Neurological disorders are those that affect the central and/or peripheral nervous system of cats. They can be the result of acquired diseases, trauma, genetic inheritance, and other causes, some of which are idiopathic.
Today we look at the different types of neurological disorders in cats. We understand its different causes and symptoms, as well as looking for the best methods to treat the neurological problems of our feline friends.
Cats can have two types of vestibular syndrome: central and peripheral. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is part of the auditory system, along with the cochlea. It is involved in maintaining balance and orientation, something very important in cats that are characterized by their agility. Your body is highly coordinated, and the vestibular system helps each part know where to be in relation to the other. Vestibular syndrome can be unilateral or bilateral, depending on whether it affects one or both ears, respectively. Treatment of vestibular syndrome in cats will vary depending on the underlying cause. There is no specific and generic treatment for all cases. It is essential that we go to a veterinarian if we suspect that our cat may have vestibular syndrome of either of the two types.
Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder in cats, in part because it refers to a group of conditions rather than a specific disorder. Epilepsy is defined as periodically repeated seizures. Between the seizures, the cat appears completely normal. Epilepsy causes a sudden activation of a group of neurons that cause overexcitement and agitation of the cat’s body. It acts on a specific muscle group (focal epilepsy) or on the whole body (generalized epileptic seizure).
The causes of epilepsy in cats can be idiopathic, that is, without apparent origin. It can also be the result of diseases that affect the brain, vascular disorders, hypoxia, liver or kidney disorders (hepatic or uremic encephalopathy), or thiamine deficiency.
Epilepsy treatment should include medications such as phenobarbital to reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures. It will also help prevent continuous seizures that last more than 10 minutes. Prolonged seizures can cause a rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) that can be fatal.
The spinal cord is divided into four functional units: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and lumbosacral areas. Depending on the affected area, they produce combinations of upper and lower motor neuron syndromes in the forelimbs and hindlimbs.
Thoracolumbar or lumbosacral spine disorders
Clinical signs likely to indicate spinal cord impairment include paresis (partial motor failure) or paraplegia (total motor failure). This can occur in one or more limbs, depending on the disease and the location of the spinal cord injury.
If the affected area is the thoracolumbar area (behind the T2 spinal cord segment to the lumbar segment), the paresis is of the upper motor neuron, where the reflexes are opposite or are normal or increased in the hind legs.
The causes of these disorders of the thoracolumbar or lumbosacral spine are hernias, fobrocartilaginous embolization, neoplasms, spondylosis, disc spondylitis or degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, among others.
Cervical spine disorders
The most severe form occurs when the spinal problem is localized to the first segments of the spine. These are located in the neck and go back to the T2 spinal segment. This results in ataxia and paralysis of all four limbs. When the lesion is located in the first half (segment C1-C5), an upper motor neuron syndrome occurs in all four limbs. If it occurs in the C6-T2 segment, a lower motor syndrome occurs in the forelimbs.
The causes are cervical disc disease, cartilage embolization, atlantoaxial subluxation or Wobbler syndrome (cervical spondylopathy), among others.
Diseases of the meninges
Another area that can be affected is the meninges. These are the membranes that cover the central nervous system and the spinal cord. The meninges are three-layered.
The meninges can be affected in various ways and the location of an infection helps determine the disease:
- Meningitis: when the meninges become infected in isolation
- Meningoencephalitis: when it also infects the brain.
- Meningomyelitis: when the spinal cord is also infected.
The most typical symptom of meningeal infections is pain, which causes acute cervical stiffness and tenderness of the neck and spine. The cat may also have seizures and behavioral disturbances, as well as fever, anorexia, and lethargy. Another problem with inflammation of the meninges is that it can cause hydrocephalus by reducing the absorption of cerebrospinal fluid in the subarachnoid space and venous sinuses.
Cranial nerve diseases
In cats, cranial nerves exit the cerebrum or brainstem and innervate structures in the head. When damaged they can also produce signs of neurological disorders in cats. Let’s look at some examples:
- Damage to the trigeminal nerve (pair V): innervates the head, causes lack of sensitivity and hinders the muscles necessary for chewing. For this reason, you may find that the cat does not eat as much.
- Damage to the facial nerve (nerve VII): causes the ears and lips to loosen, the tear ducts to leak, and the dexterity of the tongue to be reduced. Damage to this nerve can be caused by otitis media or inner ear infections.
- Damage to the glossopharyngeal nerve (pair IX), the vagus nerve (pair X) and the accessory nerve (pair XI): these are responsible for controlling the motor activity of the esophagus for swallowing. The result is usually difficulty swallowing, regurgitation, changes in vocalization, dry mouth, inspiratory dyspnea, cervical muscle atrophy (in case of accessory nerve injury), etc.
- Damage to the hypoglossal nerve (pair XII): innervates the tongue producing paralysis and atrophy, making it difficult to eat food.
Although these are the most common neurological disorders in cats, there are many more that can affect the central nervous system, causing other serious signs such as stroke. For this reason, it is essential to carry out adequate preventive action and go to routine controls to detect any anomaly as soon as possible. If you notice any of the neurological symptoms mentioned, do not hesitate to take your cat to the nearest veterinary center.