Vestibular syndrome in cats

If your cat has been diagnosed with vestibular syndrome, knowing more about the condition can help you provide them with a better quality of life.


What is vestibular syndrome?

The vestibular system includes the inner ear and associated nerves, and a centralized location in the lower brain. A healthy vestibular system keeps a cat balanced, and coordinates their head and eye movement.

Vestibular syndrome interferes with balance and coordination. The majority of vestibular syndrome cases in cats have an unknown cause (idiopathic) or result from a middle or inner ear infection. 

Other possible underlying causes include medication reactions, ear polyps or tumours, trauma, thiamine deficiency, infectious disease, vascular accident, or a brain tumour. 

What are common signs of vestibular syndrome in cats?

Early signs include:

  • Head tilt
  • Difficulty standing
  • Gait ataxia (walking incoordination)
  • Abnormal eye movements 

Intermediate or advanced signs include:

  • Circling
  • Falling over
  • Agitation
  • Facial drooping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Inability to rise

How is vestibular syndrome managed in cats? 

Vestibular syndrome management in cats depends on the identification and treatment of any underlying cause. 

Idiopathic vestibular syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion. Treatment focuses on supportive care, including hydration and nutrition, and medications to reduce motion sickness, nausea, and anxiety. 

For an ear infection, appropriate antibiotic or antifungal medications are needed, and surgery may be recommended to flush out the infection. The less common causes of vestibular syndrome require specific treatments. 

Discussing a personalised management plan with your vet is important for the best outcome for your cat.

Inability to stand up can be a sign of vestibular syndrome in cats.

What is the prognosis for cats?

The prognosis for cats depends on the cause of vestibular syndrome. Idiopathic disease can show improvement in a few days and complete resolution in three weeks, but a head tilt may persist. 

A middle ear infection can require eight weeks of treatment to fully resolve. Brain lesions or tumours have a poorer prognosis.

Management tips for a cat with vestibular syndrome

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food and water, a low-sided litter box and a quiet sleeping area
  • Consistency with prescribed medications or supplements
  • Ramps, modified surfaces for increased traction, or mobility aids, if needed
  • Confining your cat to a safe space to prevent injury
  • Avoiding abrupt changes that may startle your cat 
  • Monitoring appetite, drinking, urination, defecation and ambulation

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your cat stops eating, has uncontrollable vomiting, is overly agitated, collapses, or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your cat’s condition becomes unmanageable, or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website

This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.