Ataxia In Cats: Causes, Symptoms And Therapeutic Approach

Ataxia in cats is a neurological sign that affects movement, body position and balance of the body. Ataxia in cats resulted in the inability of the cat to coordinate the position of its head, trunk, and limbs into space. Different types of ataxia are characterized by neurological examination. Neurological examination includes mental status, gait, and posture, postural reactions, evaluation of cranial nerves, spinal reflexes and pain perception. For more information regarding ataxia in cats, keep reading here at PetVet.

Ataxia is the same as incoordination. During ataxia the localized lesions found in the nervous system. Paresis and ataxia are different from each other. Ataxia affects coordination but muscle strength remains the same. Paresis affects only muscle strength. In the ataxia, gait pattern disturbed due to imbalance and incoordination. If the cat is taking smaller steps this is called hypometria. If the cat is taking longer steps this is known as hypermetria.

Area’s that control movement

1. The sensory system or proprioception is related to the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Proprioception helps to detect the position of joints, muscles, and tendons.

2. The vestibular system is part of the inner ear that helps to control balance and posture. It regulates eye, tail and limb positioning. Cat can suffer from vestibular syndrome. If there is any disturbance in the vestibular nerve and in the brainstem. Vestibular syndrome resulted in ataxia in cats. It consists of semicircular canals and otoliths. Semicircular canals control rotational movements whereas otoliths indicate linear acceleration both horizontally and vertically. Semicircular canals are basically fluid-filled tubes. When the head moves, the fluid inside the semicircular canals sloshes around and moves tiny hairs. Tiny hairs line each canal translate the movement of liquid into nerve messages that are sent to your brain.

3. The cerebellum is the part of hindbrain. It is located behind the midbrain which is the uppermost part of the brainstem. The brainstem includes medulla oblongata, pons, and midbrain. The cerebellum has two hemispheres. The cerebellum receives information from the brain and spinal cord that regulates the motor movements of the body. Furthermore, it regulates voluntary movements e.g balance, posture, coordination, and speech that helps in smooth and coordinated muscular activity. Therefore, if the cerebellum damaged this may lead to loss of balance, slower movements and tremors.

Types of ataxia in cats

Sensory ataxia– It relates to loss of proprioception. In fact, this occurs due to damage to spinal nerves. For example, how you touch the tip of your nose with a finger even if your eyes are closed.

Vestibular ataxia– The vestibular system controls balance although it is located within the inner ear as well as nerves that travel to the brain.

Cerebellar ataxia– The cerebellum is located in the hindbrain that is responsible for balance and coordination. This type of ataxia occurs as a result of damage to the cerebellum.

Also Read: Rottweiler Dog: All information about this breed

Causes of ataxia in cats

There are several causes of ataxia in cats some of them are:

1.Sensory ataxia

Spinal trauma

Nerve damage due to diabetes


Metabolic disorders

2.Vestibular ataxia

Congenital disorders

Cancer of bones surrounding vestibular nerves


Nasopharyngeal polyps

3.Cerebellar ataxia

Viral infection such as panleukopenia or feline infectious peritonitis

Parasitic infection of the brain including toxoplasmosis, Cuterebra spp larvae

Central nervous system vasculitis

Cerebral hypoplasia

Vitamin E deficiency


Spider bites

Tick paralysis


The symptoms vary depending on the type of ataxia. Loss of balance and coordination are the most common problems found in cats with ataxia.

Generalized symptoms of ataxia:

Clumsy drunken type movements, staggering wobbly gait

Leaning to one side



High stepping gait (known as goose-stepping)




Stiff legged gait

Poor coordination

3.Vestibular ataxia

Difficulty in hearing



Head may be tilted to one side, and the eye movements may be affected

Head of cat tilted due to vestibular disorder


You should need to give a complete history to your veterinarian about your cat’s health. Your veterinarian will order standard tests such as a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel.

Imaging is for determining whether the disease is localized to the peripheral vestibular system, the spinal cord, or the cerebellum. Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), myelography and spinal X-rays can all be useful diagnostic tools for non-invasive internal examinations. Similarly chest and abdominal X-rays are also important for determining if cancer or systemic fungal infection is present.

For laboratory analysis, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) will be taken. This will help to check whether the cause of the disease is neurological or not.

Ataxic-cat-in-lab-for- laboratory-analysis
Ataxic cat for laboratory analysis


Most cases of ataxia cannot be cured. Ataxia has been treated early or affects a cat from birth, they can often learn to live with this condition. But in some cases, treatment for ataxia can be offered. Thus, most vestibular ataxia conditions are treatable, depending on the severity of the ataxia. If the problem is caused by a tumor, a veterinarian will analyze whether it can be operated on. If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms then you should consult your veterinarian.

Home care

Keep your cat inside and confined in a safe area. Administer medications as prescribed by the veterinarian. In fact, the cat needs special care in order to prevent further injuries.

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