What is ataxia in cats?

Ataxia refers to a lack of coordination. It comes from the Greek language meaning “lack of order”. It is used in reference to all animals and people. A cat with ataxia will suffer from an inability to coordinate voluntarily muscle movements. Ataxia is a symptom of some central nervous system disorders or injuries. It is not because of muscle weakness.

Gordon a kitten has ataxia
Gordon a kitten has ataxia. Screenshot.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

There are many causes. One is Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia. Gordon (above) has this disease:

I won’t go into great detail on causes but other possible causes are:

  • an inherited metabolic disease that causes the degeneration of the central nervous system. Apparently Siamese cats amongst the cat breeds are most often affected (see also Siamese health problems). For a breeder it means a DNA test needs to be carried out to remove carriers from the breeding line.
  • inflammation of the brain caused by an infection. Viruses that cause this sort infection include feline infectious peritonitis, panleukopenia (“panleuk”), feline leukemia.
  • feline stroke.

Update: this is Flick in a video from Marion of Cats Protection (see comment). Flick has CH (Cerebellar Hypoplasia) and it makes her head wobble.

Here is a tortie navigating the stairs with ataxia. Well done to her.

Note: This is a video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.


18 thoughts on “What is ataxia in cats?”

  1. Hi Marion

    Get in contact I’m in Edinburgh and looking to adopt a ch kitty. I have experience as have lived with my ch cat Priscilla all her life.



  2. The second cat in the video of Gordon was doing really, really well. Other than the wide stance of his back legs during gait you could hardly tell he has cerebellar ataxia. That would be my goal if I were caring for a cat like that– to do things that would help him progress to that stage. I found myself wanting to reach in and help Gordon by putting my hands on either side of his hips and just giving a little touch, a little stabilizing so he could continue walking without rolling all the way over so often. In therapy we’d call that “tactile cues to facilitate righting reactions.” I think every physical therapist or assistant should have one of these cats. It would be great fun to come up with ways to work with them and it would be of great benefit to the cats.

    When I’m with Monty outside I’m always holding him up to trees so he will reach up and hook his claws in and scratch to strengthen the muscles of his shoulders and upper back to protect him against osteoarthritis from all the jumping down he does because he’s too stubborn to climb down rear end first like God intended.

    A few years ago I was working with a supervising PT who was very strict about encouraging each patient to walk as far as he or she could in every session, in order to keep them making progress. So one day I was out with Monty and a little bug was walking near me. The bug would stop and I’d gently nudge him with my finger and he’d walk some more. This happened several times before I realized I was treating that bug like one of my patients, “C’mon, you can walk just a little more.” Geez. I think I was born to work in physical therapy. It’s just a shame there’s so little work in that field since the ACA passed. I went from being able to work seven days a week if I wanted to not even being able to sustain six hours a week in PRN physical therapy. There are so many people on Medicare not being helped, who would have been getting therapy before. Maybe I should go into working in physical rehabilitation with animals. When I wrote that article about cat physical rehabilitation, the vet I interviewed gave me the information on a training program. It’s focused on dogs, but you can definitely transfer the information to working with other animals.

  3. Don’t know if embedding works but this is Flick our CH kitty when she was a skinny kitten a few months ago. Sadly CH kittens are on the increase in our area, I posted about them on my Facebook after one was described by a so called behaviourist as nodding head because bored:_(
    This was my post<<<
    CH kittens, otherwise known as wobbly head syndrome, aren't some cute wobble head ornament they have special needs and need extra care. While it is true they can live happy healthy lives and their condition doesn't get any worse? In fact they quickly learn to cope better with it the head wobble isn't just a cute feature and definitely isn't increased because they bored. Their depth perception is affected and while they seem to act like normal kittens running and climbing they are in fact more predisposed to injury as inclined to land on their head or neck even if only dropping out of a child's arms. If they are unlucky enough to be homed to irresponsible owners their fate is sealed:-( they should NEVER be allowed to breed as the stress is simply to much and stress aggravates the head wobble. Their neck muscles are going to have so much more strain on them than they were ever meant to have so developing problems as they get older. Outdoors is a added danger to them as they more likely to climb higher and fall awkwardly. Insurance a good idea if you can get a good deal but at the very least expect vet bills from accidents. Recently we are seeing an increase in CH kittys and that's worrying to think the mum cats are having this type of kitten due to either toxoplasmosis or panlacupenia (spell) and sadly they aren't getting neutered or treated . Don't expect vet to always know what's best for a CH kitty as some have gone their whole careers without coming across one. Before last year even i had only known a few sadly this year looks like i am about to meet a few more.

    • Thanks a lot Marion, I wasn’t aware that this disease also caused the head to wobble like that. It is sad to hear that CH is more common. I’ll check that out. See what I can find out.

    • I would love to take on the challenge of caring for a cat with this condition. I have never come across one. It would be a unique challenge, but rewarding too. Maybe they can improve somewhat with the correct approach. Keeping them safe would be the main concern. I never thought of the dangers they face if dropped. Normal cats pretty much land on their feet. But a cat with balance and coordination issues won’t easily land correctly, and could be injured when falling or jumping down from a height.

  4. I sent one of my former teachers in the PTA program at Milwaukee Area Technical College some videos with cats of cerebellar hypoplasia. Their gait is almost identical to humans with gait problems originating in the cerebellum, including a very wide stance. You’ll see that the cats have their back legs far apart in effort to keep their balance. He laughed at the videos and then said he felt bad that he laughed. But at least cats with disorders of the cerebellum, though uncoordinated, are not in any pain.

    • If you go on YouTube sometimes people (frankly crude people) do find ataxia amusing. It is the human instinct to be amused by it, sadly. It is not amusing for a cat who has lost all of his superb athletic abilities, one of the prime attributes of the domestic cat.

        • No – that’s thelast thing I would laugh at. Poor little ones have so much trouble with that. Some have it alot worse than others (hypoplasia).

          It is caused by the mother having FIP- so the kittens are born with hypoplasia – as I know it.

  5. Well one thing is sure. From this video it is clear Arkos does not have ataxia. He walks , runs, jumps, and climbs very well. It’s just that he is over-excitable

    • I am pleased to hear that! I saw a breeding cat at A1 Savannahs with vestibular disease. His head was cocked to one side. He was still breeding. It looked odd and I was a bit surprised to see him. Vestibular disease can cause ataxia because balance is affected.

      • I had a dog and, currently, have a cat that had a bout with vestibular ataxia. It most always occurs in older animals. They, generally, will recover after a week or so, but the head tilt is permanent. Sometimes, there is a reoccurence as my dog had.

        • Some friends of mine had an eighteen year old dog who had a vestibular issue like that. The head tilt did become permanent, not that he lived much longer. I know lots of older humans with vestibular issues. It is very, very common. I should probably take a class in treating vestibular conditions for some of my PTA continuing ed. I know a few things to do, but not nearly enough. It is so common that I think it might actually be a major cause of falling and the intense fear of falling that older people sometimes have. It can become a fear of almost any movement, and they just sit totally still. I had one patient who was fearful just lifting one leg to do some long arc quad exercises sitting in the chair. But if you’re experiencing vertigo constantly, even doing that would be frightening. She could barely tolerate being transported anywhere in her wheelchair, because they movement caused nausea and dizziness. We had to d/c her from PT because we made very little progress. I did everything I knew to help her, but it was without success. My supervising PT tried a few more things, but nothing really helped. I feel like we really failed there. Maybe with more training we could have done more. At least the trend is for more awareness of this condition. Hopefully, as treatment improves for humans, there will be a carryover into better treatments for animals too.


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