Feline Vestibular Disorder

by Michael
(London, UK)

This page explains feline vestibular disorder which is well searched for on the internet. It is a disorder that affects the vestibular system of the cat. The vestibular system is based in the inner ear. It is not a disease that I heard much about until now.

And it is a condition that the cat usually cures without the assistance of medication.

The Vestibular System

Together with the cochlea it makes up the labyrinth of the inner ear. The cat’s vestibular system allows the cat to perceive a three dimensional world allowing the cat to keep a normal attitude (position) and has an important role to play in respect of the the cat’s balance. It contains three semicircular canals. They are more or less at right angles to each other. They are called:

  1. horizontal
  2. anterior
  3. and posterior

semicircular canals. Movement of fluid within the horizontal semicircular canal corresponds to rotation of the head around a vertical axis (i.e. the neck). The anterior and posterior semicircular canals detect rotations of the head in the sagittal plane (as when nodding), and in the frontal plane, as when cartwheeling. The movement of fluid pushes on a structure called cupula, which contains hair cells that convert the mechanical movement of the fluid into electrical signals that the brain can comprehend.

Diseases of the inner affect balance.

Feline Vestibular Disorder

Inflammation of the labyrinth: This condition is called labyrinthitis. This is can be caused by an inner ear infection. Other causes are:

  • stroke
  • brain infection (e.g. toxoplasmosis)
  • drug intoxication
  • thiamin deficiency
  • Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome – the most common cause3 of labyrinthitis in cats. It happens suddenly (Idiopathic means: arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause). The cause is unknown. 

Symptoms: Cats with this disorder have a problem with balance.  The cat may:

  • Head tilt (symptom of Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome) – this is the characteristic sign of Feline Vestibular Disorder or Syndrome together the highlighted symptoms below.
  • difficulty walking
  • wobbly gait
  • circle
  • fall over
  • roll over
  • lean against a wall for support
  • crouch low
  • have jerky, vibrating, eye movements (nystagmus)

The experts say that cat caretakers should not worry about feline vestibular disorder as it usually lasts less than 2 -3 weeks and it clears up with or without medication4. Other sources say that the cat begins to recover in 2 -  3 days3. The cat is well again in 3 weeks3. Some cats have a permanent head tilt however.

I have seen a cat with head tilt. It looks disconcerting. Here is a video (sometimes people pull them so I hope it is still playing). This poor cat has the head tilt. It must be very upsetting:


1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestibular_system.

2. Veterinary Notes For Cat Owners by Trevor and Jean Turner.

3. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by Dr Carlson and Giffin.

4. vetinfo.com/catneuro.html.

From Feline Vestibular Disorder to Cat Health Problems

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Feline Vestibular Disorder

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Feb 25, 2012 Scary moment NEW
by: Sue D

Today at 4.15 a.m. my 14 year old cat Tibby began howling and turning round in tight circles, collapsing every so often. After rushing her to the vets and spending a small fortune ( shes worth it) she was diagnosed with vestibular. Iwas told she should get better within days but will take weeks to fully recover.Fingers crossed as I love her to bits!I was told its like a human having vertigo.

Oct 21, 2010 VERY HELPFUL
by: John

We have a dear 7 pound female cat that adopted us about a year ago but stays outside because we have a 14 pound female indoor cat that does not play well with others. Blackie, the outdoor cat, started with the exact symptoms described in this site and after 2 and a half days at the emergency vets nothing conclusive was found. However this sites information is right on and now I am hopeful she will make a full recovery...thank you!


Feline Vestibular Disorder — 3 Comments

  1. My year old cat had been ill since the week of Christmas with lethargy, congestion, fever and loss of appetite. After a night of diarrhea, he woke up and looked as if he had a stroke, with his head drooped to one side, and an inability to walk without either falling or stumbling. Yesterday, Jan.12th, the head twist became more pronounced and walking a chore!! I was wondering if there was anything I could do? My vet recommended thiamine and even gave him a shot of it, however there was no significant difference. Help!


    Sylvester, my very sweet black/white cat, has had this problem for a few weeks now; or that’s what the Vet and I think is the problem. He has all the right symptoms for it, he gets better for a while then may relapse some. He may be getting over the problem starting today.
    He is doing much better and goes back to the Vet Monday for some more tests and meds.

    • Hi Bob, great to hear from you again. Sylvester should manage. I hope you are OK and I remember your articles clearly still even after the years and it is years – shocking how times flies when you get older.

      Any future comments you make will be published immediately. It is just the software automatically picks up new commenters (based on IP, email etc.).

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