Swelling of the Brainstem and Brain Average Cost

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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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

Black shorthair
2 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Lack of confidence
Nervous of everything

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?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1397 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.

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short hair
4 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

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

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1397 Recommendations
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.

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Tuxedo cat
4 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


Medication Used

doxycycline hyclate

Hi my name is Rachel and I'm not necessarily sure how to ask my question. My cat has recently come down with something and I was wondering if maybe you could give me some advice or possibly a few plausible diagnosis. She has become very lethargic, she isn't eating on her own (I feed her whatever she wants via a baby spoon), she has now started drinking on her own but most the time just lays around so I bring water to her in a small cup. We have taken her to 2 vets both on November 7th because the first was sub-par but the second has been spectacular. At the second vet they took her temperature which was a 103 and they tried to pull blood from her, after testing and ruling out feline leukemia, and they couldn't find a vein. They said that her veins would almost like scatter or move. They did eventually get a very small amount of blood which was just enough to check her red blood cell count. Which was at a very low 15 which normally they said should be 50. As of right we have diagnosed her as anemic but that's it. She has lost the color in her nose and also the pads on her paws, both of which are normally a rosy pink. She has also within the last 2 or so days has started to clean herself again. But at sometimes she is unresponsive to her name being called or little noises I make to get her attention. And on top of her on and off unresponsiveness she sometimes has a vacant stare where I can look at her and she can be looking at me but it's like she almost looking through me. On top of the 2 symptoms I listed in the box her symptoms also include: distant, unresponsive, vacantly staring, dilated pupils

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2974 Recommendations
Anaemia may be caused by a variety of causes but generally fall into three main categories: increase in destruction (infections, parasites, autoimmune disease), increase in loss (internal bleeding) or a decrease in production (kidney disease, bone marrow disorders). It can be difficult to determine a cause when there is little diagnostic information available; if there is no improvement I would recommend looking at doing an ultrasound of the abdomen to see if anything comes up. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Highland fold
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

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?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1397 Recommendations
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.

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