Ataxia in Cats

Whether it is purposeful jumping or skillful balancing: cats are known for their proverbial elegance and body control. But the situation is different for cats with ataxia – they attract attention because they move unsteadily. We explain how you can recognize ataxia and what can help affected cats.

The Different Forms of Ataxia in Cats

The term “ataxia” comes from the Greek word “ataxia”, which means “disorder”. The movements get into disorder: It is a coordination disorder. People can also suffer from ataxias.

Ataxia is not a disease in its own right, but a symptom of other disorders in the body.

When we talk about ataxia in cats, we almost always refer to disorders with neurological causes. We differentiate the three most common forms of ataxia in cats according to the location where the damage is present:

Cerebellar Ataxia

Cerebellar ataxia is the most common. It is caused by damage to the cerebellum, Latin “cerebellum”. The cerebellum is responsible for coordinating movements and keeping healthy cats in balance. Often the cause of cerebellar ataxias is an underdevelopment of the brain. Tumors, accidents, or poisoning can also trigger this form of ataxia.

Sensory Ataxia

In this form of ataxia, the disorder is usually in the spinal cord. Triggers are accidents or misalignments of the spine. Sensory ataxia is often associated with muscle weakness. A sub-form is spinal ataxia in cats.

Vestibular Ataxia

The organ of equilibrium is disturbed here. The cat cannot keep its balance. With this form, the head is often tilted or walking in circles. Much like some people who feel seasick, cats can get nauseous. Often the underlying disorder is in the inner ear.

Symptoms of Ataxia in Cats

The most common symptoms of ataxia include:

  • Holding the head at an angle;
  • Trembling of the eyes (nystagmus) or of the whole head;
  • Unsteady or stiff walking;
  • Tipping over to the side or forward;
  • Sensitivity to noise;
  • Sitting or standing with legs apart;
  • Difficulty assessing distances (dysmetria);
  • Vestibular form: walking in circles, nausea.

Diagnosis at the Veterinarian

If a cat shows movement disorders, it is time to go to the vet. He can determine the location of the ataxia through careful observation. A cause can often be narrowed down by talking to the cat owner.

Different diagnostic methods can be used depending on the form and location of the damage. X-rays, brain or muscle current measurements, blood tests for infections, malnutrition, or metabolic diseases are possible.

The use of magnetic resonance (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) is expensive, requires anesthesia, and only makes sense in exceptional cases. This is especially true because anesthesia for ataxic cats can be associated with higher risks.

It is not always necessary to determine the cause down to the smallest detail. However, a basic ataxia diagnosis by the veterinarian is important in order to be able to derive therapy and prognosis.

Different Causes of Feline Ataxia

Ataxia is mostly due to damage to the central nervous system. These can have different triggers.

  • Viruses such as feline parvovirus or poisoning of pregnant mother cats lead to ataxia in their young;
  • Accidents and abuse like a blow on the head;
  • Metabolic diseases such as diabetes or hypoglycemia;
  • Inflammation, for example in the inner ear;
  • the progressive degeneration of the spine;
  • rare: hereditary diseases, for example, lysosomal storage disease;
  • rare: malnutrition.

Is Cat Ataxia Curable?

Since there are numerous causes of ataxias, there is no general answer to this question.

In many cats, ataxia is incurable.

But the animals learn to compensate for the restrictions. This can improve the movement disorder in everyday life and affected cats can lead a happy life.

Is Ataxia a Reason to Euthanize the Cat?

If a veterinarian diagnoses ataxia in cats, some owners consider euthanizing the wobbly kittens. But cerebellar ataxia is common, especially in young cats. It cannot be cured. But growing velvet paws learn to compensate for the damage.

The four-legged friends themselves do not notice their handicap and are usually not in pain. Many symptoms will improve over time, and the cats will have a normal life expectancy. Some shelter cats with ataxia also see improvements quickly when they move into loving homes.

If the disturbances are so severe that the cat cannot walk independently, an experienced veterinarian and his / her prognosis should weigh up whether euthanasia is advisable. Usually, vets only put ataxia cats to sleep if there are other symptoms of the underlying disease. These include epilepsy and related oxygen deficiency.

Tips for Living With Ataxic Cats

Ataxias in cats can be very different: Some animals have few restrictions, for others even getting into the litter box is an insurmountable obstacle. Here are some general tips:

Free Running for Ataxia Cats?

Unlimited freedom is not recommended for ataxia cats. The risk of accidents is too great. Encounters with cats from the neighborhood can be doubly dangerous: In territorial fights, the nodding kittens are very inferior and can injure themselves.

In addition, many of them have weaker immune systems and are more easily infected with diseases. An enclosed garden is ideal. Keep an eye on whether your cat is climbing trees and whether there is an increased risk of accidents as a result. Secure the tree with climbing protection on the trunk.

Home Furnishings

Some bobble kittens have a tendency to fall off the scratching post or sofa. Soft carpets cushion the fall. Leave it with a low scratching post. A senior scratching post or commercially available cat stairs help some velvet paws to climb onto the sofa.

If the cat cannot lower its head without falling over, try raising the bowl. A rim or hooded litter box can help keep the velvet paw in balance. Some four-legged friends cannot climb the edge of the toilet. Plastic tubs for dogs with a low entry on one side can be an alternative here.

Cat Company

An ataxia cat also wants a conspecific. Playing together can improve the cat’s coordination.

When choosing the second cat, the temperament of both animals should match.

In the case of two young cats, the handicap usually does not play a role. If there is an adult velvet paw, it should be social.

Vet Visits

Talk to your vet about possible specifics about vaccination and anesthesia for feline ataxia. Some cats with incoordination have fewer white blood cells and therefore a weaker immune system. Some vaccines can therefore be harmful to you. These include, for example, vaccinations against rabies and cat disease.

Anesthesia can further disrupt a damaged central nervous system. That is why the gentlest anesthetic should be chosen. In the case of short operations such as the castration of a cat, this is injection anesthesia. Longer operations on an ataxic cat should always be performed under inhalation anesthesia.

Judy Taylor

Written by Judy Taylor

Judy Taylor combines her love of science and writing to educate pet owners. Her articles on pet wellness, published on a variety of platforms, reveal a deep passion for animals. With a teaching background and shelter volunteer experience, Judy brings expertise to the fields of writing and compassionate pet care.

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