I believe this syndrome (vestibular disease) is so poorly diagnosed that I really feel the need to educate. I am amazed at how many vets don’t know and misdiagnose this.
My first experience with this was with my very old dog. It emulates a stroke and so many people put their pets down because of that.
It, particularly, targets cats and dogs over 12 years of age. It is not a stroke but a vestibular condition that causes ataxia, nausea and sometimes vomiting, and fear (for animal and caretaker).
Even without any treatment (vets give antibiotics just for the heck of it). It will resolve in about 2 weeks. But, a head tilt will persist for life. It may even recur.
I have 2 cats right now that suffered from this. They are fine, but the head tilt is evident.
I met a man about a year ago going into Banfield Animal Animal Clinic for a follow-up visit for his dog. It was evident to me that the dog had vestibular ataxia, and the human said he had never heard of it and that the vet was treating him for a possible inner ear infection. I was dumbfounded.
I want to beg cat humans not to be quick to put their cats down because they think they have had a steak. This is not spinal related or “wobbly kitten syndrome”. My dog lived 5 years beyond this and my 2 cats are thriving after 3 and 4 years.
Additional stuff from Michael. This is a page on vestibular disorder:
And this is a page on ataxia (a lack of coordination):
I, myself, have suffered from vestibular disorder. I’m sure that many people have had this condition. In my case it was caused by a bacterial infection in my sinuses (which had been caused by a cold) and the infection spread to my inner ear where there is the vestibular system, which is used for balance.
It was very disconcerting for me because it made me feel very sick and that feeling made me feel ill and worried. It is useful to me to have suffered this condition for a short time (it only lasted about 4 hours) because it made me understand how uncomfortable it is. It does, as Dee states, cause a sense of fear and anxiety in the sufferer. People should be aware of it because, as we know, it is difficult for us to understand how a cat is feeling when ill.
I presume the continuing head tilt is because the cat’s orientation is messed up. I wonder whether the cat continues to feel some discomfort or anxiety because of it. Can cat vestibular disorder cause inappropriate elimination sometimes?
Additional external reference:
Vestibular disease in cats (opens new tab or window)
A Winn Foundation info. sheet on vestibular disease: