Types of Neurological Problems in Cats
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Neurological disorders are those which affect the central and/or peripheral nervous system of cats. They can be the result of acquired diseases, trauma, genetic inheritance and other causes, some of which are idiopathic. The neurological diseases which affect cats can be infectious, inflammatory, metabolic, vascular and degenerative. The two most common neurological issues in cats are related to epilepsy and vestibular syndrome. A diagnosis will require examination, patient history and various analytical tests. Many neurological disorders in cats cannot be cured, but they can be managed, especially with early detection.
At AnimalWised, we look at the different types of neurological disorders in cats. We understand their different causes and symptoms, as well as looking at the best methods of treating neurological issues in cats.
Cats can present two types of vestibular syndrome: central and peripheral. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is part of the auditory system, along with the cochlea. It is involved in maintaining balance and orientation, something very important in felines which are known for their agility. Their body is very coordinated and the vestibular system helps each part know where to be in relation to another. Vestibular syndrome can be unilateral or bilateral, depending on whether it affects one or both ears, respectively.
- Central vestibular syndrome: affects the vestibular nerve nuclei located in the central nervous system.
- Peripheral vestibular syndrome: affects the peripheral nerves and structures of the inner ear.
As the vestibular system helps with coordination and stability, alterations to it can result in incoordination and other physical manifestations. These include the cat tilting their head to one side, ataxias (loss of movement coordination) and nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eyes). Nystagmus occurs laterally in central and peripheral vestibular syndrome, but only vertically in central vestibular syndrome.
The treatment of vestibular syndrome in cats will vary depending on the underlying cause. There is no specific and generic treatment for all cases. It is essential we go to a veterinarian if we suspect our cat may have vestibular syndrome of either kind.
Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorders in cats, partly because it refers to a group of conditions rather than one specific disorder. Epilepsy is defined as periodically repeated seizures. Between seizures, the cat appears completely normal. Epilepsy causes a sudden activation of a group of neurons that cause overexcitation and agitation of the cat's body. It acts on a specific muscle group (focal epilepsy) or throughout the entire body (generalized epileptic seizure).
The causes of epilepsy in cats can be idiopathic, meaning without apparent origin. It can also be a result of diseases that affect the brain, vascular disorders, hypoxia, alterations in the liver or kidney (hepatic or uremic encephalopathy) or thiamine deficiency.
Treatment of epilepsy should include drugs such as phenobarbital to reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks. It will also help to prevent continuous seizures lasting more than 10 minutes. Prolonged seizures can cause a rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) that may be fatal. In emergency epileptic seizures, rectal diazepam or intravenous anticonvulsants can be used, as well as other treatments to stabilize the cat and prevent hyperthermia.
Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in cats, but it is not the only reason for this condition. Take a look at our article on why your cat is having seizures to learn more.
The spinal cord is divided into four functional units: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and lumbosacral areas. Depending on which area is affect, these produce combinations of upper and lower motor neuron syndromes in the fore- and hindlimbs.
Thoracolumbar or lumbosacral spinal disorders
Clinical signs which likely indicate spinal cord alteration include paresis (partial motor insufficiency) or paraplegia (total motor insufficiency). This can occur in one or more limbs, depending on the disease and the location of lesion on the spinal cord. For example, if the lumbosacral medulla is affected (the area from the lumbar region to the beginning of the tail), it will produce a paresis of the two hind limbs.
If the affected area is the thoracolumbar area (back from the T2 medullary segment to the lumbar segment), the paresis is of the upper motor neuron, where the reflexes are the opposite or are normal or increased in the hind legs.
The causes of these thoracolumbar or lumbosacral spinal disorders are hernias, phobrocartilaginous embolization, neoplasms, spondylosis, discspondylitis or degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, among others.
Cervical spinal disorders
The most serious form occurs when the spinal problem is located in the first spinal segments. These are located in the neck and back up to the T2 spinal segment. This results in ataxia and paralysis of all four extremities. When the lesion is located in the first half (segment C1-C5), an upper motor neuron syndrome occurs in all four extremities. If it occurs in the C6-T2 segment, a lower motor syndrome occurs in the forelimbs.
The causes are cervical disc disease, cartilaginous embolization, atlantoaxial subluxation or Wobbler syndrome (cervical spondylopathy), among others.
Diseases of the meninges
Another area which can be affected is the meninges. These are the membranes that line the central nervous system and the spinal cord. The meninges are three layered.
The meninges can be affected in various ways and the location of an infection helps determine the disease:
- Meningitis: when the meninges are infected in isolation
- Meningoencephalitis: when it also infects the brain.
- Meningomyelitis: when the spinal cord is also infected.
The most typical symptom of meninges infections is pain, causing acute cervical stiffness and hyperesthesia of the neck and spine. The cat may also have seizures and behavioral disturbances, as well as fever, anorexia, and lethargy. Another problem with inflammation of the meninges is that it can cause hydrocephalus by reducing the absorption of cerebrospinal fluid in the subarachnoid space and the venous sinuses,.
This disorder is diagnosed by determining an increase in white blood cells from a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. A culture of the liquid and viral PCR, or a blood and urine analysis can be done. The agents involved in cats can be parasites (Toxoplasma gondii), fungi (Cryptococcus neoformans) or viruses. The latter include feline leukemia, feline herpesvirus, feline infectious peritonitis virus or feline panleukopenia virus. Treatment will be subject to the underlying cause.
Diseases of the cranial nerves
In cats, cranial nerves leave the brain or brainstem and innervate structures in the head. When they are damaged they can also produce signs of neurological disorders in cats. Let's see some examples:
- Damage to the trigeminal nerve (pair V): innervates the head, causes lack of sensitivity and hinders the muscles required for chewing. For this reason, you may see the cat is not eating as much.
- Damage to the facial nerve (nerve VII): causes the ears and lips to slacken, seeping form the tear ducts and reduction in tongue dexterity. Damage to this nerve can be caused by otitis media or internal ear infections.
- Damage to the glossopharyngeal nerve (pair IX), the vagus nerve (pair X) and the accessory nerve (pair XI): these are in charge of controlling the motor activity of the esophagus for swallowing. The result is often swallowing difficulties, regurgitation, changes in vocalization, dry mouth, inspiratory dyspnea, atrophy of the cervical musculature (in the case of accessory nerve damage), etc.
- Damage to the hypoglossal nerve (par XII): innervates the tongue resulting paralysis and atrophy, making food intake difficult.
Although these are the most common neurological disorders in cats, there are many more that can affect the central nervous system, causing other signs of seriousness such as stroke. For this reason, it is essential to carry out adequate preventive medicine and attend routine check-ups to detect any abnormality as soon as possible. If you observe any of the neurological symptoms mentioned, do not hesitate to take your cat to the nearest veterinary center.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to Types of Neurological Problems in Cats, we recommend you visit our Neurological diseases category.
- Aybar, V., Casamián, D., Cerón, JJ, Clemente, F., Fatjó, J., Lloret, A., Luján, A., Novellas, R., Pérez, D., Silva, S., Smith , K., Tegles, F., Vega, J., & Zanna, G. (2018). Clinical Manual of Feline Medicine. Ed.SM Publishing LTD. Sheffield, UK.