Cats are usually very sure-footed animals and seldom fall over. They even twist over and land on their feet when they fall from a high level. This makes it even more distressing when you find that your cat is falling over. You may see your cat falling over to one side or they may seem to be walking in a strange way and staggering around. This is always a sign that something is wrong and should be investigated by your vet right away.
What Causes a Sudden Loss of Balance in Cats?
A sudden loss of balance in cats happens when something has gone wrong with the vestibular apparatus in the cat’s inner ear. This is the delicate part of the inner ear that controls both balance and coordination. Damage can be caused by an injury or by disease. Sometimes, a clear cause can be identified but often no apparent cause can be found and the condition is termed ‘idiopathic’ which means that the cause is unknown.
Nevertheless, your vet will try to get to the bottom of what is causing the problem using a series of tests. They often find that it is caused by an infection of the middle ear or possibly of the inner ear.
There are some more unusual causes and they include disease or an injury of the central nervous system. Typical examples are spinal cord injuries and head trauma. It could be caused by a neurological disorder or even by a tumor in the ear canal. This is more likely in senior cats. It can be caused by drugs and toxins.
Problems with the vestibular apparatus can show themselves in many different ways. There will be problems taking the weight on all four legs and you may notice your cat falling over to one side. It is a very frightening and distressing sight for owners.
What are the Symptoms of a Loss of Balance?
As well as the obvious signs of your cat having a problem standing up and falling over, you may notice some other symptoms.
You may notice that they fall completely over or stumble as they are walking along. You may also see that their head is tilting to one side and that they seem to be going around in circles. A bit like a human does when they are dizzy. There can also be a general weakness in the limbs.
Cats with vestibular disease often have continual eye movements and make a strange noise. They may seem to be having trouble hearing. Some cats will vomit whilst others just have a loss of appetite.
What Owners Can do
The main thing you have to do is get your kitty to the vet right away. Your vet will carry out a thorough physical examination to check for any other obvious issues. They may carry out a neurologic examination and have a good look in the ear using a special device called an otoscopic.
They will also ask you a lot of questions about how and when the symptoms started and about your cat’s general health and lifestyle. Some further tests may be needed in order to arrive at a firm diagnosis. Often your cat will need some blood tests and urine tests to look for general disease as well as ear cultures to check for bacteria that may have set up an infection in the ear.
In serious cases, it may be necessary to carry out an MRI scan or a spinal tap to look for issues with the spinal fluid. Sometimes head x-rays are needed to look for injuries. Your vet will put all this information together to work out what is going on.
How to Treat a Cat That is Falling Over
If your vet is able to identify an underlying cause, they will first treat that. However, many cases are idiopathic in which case the focus will be on relieving the symptoms.
When the issue is caused by an infection, your vet will probably prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. These are usually given in tablet form for a few days. If they think that the cause is drug-related or due to toxins, they may try to induce vomiting.
It is very important that your vet treats the symptoms even if the underlying cause cannot be found. The condition is very upsetting for both the cat and the owners and the sooner it is sorted out the better.
Often, it is the dizziness that causes your cat to vomit or at least not feel like eating. This can be treated with medication that tackles nausea and motion sickness. If your kitty has not had food or drink for a while, they may need supportive fluid administration and they may need to stay for a few nights at the vets.
Whilst they are there, they will probably be kept in a well-padded cage so they will not injure themselves if they try to get up and walk around. In most cases, the symptoms resolve within a couple of weeks and it is unusual for them to come back. When you get them back home, you may need to continue to restrict their movements by putting them in a cage. You may also need to continue to give them medication. If you are not sure about how to do this, your vet will advise you.
You will probably have to take your cat back to the vet after a couple of weeks so that they can be checked over. This will give your vet a chance to check that any underlying cause of the issue has been resolved. They can also check them over for injuries that may have been caused by the loss of balance and falling over.
Prompt treatment always increases the chances of a complete recovery, whatever the cause. So, if your cat falls over, get them to a vet as quickly as you can.