Our Cat’s Experience With Feline Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

About a week after we brought home two young kittens that we adopted from a rescue organization, the smaller black cat started stumbling and wobbling around.

This teeny black kitten was three months old at the time but weighed less than two pounds. She was dwarfed by her slightly older new “sister”, a four-month old unrelated gray tabby we had also adopted who weighed five pounds.

The black kitten, who we named Lulu, had already had a rough start to her life. The runt of the litter, she was quickly outcompeted by her much bigger five brothers for her mother’s life-giving milk.

Fortunately, she had a very caring fosterer who took to hand feeding her around the clock to keep her strength up. Lulu was quite sick during those touch and go first months but her fosterer’s perseverance paid off.

Finally, Lulu was deemed old and strong enough to be adopted out. We happily picked out the small but headstrong kitten and matched her with Princess, a gray tabby kitten so we would have a pair.

A black and a gray tabby kitten sitting together in a cat bed.
Lulu and Princess shortly after their adoption.

The first week went really well with the two new kittens. They bonded with each other pretty quickly and spent most of their waking hours running around the house together.

When they weren’t being two little balls of frenetic energy, they could be found cuddling with each other and sleeping.

A black kitten and a gray tabby kitten sleeping on a red bed with white polka dots.

Diagnosing Lulu with feline idiopathic vestibular disease

One morning about a week after we brought the two cats home, I woke up and discovered that Lulu was stumbling around, falling over as she would lose her balance.

We immediately called our vet and got in to see him for a check up to figure out what was going wrong.

After an examination, our vet diagnosed Lulu with feline idiopathic vestibular disease.

The idiopathic in the name means that there isn’t any known cause for this syndrome. The symptoms came on suddenly and without warning.

Vestibular disease in cats can be caused by middle- and inner-ear infections, a reaction to a drug, or have some other cause. Vestibular disease, such as in the cause of Lulu’s, can also have no known cause.

For Lulu’s case, there wasn’t any treatment to cure the disease. The vet did send us home with some anti-nausea medication to help Lulu.

After a few days, Lulu had regained her sense of balance and was no longer stumbling or falling over. Most of her other symptoms, except for the head tilt she developed, also resolved.

Permanent symptoms from feline idiopathic vestibular disease

Six years later, Lulu has contained to live a very healthy and happy life. She continues to race around the house with her faithful companion, Princess.

What has lingered is a head tilt. Her head permanently tilts to her left.

Lulu’s head tilt is most notable when she is walking or sitting upright.

A black cat sitting in a blue basket with her head tilted to her left.
Feline idiopathic vestibular disease left Lulu with a permanent head tilt.

Fortunately, the head tilt doesn’t seem to have slowed her down. She still loves to run up and down our long hallway.

She still loves to jump up high. She will bob her head up and down to gauge the distance but can successfully leap up high. One of her favorite spots to hand out and survey the living room is from our fireplace mantle.

A black cat sitting in a planter with cat grass.
Lulu’s head tilt hasn’t stopped her from living a full, healthy, and happy life.

And, it’s always amusing when we go to the vet for her annual checkups and the tech will ask her, “are you a crooked cat?”

Resources to learn more about feline idiopathic vestibular disease

Donnell, J. (2017, December 7). 8 questions about feline idiopathic vestibular disease. Veterinary Neurology of the Chesapeake. https://www.vetneurochesapeake.com/uncategorized/8-questions-about-feline-idiopathic-vestibular-disease/

Vestibular syndrome. (2018, May 22). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/vestibular-syndrome

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