Feline vestibular syndrome is a neurological disorder that affects the cat’s balance and can occur at any stage of its life. This dysfunction can be due to different causes, therefore, the prognosis may be different for each case.
To understand this condition a little more, from this space we will detail, clearly and concisely, what this syndrome is about, what causes it and how it is possible to make an accurate diagnosis.
The anatomy of balance
The vestibular system, also called the vestibular apparatus, is the set of organs that are related to the balance of the entire body and orientation with respect to the center of gravity. Regulates the position of the eyes, trunk and extremities, depending on the position of the head.
An alteration or abnormality in the vestibular system can lead to feline vestibular syndrome, which manifests itself with the animal’s lack of balance or erratic movements.
Instability and difficulties in coordination are just some of the manifestations that appear as a result of alterations in the vestibular system, a condition that can be detected through observation of symptoms and a neurological examination.
Feline vestibular syndrome symptoms
The clinical symptoms of vestibular syndrome in cats are usually easy to identify:
It is possible to see a head tilt in cats, which may be slightly or much more pronounced. In these cases, one of the ears may be closer to the ground than the other. This condition is accompanied by difficulties in standing up.
Also, there is a linear and continuous movement of the eyes, called nystagmus and they usually manifest in a slow phase, called pathological, and a fast phase, called compensatory. The movement can be from top to bottom, from one side to the other or alternately.
The cat may have strabismus, which is an abnormal position of the eyeball at the time it raises its head. Strabismus can be positional or spontaneous, with ventral strabismus being the most common.
Furthermore, the animal may manifest a lack of motor coordination due to ataxia, a state in which the cat moves in an uncoordinated way, walking in circles towards the affected side.
Some clinical signs, such as ptosis, miosis and protrusion of the third eyelid, also usually appear included in Horner syndrome, caused by a deficit of the sympathetic innervation of the eyeball.
The animal can also present otitis, absence of facial sensitivity, atrophy of the chewing muscles and, in the rarest cases, nausea and vomiting.
Causes of vestibular syndrome in cats
From inflammations to tumors, there are many causes that can give rise to feline vestibular syndrome, being infections one of the most common pathologies that can cause this state. However, sometimes the specialist diagnoses it as feline idiopathic vestibular syndrome, due to the difficulty of finding a specific cause.
The following are some of the pathologies that can cause feline vestibular syndrome:
- Trauma to the head can affect the vestibular apparatus, so it is necessary to analyze possible blows to the face, bleeding or open wounds.
- Infections or inflammations such as otitis media / interna, caused by bacteria or fungi that cause itching, sores, redness of the ear and excessive earwax. Other related pathologies can be toxoplasmosis or parasitic encephalomyelitis.
- Congenital malformations, documented in cats of the Siamese, Persian or Burmese breeds, which may have a certain predisposition to develop the syndrome.
- Metabolic / nutritional pathologies such as hypothyroidism or thiamine deficiency can cause vestibular symptoms.
- Neoplasms, through the appearance of tumors that can put pressure on the organs that are part of the vestibular system.
- Degenerative, such as abnormal lysosomal storage.
- Vascular, such as cerebrovascular disease.
Diagnosis and treatment of feline vestibular syndrome
Observation of clinical symptoms and physical examination are the starting point for the diagnosis of feline vestibular syndrome by the veterinarian. From there, it is necessary to carry out hearing tests and neurological examinations in order to identify where the injury is located.
The vet may also use complementary tests such as blood tests, urine tests, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ear cultures, cytologies, etc., in order to find the origin of the syndrome.
Once the problem is identified, the doctor will establish the appropriate treatment according to the primary cause of the vestibular syndrome. In certain cases, even when the associated pathology has been resolved, the cat may be left with its head bowed.
In cases where it is diagnosed as feline idiopathic vestibular syndrome, that is, without a known cause, it is not possible to treat the syndrome itself, although drugs can be administered to alleviate the associated symptoms.
Also, symptoms may spontaneously disappear when the adjacent lesion is treated. If the situation is more serious and there is no way to cure the pathology, the treatment will be aimed at providing the animal with quality of life through palliatives to alleviate the symptoms, as well as a change in the animal’s habits.
In all cases, it is necessary to take the animal to a veterinary consultation in case of suspicion of the syndrome or the appearance of clinical signs. In addition, it is recommended to avoid any type of infection through periodic cleaning of the cat’s ears, always taking care not to do it in excess or to use materials that can damage the hearing health of the pet.
The vet will provide guidelines for proper ear cleaning and will indicate which materials are best suited to perform it.