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What Pet Parents Should Know About Vestibular Disease in Cats

What Pet Parents Should Know About Vestibular Disease in Cats

Our Winston-Salem vets know that witnessing the symptoms of Vestibular Disease or Feline Vestibular Syndrome in your cat be upsetting. Today we look at the symptoms of this condition in cats, and how Vestibular Disease is treated.

What is feline vestibular disease?

Idiopathic vestibular disease, or 'feline vestibular disease' is a balance disorder that can affect your cat which stems from issues within your cat's vestibular system. The vestibular system in cats, humans and other animals is responsible for controlling balance, orientation and a sense of direction. This system is located within the inner and middle ear. In people, vestibular disorders lead to conditions such as vertigo, dizziness, an inability to concentrate, and vision problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of vestibular disease in cats?

The symptoms of vestibular disease in cats can be alarming for pet parents to witness. You may notice that your cat is perfectly normal and happy one minute, then the next minute you notice that kitty is struggling to stand up on all fours and unable to maintain their balance when trying to walk. In fact, many cats experiencing vestibular disease will walk in circles or fall over to one side. You may also notice involuntary eye movements, or that your cat's  head is tilted peculiarly to one side.

Your cat's symptoms will likely be most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, with many pet parents reporting an improvement in their cat's symptoms within seventy-two hours of the condition starting.

What causes vestibular disease in cats?

While Siamese and Burmese cats may suffer from an inherited or congenital form of the disease, it is believed that most cases are caused by middle- or inner-ear infections. In rare cases tumors within the vestibular system may be the cause.

How is feline vestibular disease diagnosed?

You vet will perform a thorough physical exam paying particular attention to your cat's ears and may recommend diagnostic testing in order to rule out more serious conditions with symptoms that mimic vestibular disease. Your vet may recommend one or more of the following tests based on the results of your cat's physical examination:

  • MRI
  • Blood tests
  • Skull X-rays
  • Ear cultures
  • Spinal fluid analysis
  • Testing for kidney, liver, and pancreatic function
  • Thyroid testing to determine hormone production
  • Cytology (examination of fluids found in kitty's ear canal)
  • Electrolyte tests to check for dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance
  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infections (UTI) and kidney function

If no cause can be established for your cat's symptoms your vet will diagnose the condition as idiopathic vestibular disease, which simply means that the exact cause isn’t known. 

How can vestibular disease be treated?

Treatment for vestibular disease in cats depends largely on your cat's symptoms and whether a cause for the condition has been established. If a cause of has been diagnosed the underlying condition will be treated, rather than the vestibular disease itself. In cases of idiopathic vestibular disease where no cause for the condition has been found, treatment largely involves keeping your kitty safe and comfortable while they gradually recover. Typically there is a dramatic improvement in symptoms within 2-3 days.

How can I help my cat while they recover from vestibular disease?

Your cat's recovery from vestibular disease should be relatively quick, but to help your kitty feel better while they are experiencing symptoms your job is to provide safety and comfort.

  • Make sure that your cat has clean and comfortable place to relax, ideally on the floor so that there is no need for jumping if they decide to stand up.
  • Keep your cat restricted to a room away from stairs, with food, water, and litter box within easy reach. 
  • If your cat is unable to stand at all your vet may recommend helping your cat to change positions every hour or two to help prevent sores from developing.
  • You may also need to carry your cat to the litter box and back. (Be sure not to scold your cat for accidents that may occur while kitty is suffering from vestibular disease).

Your vet may prescribe an anti-nausea medication to help your cat feel better and prevent vomiting. (Never give your cat mediations designed for humans. Many medications that work for us are toxic to cats!) 

If your cat is showing signs of vestibular disease (feline vestibular syndrome) contact your regular vet for advice. Any time you are unable to reach your primary care veterinarian, including late nights, weekends, and holidays - we are here to help, contact Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem, NC.

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