Wobbly Kitten Syndrome

Wobbly Kitten Syndrome

Health & Safety

Wobbly Kitten Syndrome refers to musculoskeletal or neurological disorders that can negatively affect a kitten's movements. However, in some cases kittens can develop gait abnormalities for other reasons. This includes when their cardiovascular or gastrointestinal systems are negatively impacted by some form of disorder which could include things like anaemia and severe diarrhoea. In some cases, the problems can be present when a kitten is first born and therefore they are congenital. However, Wobbly Kitten Syndrome may flare up due to other health issues which a kitten develops a few weeks after they are born because they have been exposed to toxins, infections or because of a thiamine deficiency.

Forms of the Condition

There are three types of the condition which is referred to by vets as ataxia"" which causes kittens to display a wobbly, unsteady and uncoordinated gait. The three forms of the condition are as follows.

General Proprioceptive Ataxia

This form of the condition is also referred to as ""sensory ataxia"" and kittens develop it because lesions form in the brain stem spinal cord or in the nerves that make sure their limbs work properly. Unfortunately, because a cat's central nervous system is closely associated with their upper motor neuron system, the condition often affects both systems.

Cerebellar Ataxia

A cat's cerebellum controls their movement and balance. Therefore, a cat suffering from this form of the condition typically stands and walks with their legs wide apart which helps them stay balanced. When they walk, their gait appears exaggerated and unsteady with cats often ""high stepping"" which vets refer to as dysmetria and hypermetria. Cats also have difficulty in calculating distance when they jump and as such when they do jump up or down from anything, they do so in an exaggerated manner. Some cats develop tremors as their condition worsens vets refer to them as being ""intention tremors"".

Vestibular Ataxia

This form of the disease affects a cat's inner ear and in particular it’s their vestibular receptors that are negatively impacted. These are responsible for controlling the orientation of a cat’s head and eyes in relation to their necks and limbs. Cats with the condition often have a head tilt and will go around in circles. Their eyes also flicker and on the odd occasion, a cat might experience motion sickness which results in vomiting.

Swimmers Explained

Some kittens are born with congenital abnormalities in their pelvic and chest regions and they are referred to as being ""swimmers"" due to the fact they find it hard to stand or move around. The problem can typically be diagnosed when kittens are anything from four to six weeks old and it usually resolves itself as they mature. However, it's important to take extra care and always make sure a kitten with the problem is carefully monitored and ideally, they should be kept in a carpeted area to avoid them slipping. Sometimes a vet might recommend bandaging a joint or limb to help keep things in place until the problem is resolved.

The Causes

There are several reasons why a kitten might develop the problem and this includes an abnormal development issue in the brain. One of the more common causes being an infection associated with feline panleukopenia virus or FPV. Another reason could be due to some sort of lysosomal storage disease which although rare, kittens can inherit and which sees them lacking an important enzyme that's responsible for normal metabolism.

Kittens can also have metabolic problems with porto-systemic shunts being one example of why they develop Wobbly Kitten Syndrome. Other reasons could include the following:

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Low blood glucose
  • Low blood calcium levels

Another reason why a kitten might develop the condition is due to a thiamine deficient diet which can lead to them having an unsteady, wobbly gait. If this is the cause, a vet would recommend adding a supplement to their diet to remedy the deficiency. However, good quality cat food that's manufactured by reputable pet food companies usually contain the correct levels of thiamine and as such, there should not be a problem.

Should an infection be the cause of a kitten suffering from the condition, the most common viral infection is caused by the Feline Infectious Peritonitis virus called meningoencephalitis. Kittens that receive any sort of trauma to their heads can also develop the condition because their brains might have been damaged. It could be due to a fall or because they were dropped from a height, but the signs of there being a problem usually resolve themselves after a few hours providing no real damage has been caused to their brains. If not, a trip to the vet would be necessary to have them checked over.

Diagnosing the Problem

A vet would need to thoroughly examine a kitten suspected of suffering from Wobbly Kitten Syndrome and ideally would need to know the mother's medical history and ancestry too. They would also need to know when and how the onset of any symptoms first manifested themselves which would help establish if the condition is congenital or acquired. Other questions a vet would ask when establishing a diagnosis could include the following:

  • Was the mother or kitten exposed to any toxins?
  • Was the mother vaccinated when she was carrying her kittens?
  • Was the mother treated for any health issue during her pregnancy?
  • What is a kitten being fed?
  • Are the other kittens in the litter okay?

The sort of tests a vet would recommend carrying out could include the following:

  • Complete blood test
  • A urinalysis
  • An examination of a cat's eyes
  • Testing for FeLV and FIV
  • Testing for lysosomal storage diseases
  • X-rays of a cat's thorax and abdomen
  • An ultrasound
  • An MRI scan
  • A CSF test - this is a cerebrospinal fluid analysis

The Prognosis

The prognosis for a kitten suffering from the condition can vary quite a lot as it depends on the underlying cause of why they have developed Wobbly Kitten Syndrome in the first place. Some forms of ataxia are treatable whereas others are incurable. Kittens are also very capable of adapting and coping to certain conditions which includes if they are suffering from cerebellar hypoplasia/atrophy. With this said, any kitten suspected of suffering from Wobbly Kitten Syndrome should be examined by a vet sooner rather than later.


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