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Vestibular Disease in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Peripheral vestibular disease primarily affects young to middle aged cats. In the northeastern United States, cats are commonly affected with peripheral vestibular disease in late summer to early fall. The cause of this increase of cases each year during this season is unknown.

In the southeastern United States, ingestion of the tail of the blue-tailed lizard has also been associated with peripheral vestibular disease signs in cats.

Typically, peripheral vestibular disease does not have a known cause. Many resolve and slowly improve over one to two weeks. The involuntary drifting of the eyes usually goes away in the first few days. Your pet may have a permanent head tilt, but most pets accommodate and do well.

Other diseases that have signs similar to peripheral vestibular disease are:

  • Inner ear infections
  • Low thyroid function
  • Trauma of the inner or middle ear
  • Cancer of the middle ear

    A thorough ear examination will help determine if the cause of the symptoms is due to peripheral vestibular disease or another cause. Unfortunately, there are no specific tests that will confirm peripheral vestibular disease. If the animal is showing the typical signs and all other causes of these signs have been ruled out, the animal is diagnosed with peripheral vestibular disease.

    Central peripheral disease also primarily affects older dogs. Most cases of central peripheral disease are due to tumors within the brain affecting the vestibular nerve.

    Other diseases that mimic the signs of central peripheral disease include:

  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Head trauma
  • Metronidazole toxicity
  • Viruses such as herpes, Feline infectious peritonitis, rabies
  • Bacterial brain infections
  • Rickettsial infections such as ehrlichia
  • Fungal infections such as blastomycosis, histomycosis, cryptomycosis, coccidioidomycosis, aspergillosis
  • Protozoal infections such as toxoplasmosis

    Thorough examination, blood tests, CSF tap, and possibly CT or MRI are necessary to determine the cause of central vestibular signs.

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