Pets and People

What causes cats to fall over repeatedly?

posted: 05/15/12
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A cat wobbling around in circles or flopping on its side may seem funny to some, who might wonder if the cat had a little too much to drink. But a falling-down cat is no joke. It's not alcohol -- which can be fatal to cats. His problem could be an inner ear infection or a genetic, neurological or nerve disorder. If that's your cat, here's what you need to know to help your feline friend:

Why Cats Fall Over

A feline that falls over, moves with a stiff-legged gait, wobbles as he walks, or bobs his head repeatedly may be suffering from a condition akin to cerebral palsy in humans. Cerebellar hypoplasia is a disease of the cerebellum, the brain part that controls movement and coordination. Kittens can be born with this condition if their mothers were exposed to distemper while pregnant, causing damage or underdevelopment to the cerebellum. Malnutrition or poisoning can also cause this illness.

Cats may also fall over and move in circles if they suffer from ataxia --sometimes called wobbly kitten syndrome, a sensory dysfunction that affects the limbs, balance, and in some cases, the cat's head and neck. Cats with ataxia may sway, have trouble hearing and appear drowsy. Possible causes include neurological problems, cancer, viral or fungal infection and trauma. An inner ear infection could also cause ataxia.

Coping With a Falling Cat

If your cat is falling over, be sure to keep him indoors and safe from household hazards, such as stairs. Consult your veterinarian right away to determine exactly what's going on. Provide details on when the problem began and any other changes in your cat's behavior. Recall any incidents that may have preceded or led to the falling-down behavior. If you recently adopted the cat, get a record of his medical history from the shelter or rescue group. If this affects a kitten, find out what you can about the mother cat's prenatal history, such as whether she was current on her FVRCP vaccinations (given against three contagious diseases affecting cats).

After examining your cat and reviewing its medical history, your vet will order an array of tests. Chest and/or abdominal X-rays, a blood count and blood profile, urinalysis, and possibly an ultrasound or MRI, will help determine the illness, as well as rule out other possible ailments such as kidney disease, anemia, an electrolyte imbalance, or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). With test results in hand, the vet will explain what is happening in your cat's body.

Cures for the Falling Cat

For your cat, the inability to control its movements can be frustrating as well as painful. However, there is relief in some cases. If the ataxia is caused by an inner ear infection, it can be treated and cured with medication and nutritional supplements. However, ataxia that is genetic and neurological in nature can't be cured. There is also no specific treatment available to alleviate the cat's distress. The sight of your pet's lack of control may be frightening and cause you to feel helpless. Your vet can help you determine any symptomatic treatments that can help reduce the cat's pain.

There is no cure for cerebellar hypoplasia, but cats afflicted with it aren't in any pain or discomfort.

Living With a Cat That Falls

A cat with cerebellar hypoplasia will always need extra TLC and attention, to keep him safe from situations where his lack of balance can cause him to fall or injure himself. His quality of life may be diminished, but the disease isn't degenerative, and his condition will not worsen as he ages. He can learn to compensate for his inability to control his limbs, and lead a tranquil, happy life.

A cat with ataxia should have his movements curtailed, especially if your vet diagnoses spinal cord disease. Cats that are accustomed to climbing or going outdoors could easily fall and suffer a severe injury. You'll have to closely monitor his gait and condition. If his walk becomes increasingly imbalanced, or he shows other signs of weakness, consult your vet at once.

Cats with either cerebellar hypoplasia or ataxia should always be kept indoors.

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