Ataxia is a disease where a feline's gait, which is the way it moves, walks, runs, jumps and so on, is severely uncoordinated and the animal appears to stumble, is clumsy, wobbly, and rather odd looking. The reasons for ataxia depend upon the disease it may have contracted. It is primary a neurological disorder resulting from problems in the brain or inner ear. But can have non neurological causes as well.
Some causes of ataxia are genetic and run in families, while others could be brought on because of a feline virus or infection, or simply by the cat's general life style.
A feral cat that is found starving and dehydrated or is severely anemic can become very weak and this would be a cause of ataxia.
The cerebellum is the main area in the brain which is responsible for movement; balance and coordination. A prominent feature of this type of ataxia is that cats often display what is called goose gait, they step very high. Other symptoms include standing with their legs far apart. They make strange and exaggerated jumps because of having difficulty in judging the proper movements necessary to complete this motor task. These cats may also experience tremors after eating.
Vestibular ataxia is a condition where the cat's movements are clumsy and exaggerated. The cat can be very disoriented, make strange walking or jumping movements, circle around, fall, exhibited nystagmus (rolling or flickering of the eyes with the head tilted to one side) and show signs of motion sickness, (dizziness, vomiting, nausea). The condition is a neurological disease affecting the inner ear and the cerebellum. This could be as a result of an ear infection or lesions in the ear or brain.
Sensory ataxia pertains to problems of the brain, spinal chord and areas outside of it known as peripherals. Vestibular ataxia can be classified as part of this group as well. Cats will walk with their feet spread well apart, and have problems with muscles due to faulty cell communication. Affected cats will be very weak as a result of these muscle problems.
Abnormal Brain Development
Kittens may be born with or develop an abnormal brain shortly after birth. The reasons vary. The mother may have been exposed to toxins or infections before delivery.
The mother may have contracted the Panleukopenia virus, during pregnancy or she was given the vaccine for the virus in early pregnancy. Panleukopenia refers to low white blood cell count and it too is a result of a virus infecting the intestinal tract, spinal chord and bone marrow.
Ataxia could be a result of other inherited diseases such as lysosomal diseases where the body lacks the enzymes it needs to carry on metabolical functions such as converting one chemical substance into another in the storage areas of the brain.
Metabolical ataxia refers to ailments occurring outside the brain such as liver disease but affects the brain functioning as a result of it.
Thiamine deficiency and other kinds of nutritional related deficiency can affect the functioning of the brain.
The veterinarian will take a complete history of the cat to pinpoint the problem. Examples of questions are: was the mother cat vaccinated during her pregnancy, were the kittens exposed to any toxins or poisons, are there other kittens from the litter that are normal, or show signs and so on.
The next step is a complete medical examination including blood testing, eye examinations, urine testing, chest and abdomen X-rays, cerebral spinal fluid testing, ultrasound, and MRI.
Treatment and prognosis depends largely upon the reason for the Ataxia. As a cat owner you are advised to see a veterinarian if any muscular or motor problems occur in your kitten or cat. If his walking is weird to you and he does not seem to be able to move properly, falls down a lot, constantly circles around, walks with feet wide apart and has a tilted head, please get him to a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan dependent upon your cat's medical condition. Some diseases are fatal while others are easily cured. Either way you need to get your cat the best possible care as early as you can.