Idiopathic Vestibular Disease in Cats: An Overview

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Definition of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease in cats is an acute, nonprogressive disturbance of the peripheral vestibular system that usually causes clinical signs of head tilt, nystagmus and/or loss of balance in cats of any age. Nystagmus is defined as a periodic, rhythmic, involuntary movement of both eyeballs in unison. Usually, there is rapid improvement over a period of a few days in cats with this disease.

How Idiopathic Vestibular Disease Affects Cats

Idiopathic vestibular disease (IVD) in cats occurs when the vestibular system cannot function properly. The vestibular system is responsible for the body’s ability to orient itself in space and coordinate movement. This condition is also known as geriatric vestibular syndrome because it commonly affects older cats. Cats of either gender are equally affected. Most affected animals have a sudden onset of severe disorientation, falling down, rolling, leaning, vomiting, vocalizing and/or crouching with a tendency to panic when being picked up or held.

Causes of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

The precise cause of IVD in cats is unknown, which is why this condition is referred to as “idiopathic.” However, upper respiratory tract infections have been reported as risk factors.

Preventing Idiopathic Vestibular Disease in Cats

There is no reported way to prevent or reduce the risk of IVD in companion cats.

Special Notes

The treatment for idiopathic vestibular disease often relies on supportive care and protecting the cat from injuring itself. Anti-nausea medications are administered in cases of extreme vomiting, and if the cat becomes dehydrated, subcutaneous fluids may be administered. If the condition does not resolve itself within a short period of time, additional tests to determine the cause of the disease are needed for further treatment options.

The outlook for cats suffering from idiopathic vestibular disease is good to excellent. The symptoms will usually go away on their own within 2 days of their sudden appearance, and most cats are back to normal within two weeks. However, in cases where the condition is caused by brain lesions, the outlook is guarded and dependent on the response to treatment.

Disorders Similar to Idiopathic Vestibular Disease