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Vestibular Disease in Cats: Symptoms & Treatments

Our Lexington vets understand that seeing symptoms of vestibular disease - a balance disorder that can lead to vertigo and vision problems - in your cat can be alarming. Today, we'll list the signs of this condition in cats and how vestibular disease is treated. 

What is feline vestibular disease?

This disease is also known as idiopathic vestibular disease - a balance disorder that stems from issues within your cat's vestibular system. Located within the inner and middle ear, this system in cats, humans and other animals is responsible for controlling balance, a sense of direction and orientation. Vestibular disorders lead to conditions such as vertigo, dizziness, vision issues and an inability to concentrate. 

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

Cat parents may be alarmed to discover their cat displaying symptoms of vestibular disease. While your cat may be normal and content one minute, the next minute you may notice that your kitty is struggling to stand on all fours and maintain their balance when attempting to walk. Many cats experiencing vestibular disease will, in fact, walk in circles or fall over to one side. You might notice involuntary eye movements, or that your cat's head is tilted peculiarly to one side. 

During the first 24 to 48 hours, your cat's symptoms will likely be severe. Many pet parents report that their cat's symptoms within 72 hours of the condition starting. 

What causes vestibular disease in cats?

While Burmese and Siamese cats may suffer from an inherited or congenital form of vestibular disease, it's believed that infections of the middle or inner ear cause most cases. In rare circumstances, tumors within the vestibular system may be the culprit. 

How is feline vestibular disease diagnosed?

Our vets at Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency have experience in assessing, diagnosing and treating symptoms of vestibular disease in cats. The vet will conduct a thorough physical exam, giving particular attention to your cat's ears. Advanced diagnostic testing may be recommended to rule out more serious conditions with symptoms that mimic vestibular disease. Your veterinarian may recommend one or more of these tests depending 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?

When it comes to vestibular disease in cats, recovery should be relatively quick. That said, here are some tips to help your kitty feel safe and comfortable while they are experiencing symptoms.

  • Make sure that your cat has a 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 your 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 medications designed for humans. Many medications that work for us are toxic to cats!) 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you seeing symptoms of vestibular disease in your cat? Contact Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency today to learn more and to book an appointment to have your dog assessed for IVDD. 

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Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for advanced diagnostic appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

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