Recently, I was out on a house call when I received a phone call from Emma back at the Vet clinic. Friends of mine had rung up in a distressed state because they thought their old cat "Gregor" had been poisoned. Luckily, we were just driving past the end of their road and arrived within a few minutes.


I was instantly relieved to see Gregor was suffering from a common old age affliction known as "geriatric idiopathic vestibular syndrome" which is Vetspeak for old animals that have lost their balance and we don't know the specific cause. The condition is most upsetting to owners as their old pet is falling over, unable to walk, may have a head tilt and its eyes may be flicking side to side in a bizarre fashion.  Gregor had vomited also; this happens because they think the world is spinning and they may have a sort of motion sickness.

The organ of balance is the vestibular system comprising: part of the inner ear, centres in the brain and the nerve connections between. The telltale nystagmus (flicking eyes) told me that Gregor had a vestibulitis (impairment of the organ of balance),  that it was most likely central  and affecting the right side of the brain.  A large number of these cases are extensions of otitis (external ear canal problems). I checked Gregor's ears with my otoscope but they were fine, agreeing with the central location indicated by the nystagmus.

"Idiopathic" means we haven't figured out a general cause for the condition yet. It is still useful as we can still describe the condition, assess different therapies and know what to expect when we come across it.  I have seen many cases now and they have nearly all made a full recovery within 2-3 weeks.  Although it is possible a central lesion may be a brain tumour this is quite rare. It is more likely to be a concussion, infection or vascular problem (i.e. a stroke).  I gave Gregor an anti-inflammatory injection that is quite potent for brain tissue swelling and a course of antibiotics.  I told his sceptical owners to confine him in a dark quiet room so that he couldn't hurt himself while in this state.  I informed them there was a good chance he would be himself within 2-3 weeks but in the mean time he may need motion sickness medication.

Gregor indeed made a rapid recovery - I phoned the next day and he was already nearly normal. He had also been allowed out of his confinement room already.  The next week when I visited everything was back to normal completely. 


© Brett Kirkland 2006





Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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