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2 Reasons (Other Than CH) Why a Cat May Wobble

January 29, 2012

Photo courtesy

We know that when a cat can’t hear, he’s deaf. When he can’t see, he’s blind. But a cat who wobbles doesn’t necessarily have cerebellar hypoplasia.

This really shouldn’t really come as a surprise since the brain and body are quite complex. As with CH, just the smallest difference or injury can translate into an issue. Consequently, there are several other conditions that can lead to wobbly movements.

So what are two other causes of a cat being uncoordinated? Find out below:

First off, all three conditions are due to some form of ataxia.

A while back I mentioned how CH cats have cerebellar ataxia — it means there’s a dysfunction in the part of the nervous system that coordinates movement (in this case the cerebellum, hence the name). This we know as all CH cats have some sort of damage to or underdevelopment of the cerebellum.

But there are also two other types of ataxia that can lead to wobbly movements in cats:

Photo courtesy longview

Vestibular ataxia: This type of ataxia is caused by a problem with the inner ear or the nerves from the inner ear to the brain.

When there’s some sort of damage or disease here, it prevents the vestibular system from doing its job — controlling balance and feeding information to the brain. It’s the vestibular system that tells you when you’re upside-down or falling, in addition to how you should move your eyes, arms and legs.

Cats who have vestibular ataxia often walk in circles, fall to one side, tilt their heads and their eyes may flicker from side to side. It’s often caused by an ear infection or lesions in the ear or brain. Depending on the cause of the vestibular ataxia, your vet may be able to cure it.

Sensory ataxia: This is a result of any issue with the brain, spinal cord (when it’s slowly compressed) or peripheral nerves that detect the location of your cat’s limbs.

Cats who have sensory ataxia may stand and walk with their legs spread apart. They’re also usually weak, because the nerves don’t communicate properly with their muscles.

So now you know! But before you try self-diagnosing your cat or someone else’s, be sure to bring up your thoughts and concerns with the cat’s vet.

Do you know of a cat who was diagnosed with another type of ataxia? Has your vet ever discussed these types of ataxia with you? Please share in the comments!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Sally permalink
    December 11, 2012 3:25 pm

    I have a tricky kitten problem, I found a very weak, sick feral kitten, approx 14 weeks one week ago, He couldnt walk at all and didnt attempt to due to probable lead poisoning, he has been on a drip and various meds for this, aneamia and dehydration, he is now stronger and blood results back to normal yet he cant walk, just stumbles and falls. Vet is unsure if ataxia is remaining from poisoning or he now over his poisoning and suffering from something like CH? Any ideas welcomed, thank you!

    • December 11, 2012 3:38 pm

      Hi Sally,
      Thanks for commenting and taking in this little one! His condition sounds like a mystery (he certainly could have CH, or perhaps the poisoning impacted him somehow – but I’m not familiar with this), but I’m sure you’ll learn more as the weeks go on. A great deal can happen in the next few weeks. Keep us posted!

  2. January 14, 2015 9:37 am

    Is it possible for vestibular ataxia to persist even after a middle ear infection subsides? One of my kittens (her name’s Popeye) is around 3 months old now. When she was 2 months old, she developed a middle ear infection; she was also recovering from panleukopenia and this might have lowered her immunity, so the infection became pretty advanced pretty quickly. Within about 3-4 days, her outer ear was red and swollen and the doctor told us a bacterial infection had started in her middle ear. So we gave her the 7-day course of topically administered antibiotic plus regular cleaning of the debris. She responded very well in every way except one: she keeps stumbling and she runs at an angle! I don’t understand it. She is otherwise a healthy, normal kitten with good reflexes, average muscular strength, no unusual eye movements and her hearing seems to be intact.

  3. Ellen permalink
    January 30, 2015 4:42 pm

    I’m curious to see a reply to barefoot’s question. I have a cat (Teddy) who showed up at my door as a kitten this past summer. He seemed fine but later started tilting his head. He was treated for ear mites but the head remains tilted. I also sometimes wonder about the strength in his back legs yet other times they seem fine. He seems happy and healthy apart from the crooked head and occasional klutziness when jumping onto beds. Though he is an indoor cat now, he lived out doors with barn cats for part of the summer. One of which (Spike) has symptoms of CH but I thought he had some degenerative disease. Spike’s been living in the barn, shaking away for the last three years that I’ve know him. The shaking isn’t worse but this summer he seemed to be getting blind. He has an extreme will to live. When I first moved in here he was emaciated and I was sure he would die. He is now a very healthy weight, maybe even a bit chubby (I’d say its winter outdoor cat fat rather than obesity). So how degenerative could it be? I wonder if he might have eaten poison at some point and damaged his system. Or could he have a disease that Teddy would have contracted. Or perhaps both were damaged by ear mites (Spike was treated for ear mites this year too) and have permanent vestibular issues now. Any thoughts?

  4. lori permalink
    June 2, 2016 10:25 pm

    potassium or magnesium level low maybe.. or maybe the ear did not take to the meds in the ear directly to well. my cat started wobbling her head like it is loose like a Bobbitt doll but not that extreme this is when her kidneys were failing and they still are . I now give her fluid IV daily.

  5. Kim permalink
    June 6, 2017 4:46 am

    My cat is only8-9 weeks old. The mother had 2, but the other one died. I left her alone with the other one until around 6 weeks she abondoned him after taking me to him and i realized she had no more milk-so i took over. I relized right away he could’nt walk, his head would shake, and when he ate he would hit his nose against the food or water to see what it was. He gets mad at his legs when they will not do what he wants. I have not been able to aford a vet yet. What can I do?

  6. Jami permalink
    July 20, 2017 8:06 am

    I have a 14 year old cat that came home one day barely able to stand…after weeks he finally got it down again but now after 3 or 4 years he still walks(normal) with his head tilted sideways…any ideas? Brought him to the vet when it all started and they said it was either an ear infection and will clear up or he had a brain tumor and will die within weeks(this was 4 years ago,maybe longer)

  7. Nicole permalink
    February 6, 2018 6:16 pm

    My geriatric cat fell off a low perch backwards. I think she was asleep and rolled off. She wobbled for about 30 seconds then seemed fine. She rested for about 20 minutes then ate and climbed up her kitty stairs to bed. Can a fall cause a short span of wobbles?

  8. Jan permalink
    May 10, 2019 10:18 am

    Does the cerebellum develop more after birth if they get good nutrition. I have a 5 week old kitten that can’t walk. He was the runt and didn’t get enough to eat. He is eating very well now and stands on all 5 legs if I hold his head steady. I just got him a few days ago. The other kittens are a lot bigger. Is it too late for the cerebellum to develop at this point?

  9. Phebe permalink
    November 14, 2021 2:05 am

    I have 2 kittens (siblings) I adopted a month ago, the female (nana) suddenly started wobbling like 3 to 4 days ago. I really don’t know if it’s a broken bone or something else because she plays a lot and can be a fast one, always climbing. Right now she just lays on her bed most times, when she wants to poop, she comes off the bed, wobbles & could slip on one side to the floor. She doesn’t even go all the way to the litter box but just poops close to the bed. The only time she walks far from the bed is to go eat and she wobbles trying to balance herself while walking, once in awhile she falls on one side. I don’t understand what’s happening?? Any ideas would be welcomed, thank you.

    • Phebe permalink
      November 14, 2021 2:13 am

      Let me also drop this.
      About last 2 weeks I also noticed she (Nana) sneaks to eat her poop and I got uncomfortable with it because I feed them well. My man decided that we would give her out and keep Oz the male. Then this week the wobbling started, I’m thinking maybe she got an infection if it’s not a broken bone!!!

  10. Stephanie Keer permalink
    July 1, 2022 9:28 am

    If in a kitten it could be FIP and there is a cure available people!

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