What is Vestibular Disease?
Vestibular disease may be the result of trauma or disease in the vestibular apparatus inside of a cat’s ear. This apparatus aids a cat’s coordination and balance. Vestibular syndrome may also be caused by a number of primary conditions affecting the vestibular system, ranging from infection to cancer.
Feline vestibular syndrome is a condition that affects the nervous system and causes a lack of coordination in cats. The condition often manifests suddenly. Cats affected by vestibular disease tend to fall to one side, tilt their heads, and experience unintentional eye movement. Cats with vestibular disease may experience other symptoms based on the underlying cause. Siamese and Burmese breeds have a higher risk of developing this disorder at birth.
Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Cats
While vestibular disease is not a life-threatening condition in itself, it may be indicative of a more serious condition. Seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of control over movement
- Head tilting
- Involuntary eye movement
- Drooping of the face (usually associated with tumors or an inflamed inner ear)
Causes of Vestibular Disease in Cats
The causes of vestibular disease in cats include, but are not limited to:
- Bacterial and fungal infection
- Inflammatory diseases
- Nasopharyngeal polyps
- Head trauma
- Allergic reactions to medication
Typically, the cause of vestibular disease on an individual basis is never identified; these cases are considered idiopathic. However, many cats that develop vestibular syndrome are deaf. It is important to note that exposure to certain drugs may cause similar symptoms to appear in cats. Any cat has a chance of developing vestibular syndrome, although certain breeds have a higher risk of developing it congenitally.
Diagnosis of Vestibular Disease in Cats
Your vet will be able to make a tentative diagnosis based on a thorough physical examination and presentation of symptoms. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, as well as any relevant trauma, infections, or exposure to toxins or drugs that you know of. Your vet will likely ask for your cat’s complete medical history, so be prepared to provide this information as well.
While there are currently no tests for detecting vestibular disease, your vet will make a definitive diagnosis by conducting neurological and ear examinations. If a specific underlying cause is suspected, your vet may utilize other tests, including blood and urine analysis, CT scan, MRI, and cultures of the ear.
Treatment of Vestibular Disease in Cats
Treatment may vary depending on the underlying cause, symptoms present, and the severity of the condition. Your vet will be able to advise you on a treatment plan based on your cat’s specific needs.
Treating vestibular disease with no known cause is typically straightforward and involves treating the symptoms rather than the condition itself. Anti-nausea medication and nutritional therapy may be prescribed if the cat is vomiting or refusing to eat. Most cats with idiopathic vestibular disease recover quickly.
Bacterial and fungal infections are typically treated with an antibiotic or antifungal regimen. Surgical treatment may be required for chronic ear infections. Tumors may be treated with laser surgery. Radiation and chemotherapy can treat malignant tumors, which typically affect middle-aged and older cats.
Recovery of Vestibular Disease in Cats
Recovery and prognosis are typically excellent in cases of idiopathic vestibular disease. Cats typically make a full recovery within three weeks. Symptoms, as well as the disease itself, do not generally recur. Prognosis for vestibular disease associated with a more serious condition will vary based on the severity of the condition and the success of treatment.
Always follow your vet’s post-treatment and/or post-operative instructions carefully. Always administer any prescribed medications, particularly antibiotics, exactly as directed for the full duration of the treatment period. Failure to do so could result in aggressive recurrence of infection.
Upon the return home, you may need to make adjustments as needed to ensure that your cat cannot injure himself. You may want to limit your cat’s outdoor activity during the recovery period, as malfunctions in the vestibular system have the potential to cause severe injury. Your cat may also need help eating and drinking during the recovery period.
If your cat has had surgery, do not allow it to irritate the surgery site. Ensure it has a warm, secure place to rest for the duration of the recovery period.
For cases of idiopathic vestibular disease, follow-up appointments are usually not required. For vestibular disease with a more serious underlying cause, your vet will schedule follow-up appointments as needed to monitor the underlying condition. If the disease recurs or does not seem to be improving despite treatment, consult your vet immediately.
Vestibular Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat George has a kidney infection and is suffering from vestibular disease. She appeared to be doing better last night but is now only walking in circles when she walks. She is on Orbax and also Cerenia. I have to force feed her and force water down her throat. She was given an enema to clean her out at the vets but it's been 3 days and she hasn't pooped again. What do I need to do?
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my cat stopped eating and was always asleep most of the time. we changed his food and gave him lots of love and attention and it seemed to be working he would eat little by little and start walking around more. then all of a sudden one of his eyes started to droop and he suddenly went back to the weak state. this time he would walk like he was dizzy or just almost fall. it seems like his right leg is malfunctioning at times but he seems to try to get and up and get better but its really affecting him and i feel like hes in a lot of pain from this so it makes me really sad because i really care about him dearly. as of now i dont think i can afford a vet but i am willing to try. please give me an estimate on how much it would cost or some helpful treatments.
There are a few causes for the symptoms you have described including cancer, poisoning, neurological damage, trauma or liver disease. You would need to visit your Veterinarian for a physical and neurological examination as well as blood tests. I couldn’t suggest any home treatment without examining Napoleon as each possible diagnosis has a different treatment, unfortunately there isn’t a one fits all treatment. The cost of a visit to your Veterinarian and blood tests will depend on where you live but an indicative price is between $200 - $400. If Napoleon has vestibular disease as a primary condition (as opposed to a symptom of other condition), treatment is usually supportive with recovery being within two weeks; remember, I haven’t examined Napoleon and cannot give a diagnosis or treatment plan. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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