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Sudden Loss of Balance in Cats: 9 Signs & How You Can Help (Vet Answer)

Vet approved

	Dr. Iulia Mihai Photo

Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

Veterinarian, DVM MSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Loss of balance is not a disease, but rather a clinical sign of various health conditions, including diseases of the inner ear, conditions of the spine, tumors, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, epilepsy, thiamine deficiency, toxins, certain drugs, stroke, anemia, or hypoglycemia.

If your cat stumbles, falls, has limb weakness, has difficulty hearing, or is walking in a circle, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

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A cat that suddenly loses their balance may look as if they are drunk. They will also have a wobbly/stumbled walk and increased sleepiness/drowsiness.

Your cat may also show more subtle clinical signs, such as:
  • Tilting their head slightly
  • Curling their toes under while they walk
Sick sad cat lying on the bed
Image Credit: Zhuravlev Andrey, Shutterstock

Some cats that show sudden loss of balance may also have nystagmus, or abnormal (continual) eye movement, which may be caused by a problem in the inner ear or central nervous system.

Some cats that suddenly lose their balance will roll or fall to one side. They will also experience nausea from the feeling of unsteadiness. Other cats might even vomit. Pets with chronic loss of balance are less susceptible to nausea because they have adapted over time to this condition.

In general, sudden loss of balance in cats can include the following clinical signs.


The 9 Clinical Signs to Look For

1. Falling Down

Sudden loss of balance is often accompanied by falling down. Cats won’t feel steady on their four limbs and will often fall to the side.

Depending on the underlying condition of your cat, falling can also occur after the interruption of blood and oxygen supply to the brain, which is called collapse.

The conditions in which falling down can occur following the loss of balance are:
  • Anemia
  • Hypoglycemia (in the case of diabetic cats)
  • Neurological disorders, such as epilepsy
  • Vestibular disease
cat in pain while walking
Image Credit: Sherrianne Talon, Shutterstock
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2. Difficulty Standing

Depending on the underlying condition, your cat may have trouble standing. This is also when you will realize that your pet is losing their balance and that something is wrong with them. You may also notice that your cat leans or falls. Difficulty standing can be a clinical sign of several conditions, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Inner ear damage
  • Brain inflammation
  • Tumors
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3. Stumbling

If your cat stumbles while walking, they may look like they are drunk or dizzy. This wobbly walk is usually secondary to a neurological or inner ear condition. In addition to stumbling and sudden loss of balance, cats suffering from neurological disorders can present other clinical signs 1, such as:

  • Walking in a circle
  • Uncontrolled, rapid eye movement
  • Dragging their toes
  • Vocalizations
  • Seizures
cat walking outdoor and panting
Image Credit: SUSAN LEGGETT, Shutterstock
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4. Walking in a Circle (Circling)

Walking in circles or circling (especially in the same direction) is a clinical sign of a neurological problem. It can occur together with sudden loss of balance or be accompanied by other clinical signs.

If you see your cat walking in circles, take them to the vet immediately.

The causes of circling include:
  • Tumor
  • Intoxication (drugs, plants, chemicals, etc.)
  • Dementia (cognitive dysfunction)
  • Brain lesions
  • Infections, etc.

Walking in circles can also occur if your cat suffers from vestibular disease (a condition that affects the inner ear that is responsible for balance) 2.

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5. Limb Weakness

If your cat has limb weakness, it may look like they are unable to stand on their fours, get up, or lie down. Muscle weakness can be a clinical sign of anemia, potassium deficiency, vestibular disease, spinal disease, diabetes, or neurological disease 3.

Muscle weakness leads to loss of balance because cats cannot stand on their feet. Regardless of the cause that led to muscle weakness, take your cat to the vet for a correct diagnosis and immediate treatment.

cat in pain
Image Credit: RappCats, Flickr
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6. Unintentional, Continual Eye Movement (Nystagmus)

Nystagmus is characterized by involuntary, oscillatory, back-and-forth movements of the eyeballs, most frequently horizontal but also vertical or rotatory. The most common cause of nystagmus in cats is vestibular disease. In this condition, in which the inner ear is affected, your cat will feel dizzy and nauseated and may even vomit.

When the inner ear is affected, cats lose their balance: They will be unsteady on their feet and will widen their base of support.

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7. Vocalization

Vocalization usually occurs as a result of fear. Your cat does not know what is happening to them, why they feel dizzy, or why they are losing their balance. In other cases, vocalization occurs as a result of a behavioral problem or as a clinical sign of neurological disorders or medical conditions that cause pain.

If your cat’s vocalization is accompanied by any of these clinical signs, take them to the vet.

cat meowing
Image Credit: M-86, Shutterstock
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8. Difficulty Hearing

When your cat has hearing problems, they will no longer come when you call them, loud sounds will no longer make them react, etc. When sudden loss of balance and difficulty hearing occurs, the cause is usually vestibular disease. In this condition, difficulty hearing occurs due to tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Also, many cats suffering from vestibular disease are deaf.

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9. Nausea/Vomiting

Nausea and later, vomiting, along with sudden loss of balance in cats, usually occur due to vestibular disease. A cat that is nauseated will hypersalivate and lick their muzzle excessively.

a cat that feels sick and seems to vomit
Image Credit: chie hidaka, Shutterstock


How to Help a Cat That Has a Sudden Loss of Balance

Since the sudden loss of balance has multiple causes, most of them being severe, it is recommended to take your cat to the vet immediately. The sooner the cause is diagnosed, the better your cat’s chances of recovery.

What you can do when your cat has a sudden loss of balance is to make sure they are not in a high place from which they can fall and injure themselves.

Do not try to give water and food to your cat until you see that they can stand on their feet. If you try to forcefully give them water or food when they are dizzy, you risk choking them and causing aspiration pneumonia.

You should also try to note other clinical signs (if any) that occur with a sudden loss of balance, so you can give the veterinarian as much detailed information as possible about your cat’s condition. Following the details that you provide and your cat’s clinical examination, the vet can order additional tests and/or establish a diagnosis and institute the treatment.

If your cat suffers from idiopathic vestibular disease, there is no treatment. Your pet must be kept in a safe space to avoid injuring themselves and be assisted when eating or drinking, especially in the early stages of the condition.

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Sudden loss of balance in cats is not a medical condition but a clinical sign. It can occur for various reasons, some of them being severe. When your cat suddenly loses their balance, you may notice the following: leaning, tilting their head to the side, falling, uncontrolled eye movement, circling, vomiting, and meowing. If you notice these clinical signs, take your cat to the vet immediately. Conditions like diabetes, anemia, or cancer can put your cat’s life in danger. The sooner the cause that leads to sudden loss of balance is diagnosed, the greater the chances of your cat’s recovery.

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