Cats depend on their inner ear for balance. Vestibular disease is a condition that seems to affect the inner ear, which can lead to some frightening but usually harmless side effects. A veterinarian can diagnose this condition and suggest treatment options. 


Symptoms can be alarming and are often described as an "attack." Your cat may begin an attack by having issues with balance or coordination loss, which often seems to come out of nowhere. They may fall over or be unable to stand up on their own. In some cases, the cat can walk during an attack, but they will circle to one side. They may also tilt their head to one side or even try to lay their head on the ground while walking.

The eyes also provide an important diagnostic symptom. During an attack, your cat's eyes will likely become very dilated, even in bright light. The pupils will also move rapidly back and forth. During or following the attack your cat may have one or more vomiting bouts. Often, your cat acts completely normal as soon as the attack is over.

Causes and Diagnosis

There is little known about the cause of vestibular disease in cats. In many cats, the attacks seem to come on out of the blue with no root cause. A cat may have a single attack and then be fine, or it may have several attacks over the course of its lifetime.

There are some health conditions that can mimic vestibular disease. Tumors and ear infections are the most likely, so your vet will perform tests to rule these out before settling on the diagnosis of vestibular disease. Blood and urine tests are typically performed to rule out infection and cancer. An ear culture is another often used diagnostic tool to check for infection. Your vet may also perform an x-ray or MRI to make sure there is no tumor or cyst causing the symptoms.

Treatment Options

The good news is that vestibular disease is not fatal as long as there are no accompanying issues like cancer. Most cats recover on their own after their first attack, with only a few developing chronic forms of the condition. The condition tends to clear on its own within a few minutes to hours, with only a few cats having bouts that last longer than a day.

Comfort your cat during an attack. They will have major balance issues, so you don't want them to be perched up high since a fall can cause injury. If the attack lasts longer than an hour, your vet can prescribe motion sickness or anti-vertigo medicine to help alleviate symptoms so that your cat can eat and drink.

If your cat is having balance issues or acting odd, contact a veterinarian immediately to schedule an exam.