Cats are known to be graceful and coordinated. They leap on and off of surfaces with ease, tend to land on their feet and generally have great balance. That’s why, if you see your cat tottering on its feet or consistently missing its landings when it jumps off its cat tree, you know something is amiss.
Balance issues in cats are often linked to a problem with the inner ear. Much like in humans, ear infections and other ear problems can cause disturbances in balance, in addition to hearing.
If your cat seems unstable or imbalanced, a trip to the vet will be necessary to get to the root of the issue.
Getting to the bottom of balance loss
A loss of balance in cats is somewhat unusual, often caused by a problem with the vestibular apparatus, a portion of the inner ear that helps control balance and coordination in your furry friend. The vestibular apparatus can become injured or affected by infection or disease. When this happens, you cat may struggle to stand upright, may lean to one side or topple over.
Other symptoms of a loss of balance in cats include falling or stumbling, weakness in the limbs, pained vocalizations, rolling around on the floor, tilting the head to one side, difficulty hearing, and vomiting.
The vestibular apparatus can be affected by a number of things, such as tumors, spinal cord injuries, head trauma and exposure to toxins, but one of the most common causes of balance loss is a middle-ear or inner ear infection.
Ear infections in cats
Ear infections in cats aren’t extremely common, but they can happen. An infestation of ear mites usually causes most ear infections, but allergies, bacterial and yeast overgrowth or a mass of wax inside the ear might also be at the root of the problem. It’s important to know that cats with allergies are typically much more susceptible to chronic ear infections, so if you have an allergic cat, you should be vigilant to check for ear infections.
Outer ear infections tend to be more common in cats, but middle or inner ear infections are often a result of an untreated infection of the outer ear canal spreading inward. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to your cat’s ears, clean them and have them checked by a vet if you suspect an infection.
Ear infections may cause other symptoms aside from loss of balance, including:
- Black or yellow discharge
- Dark brown and grainy discharge (if your cat has ear mites)
- Redness and inflammation of the ear
- Waxy buildup around the ear canal
- Foul odor from ears
- Cat shaking head
- Cat pawing at ears
If ear infections are not treated, they could damage the inner ear to the point of causing deafness. Thus, if you notice signs of an ear infection in your cat, including loss of balance, you should have it checked out by a vet right away.
Your vet may be able to prescribe medications to clear up severe infections of the ear quickly. After a round of medication, your cat should be showing improvement in its symptoms.
Preventing feline ear infections
Cats tend to clean their own ears and don’t usually require cleaning, but if your cat has chronic ear infections, it may need some special attention.
To prevent ear infections, check your cat’s ears regularly and look for signs of inflammation, redness, odor or discharge. The most common discharge will be brown or black and resemble coffee grounds—this usually indicates that your cat has ear mites, which are contagious parasites that lead to a great deal of distress in cats.
Cleaning your cats ears with a specially formulated ear cleaning solution can help remove discharge and ear mites, as well as potentially create a healthier environment to prevent bacterial or yeast overgrowth.
Even with ear cleaning, cats can still develop ear infections, especially if they have been exposed to a cat with ear mites. Be mindful of the signs and take your cat to the vet if you notice discharge or other symptoms.
It’s very important to remember that a loss of balance is typically associated with more severe inner ear infections that have progressed from milder cases. These infections should be treated as soon as possible, so don’t delay if you notice more severe signs like balance difficulties, vomiting and loss of hearing!