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Tags: Nystagmus, Health Problems, Health

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Vestibular disease is responsible for the altering of the cat's understanding of its physical surroundings. The vestibular apparatus is the neurological parts of the body that guide the cat through this process. It directs the cat's motions and activities in relation to the earth, for example, whether you are standing up, sitting down, turning in one direction, spinning around, walking, running etc. This system uses the eyes and legs to help a cat get its bearings and to determine what action it needs to execute the appropriate move; walk, run, jump and more. In the vestibular system the eyes are used to see moving objects (peripheral vision) without having to succumb to dizziness.

Nystagmus in particular impairs the cat's ability to roll the eyes back and forth or provide a rotational movement. What generally happens is that the eye movement is slower in one direction that it should be.


Nystagmus is caused by a lesion in the eye preventing the proper movement. But the disease is actually named for the fast or normal moving eye action, which can be a bit confusing. For example if the lesion is on the left side, the condition is called right nystagmus.

This legion could be central meaning that it is in the brain, or peripheral meaning it is located in the inner ear.

Two receptors in the middle are responsible for coordination, one signals falling while the other allows the cat to have the sense or orientation to its environment, meaning is it upside down, right side up etc.

Tiny hairs in the ear fluid are detectors; they are part of the sensory cell system which send messages onto cerebellum, reticular formation and other areas of the brain. In turn these messages (especially in the cerebellum, signal the extremities; legs to walk, run, etc.). Infections and lesions can alter the messages to cause problems with orientation and movement.


  • Your cat will tilt its head to one side

  • Falling towards the side the lesion is on

  • Ataxia (the inability to be able to direct and control movement, staggering and stumbling all over the place)

  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting (Motion sickness) which is a result of a lesion situated in the ear

  • Middle ear infection

  • Nerve damage usually in the upper area (head and face)

  • Tumors in the Brain


    A physical examination of the cat can help to determine the location of the lesion. Veterinarians will look at the tilt of the head, and if cranial nerves are involved, the lesion will be in the cerebellum of the brain (central) and on the opposite side of the head tilt. If the nystagmus only happens if the cat is in certain positions or if the eyes roll up and down rather than sides ways that too would indicate that it is also central in the brain.

    Blood tests will be ordered to confirm presence of the disease.

    The veterinarian will also perform an external ear examination and if nothing shows up by sight, he/she will use imaging techniques. Bulla series of radiographs are used. These exams focus on one of the bones in the ear (timpanic bulla). Other diagnostic tools such as CAT scans and MRIs are used.

    These techniques are more sensitive and will examine brain abnormalities not picked up by other methods.


    If there is fluid and infection in the ear, the veterinarian will drain the ear which requires a surgical procedure.

    Surgical removal of tumors and lesions and the possibility of drug therapy to break down the lesions may be used as well.


    If you see any of these symptoms occurring in your cat, take it to the veterinarian immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment. The doctor will discuss your options and assist in the right treatment plan for your cat. Remember prognosis is not always fatal, and many cats can enjoy recovery and a normal life

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