Feline Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome

cat sleeping in basket

Feline Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome (FGVS) is also known as Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. It effects your cat's sense of balance and can occur in cats of any age. Learn how to spot the signs.

Symptoms of Feline Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome

Feline Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome causes a cat to lose all sense of balance. In some ways it is like severe vertigo in humans. The cause is unknown, although there is some belief that it may be due to changes in the inner ear. There is also the possibility that inflammation of the nerves in the inner ear leads to the condition.

During an episode of Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome, your cat will become dizzy. It can be difficult to tell if a cat is dizzy, but she may have the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty walking
    • Staggering
    • Falling
    • Running into things
  • Abnormal movement of the eyes
  • Tilted head
  • Mewing
  • Leaning to one side
  • Seizure-like episodes
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Walking in circles

This could go on for a few days to a few months, depending on the individual episode. It is interesting to note that this disease does not just affect cats. Older dogs and rabbits also seem to be susceptible.

Other Illnesses that Cause the Same Symptoms

It is important that you take your cat to the vet immediately if she exhibits any of these symptoms. While Feline Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome is not fatal, there are other reasons your cat might exhibit some of the behaviors listed above. Some of the other possible causes can be fatal, so it is good to have your pet checked out.

Other conditions that may have the same or similar symptoms are:

  • Ear infections
  • Cancer
  • Brain trauma (being hit by a car, etc.)
  • Poisoning
  • Tumors

Diagnosis and Prognosis

Your vet will check your cat very carefully to find the cause of the problem. There will more than likely be a thorough examination of the ear first. Your vet will also check your cat's eyes and take blood tests. If these examinations and initial testing prove inconclusive, imaging tests may be done to rule out tumors.Sometimes a reason for the syndrome will be found, but many times there seems to be no reason for the cat's problem. Your vet will probably prescribe an antibiotic in case there is an infection that was missed in the tests.

You may need to hand feed your cat during the course of the disease and give her water. Since the fine motor nerves are affected it can be almost impossible for your cat to eat by herself. The problem should begin to clear up in a few days, especially if there is no underlying cause. Occasionally a cat that has experienced this odd syndrome will get over it only to be left with a permanent tilt to her head, but this does not seem to keep an affected cat from living a full and comfortable life. Typically, a cat that has had an occurrence of the syndrome will not get it again. However, there are some instances where there was a relapse of symptoms, so it can happen.

Tips for Caring for Your Cat During Recovery

While you can't hasten the recovery, there are a few things that you can do to make it easier on you and your cat.

  • Keep the cat away from stairs and other areas where she could hurt herself.
  • Keep your pet indoors.
  • Follow your vet's instructions exactly.
  • Give your cat all of her medication, even if the symptoms end before the medication runs out.

Notify your vet if any of the following occur:

  • Fainting
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Relapse of symptoms
  • Worsening of symptoms

The symptoms of Vestibular Syndrome can be frightening, but they usually do not pose a threat to your cat. Stay calm, reassure your pet, and take her to the vet as quickly as possible. A quick diagnosis can be especially important if the symptoms are caused by a more serious illness.

Feline Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome