2018

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Mr.Tinkles

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wildcat

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6 Years

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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

Inability To Walk Straight Or Hold

I have this cat we found five years ago in the woods,he was at deaths door.We revived him,and the last 5 years have been heartbreaking,he has seizures,He can bearly walk he can't use the litter box,he has chewed his own hand to oblivion.He cries out in pain sometimes when he has a really bad seizure.Anytime I make a mention of having him put to sleep,my husband accuses me of being a monster and an animal killer.I love the cat (Mr.Tinkles) but I feel like a monster making him live his life like this,He takes two to three doses of Phenabarbitol a day and still has seizures.After he has a seizure his limbs are so rigid they won't bend,he just lays on his side until,he passes out.Sometimes I just hold him and play,either(one)metallica or(Far Behind)Candlebox.

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Callie

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Cat

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12 Years

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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

Ataxia. Crying. Hiding.

My 10-12 year old cat suddenly seemed off balance . Not eating. She was in the cat box and fell over, then hid herself. I had to pull her from under a dresser. I brought Callie to the vets which vet stated she was dehydrared. Gave her fluids subQ. Next day her balance was off even more and crying. Was told to go to a neurologist . MRI shows fluid & swelling in brain. No fever, all bloodwork was fine except for elevated protein. Also found was a heart murmur and enlarged heart but no heart failure. After lots of $$$$$$$$, I took her home today with prednisone and Clindamycin. She let me hold her for a while, purring. But then wanted to get down, and ran (unsteady) under the dresser and crying for approx 30 min. Spinal tap did not show cancer cells. They mentioned FIP , but can’t be sure .. I was told that this is only diagnosed in autopsy. But just also found out it’s contagious! I have 4 other cats! Her balance is also a lot worse. Why would they send her home? #1 is she suffering? This isn’t a good quality of life. These meds won’t help if it’s FIP. They are waiting for more bloodwork results but this isn’t fair to her. Should I give the medication time or is it time to humanely euthanized her ? #2 If FIP - I told them I have 4 other cats. So frustrated & heart broken

Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain Average Cost

From 500 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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