Causes, Cures and Management
An inner ear infection can cause a cat to experience vertigo. But a cat that stumbles, walks with stiff legs or shakes its head repeatedly may have a brain disease known as cerebellar hypoplasia, which affects muscle control and movement. Cats contract this disease in utero—or if they are malnourished or poisoned. A disease with similar symptoms, ataxia, causes a loss of balance, too. Kittens are particularly vulnerable to ataxia. It’s caused by infection, trauma or a disease, such as cancer.
If your cat begins to stumble, wobble back and forth or fall down, first protect him or her from additional harm. Keep your cat indoors and away from stairs or standing water. Then, consult your veterinarian and begin documenting the time and date of each fall.
You can expect the veterinarian to examine your cat, test his or her blood and urine for infection or disease, and request an X-ray or ultrasound. If the culprit is an inner ear infection, this will be treated with antibiotics that will likely offer a cure for your cat's dizziness. However, both cerebellar hypoplasia and some types of ataxia do not have a cure. You and your vet will make a plan for managing these instead.
The good news is that these conditions do not become more severe with age. Poor balance isn't painful—and your cat can live contentedly with a little help from you. You can help keep your cat safe by continuing to keep him or her indoors, offering easy access to food, water and a litterbox. And as always, provide your cat with plenty of affection.