Nystagmus is the involuntary, erratic movement of the eyes.
• Generally caused by conditions affecting the cat’s nervous or vestibular (balance) system
• Nystagmus can be a sign of life-threatening disorders and it is best to seek out veterinary care immediately after it is first observed
• Diagnostics may include physical examination, bloodwork, urinalysis, CT scans, and examination of the cerebrospinal fluid to determine the specific disorder
• Treatment varies depending on the condition causing the nystagmus, but can include surgery, medications, symptom management, or radiation
• Nystagmus is often seen alongside head tilting, circling, ataxia, and lethargy
Nystagmus can be characterized into several categories depending on the nature of the eye movement. In general, the type of nystagmus does not reflect the severity of underlying disease. The general categories are:
• Slow eye movements in one direction
• Rapid correction movement in the opposite direction
• Small oscillations of the eyes without a change in speed
• Nystagmus that occurs only when the head is placed in an unusual position
• Nystagmus only when the animal is not moving and the head is in a normal position
Nystagmus is associated with various disorders of the nervous and vestibular systems including:
• Poisoning, such as bromethalin, ethylene glycol, or stimulants • Infections of the middle and inner ear
• Hypothyroidism • Traumatic injury • Cancers, such as brain tumors and lymphoma
• Viral infections such as FeLV and FIV • Thiamine deficiency • Idiopathic vestibular disease
If a cat has suddenly developed nystagmus, it is best to seek vet care immediately. Not all causes of nystagmus are life-threatening, but it is best to determine the underlying cause as soon as possible. Some underlying conditions associated with nystagmus are life-threatening and require prompt medical attention to improve health outcomes.
Pendular nystagmus is common in Siamese, Birman, and Himalayan cats. Affected cats display nystagmus from birth and are unlikely to have serious underlying disease.
Diagnostics for nystagmus include:
• Physical examination • Blood work • Urine analysis • CT scan or MRI • Analysis of cerebrospinal fluid
• Bacterial culture analysis
Treatments will vary based on the condition associated with the instance of nystagmus but can include:
• Surgery • Radiation/Chemotherapy • Medication • Supportive care/symptomatic treatment
Nystagmus from side to side can be normal when the head is in motion. When the head is turned to the side, the eyes move rapidly towards the direction of turning, then return back to a central position.
• Head tilting • Circling/pacing • Uncoordinated movement (ataxia) • Lethargy • Reduced appetite
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