Cat stumbling around. Causes

These are the major causes of a cat stumbling around.

Stumbling Cats
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Two cats suffering (or who suffered) from vestibular disease and have head tilt. Vestibular disorder is one cause of a cat stumbling.

Injuries or diseases of the cerebellum. The cerebellum is large and well-developed in felines. It is concerned with a cat’s coordination and balance. Accordingly, if it does not function properly through injury or disease the cat stumbles and has uncoordinated movements.

A blow to the head can cause pressure on the brain. Slight pressure on the brain can result in the cat being stuporous (reduced sensibility). The cat may stumble. The cat breathes normally. The pupils stay constricted (small) when a light is flashed in the cat’s eyes.

A disorder with the inner ear vestibular apparatus (the labyrinth) can cause stumbling. This is because the apparatus maintains the cat’s balance and sense of orientation. It is made up of three semi-circular canals which are sensitive to 3-D movements and gravity. Inflammation of the labyrinth (labyrinthitis) causes the cat to lose balance. The cat may stumble, wobble and fall over. She may walk close to the ground. Her head will usually tilt to one side. She may vomit and have jerky eye movements. Humans suffer from the condition.

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The causes of vestibular disorders are, inner ear infection, stroke, brain tumor, knock to the head, brain infection and drug intoxication and thiamin deficiency. As for drugs, aminoglycoside antibiotics are more likely to be the cause.

There may be a congenital defect with the vestibular apparatus. Oriental Shorthairs (and I presume the family of breeds associated with the OSH) are more prone. Siamese kittens with the problem may be deaf. Kittens have a head tilt and circling actions.

Sometimes the cause is unknown – idiopathic vestibular syndrome. In the USA there is an increase in cases of this disease in the northeast in July and August. The cause is probably environmental. It seems, research on this is required.

For idiopathic vestibular syndrome, in most cases, the cat recovers over a period of three weeks with support. A cat may have a permanent head tilt. I saw one such cat at A1 Savannahs in OK, USA.

Injury to peripheral nerves. These are the nerves in the legs and peripheral parts of the body (i.e. outside the spinal cord and brain). A nerve can be torn or stretched. Diabetic cats may have nerve weakness. An automobile accident can cause brachial and radial nerve injury supplying the forelimbs. If the leg is partially paralyzed the cat will stand but stumble.

Photos: Flynn via Milo on Flickr, by David DeHetre.

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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9 Responses

  1. NANCY SCHWOPE says:


    • Must have been an infection. That’s my guess.

    • Sandra Murphey says:

      They used the Tresaderm drops initially because they saw bacteria under the scope, so they were treating with anti-biotic drops. The other drugs were used to sedate her so they could go “deeper”.

      The scratching is a sign that there’s a problem in her ears, but at this point we don’t know what it is. They really haven’t diagnosed the root cause, and I’m not going to let them put her under again.

      She’s an indoor cat, so she’s not exposed like outdoor cats. I just think of the discomfort of itchy ears.

      I’ve done a lot of research on this. Her ears don’t smell and there’s no discharge except for excess wax which is a normal reaction to a problem.

  2. Sandra Murphey says:

    Be aware that if the vet cleans your cat’s ears, then uses these drugs, your cat can have severe reactions as mine did. After ear cleaning, they put Tresaderm drops 15ml in her ear, and gave me the bottle to use at home. She woke up with one pupil larger than the other, which indicated a problem.

    When I called, they said to bring her in right away, and thought she might have a busted ear drum that the medicine was getting into. The exam showed “debri” on the eardrum, but it was o.k. They said not to give her anymore Tresaderm.

    They did a more thorough cleaning under sedation with Dexdomitor/Antisedan. (one knocks out/the other wakes up) The next day she could barely walk without falling over. I took her back in, and they said this was a “side effect” that might last 2-3 weeks.

    My research showed that these drugs had been recalled only a year prior.

    Please find out what drugs your cat may be given, and take time to research them. If you have a smart phone, you can do it right there in the vet’s office.

    If you can’t do that, please ask about side effects, so you know what to expect, since most vets won’t tell you.

    Recently, they cleaned her ear again, and gave her a steroid pill (Prednisolone 5mg),saying side effects might be drinking and urinating more. She didn’t do that, but she did have rapid breathing and staring. I thought she was dying.

    She’s recovered from that. I’m very reluctant to let them give her anymore drugs. Become informed, it may mean your cat’s life!

    • Wow, Sandra. Your story is shocking. It is a catalogue of severe drug side effects. I am like you actually. I resist drugs being given to my cat. They are a last resort and I think you are very wise to check immediately. Neat.

    • Michele S. says:

      Om my, how frightening that must have been Sandra. I’m so pleased to hear your cat overcame all those problems.

      Thank you for posting this information. You’re right, we don’t question enough the medication or anaesthetics being used on our pets. Could you report the vet who prescribed re-called medications, to the authorities?

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