Idiopathic Feline Vestibular Disease

on October 25, 2012
Posted in Cats

Idiopathic Feline Vestibular Disease in the northeastern U.S. and Canada is seen most commonly in the fall. No one knows what actually causes this problem which is why it is idiopathic–we doctors are “idiots” because we can’t figure out a cause!

The Vestibular system in the cat is responsible for making sure that the body is in the correct position with respect to gravity. This system will alert the brain if we are standing, sitting, lying down, falling, spinning in circles, and keeps the body balanced. The vestibular system is comprised of nerves that start in the brain and continue to the inner ear. The sensors in the inner ear are responsible for informing the brain about any movement. Vestibular disease affects the ability of the brain to recognize abnormal body positions and also affects the brain’s ability to correct these abnormalities.

Idiopathic feline vestibular disease is a peripheral vestibular problem which means that the problem is not in the brain. Some how the balance center is affected in these cats and they become very dizzy.

The symptoms seen in these cats are falling over, dizziness, head tilt, circling, rolling, eyes continually drifting, and stumbling or drunken walking. These symptoms come on suddenly and many times the owners think the cat has had a stroke. Strokes in cats, however, are very rare.

When vestibular disease occurs, it is important to figure out what area is causing the problem. Is the brain involved or only the inner ear? There are some clues as to where the affected area is. If there are more cranial nerves involved ( mostly facial nerves but can be to ear, eye or tongue) and they are on the opposite side of the head tilt then the problem is likely in the brain. If the eyes are rolling up and down rather than side to side, the lesion is usually in the brain. Only a CT scan or MRI done at a referral hospital will be able to determine this.

The good news is that most of these cats with head tilts and rolling eyes have peripheral problems, that is not in the brain, and most have the idiopathic form. This form comes on very quickly and gets better quickly. If your cat has these signs, most likely your veterinarian will take some blood and urine tests to see what’s happening. If they look okay, he or she will recommend to wait a few weeks for this go away. If it does not then a referral to a neurologist should be recommended.

Conventional treatment is anti-nausea medication and time. A holistic veterinarian can offer you and your pet more options that will speed recovery. Acupuncture combined with physical therapy,homeopathics, vitamin supplements and herbs speed recovery of this idiopathic disease. With this combination, there is usually success within a few days. Even if you do nothing else but stand the cat up for 5 minutes every hour so his feet are touching the ground you will see some improvement. It is extremely important to give these cats time to recover and support them. It is not a stroke or a reason for euthanasia.

Read also: Feline and Canine Vestibular Disease

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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