Clinical Signs of Vestibular Disease in the Cat

Vestibular disease can be a distressing affliction to your pet’s health.

Cat ear diagram

Anatomy of a Cat Ear

Clinical signs may be as mild as a head tilt to severe as inability to stand.  You may notice nystagumus (sporadic eye movement, see video here), running into walls, difficulty walking, dragging of the feet, incoordination, or flailing.  These signs may be seen in both an acute and chronic onset.  Click here for a video showing the incoordination of a cat with vestibular disease.  Note the head tilt towards the left.  In addition, you will see the cat lose his balance about half-way through the video, a common symptom of vestibular disease in the cat.

Before one can truly understand vestibular disease, one has to understand the anatomy of the ear and its relation to the vestibular apparatus.  There are numerous differences between the cat and human ear.

The most pronounced difference is the cat’s ear canal has two distinct portions, a vertical and

human ear diagram 300x240

Anatomy of a Human Ear

horizontal part.  This creates a 90 degree angle within the canal.  As the canal dives deeper into the head, it passes the tympanic membrane (ear drum) to enter the middle ear.  Protected by bone even deeper, the inner ear houses all of the neurologic components of the vestibular and hearing systems.  This includes the two branches of the main nerve involved in balance/hearing (the vestibule-cochlear nerve).  In addition, a number of other major nerves and blood vessels pass through this area.

Normal Vestibular Function

Beyond knowing the anatomical structures, understanding their functions will allow better insightAnimals Cats The cat on  fence 017079  300x225 into disease processes in this area.  Balance, in most mammals, comes from three neurologic pathways.  There are hair cells in the middle ear that respond to fluid (endolymph) changes that come from moving the head and body.  These hair cells communicate to the brain how the head is oriented.  The other two pathways are the visual system for orientation, and gravity receptors in the skin.  With the information gained from all of these systems, the brain is able to orient the body properly.  If there are issues with any of these three systems, signs of vestibular disease may present.

To learn about diagnosing vestibular disease in the cat, click here. To learn about treatment options for this disorder, click here.

pixel
Rogers Avatar

Dr Roger Johnson and Dr Kyle Marano

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy. Kyle Marano, DVM is a small animal veterinarian practicing out of Northern Colorado. He has written pieces ranging from sports commentary and analysis to quips on the every day life of veterinary medicine. His furry family includes a chocolate lab mix and an overly nosy cat.

More Posts