Head tilting is one of the most shocking symptoms to witness in your cat, especially if she's also falling or tipping over. The good news is most head tilting is associated with easily treatable ear infections. Because some cases are serious, however, you'll need to see your vet right away.
Head tilting involves turning the head to one side or the other. The tilting may be constant or it may come and go. Depending on the underlying cause of the tilt, other symptoms may also be present. These symptoms aid in diagnosis and may include ear redness, ear pain, falling, circling, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, jerking eye movements and ear scratching. Make sure you report every symptom to your veterinarian, even if it seems minor or unrelated.
If your kitty is walking or stumbling around with her head tilted, stay calm and call your vet. Head tilting has many possible causes, and sometimes the condition can occur with no known cause. Some of the more common causes include ear mites, inner ear infections, head trauma, ingestion of drugs toxic to the ears, a trapped foreign body in the ear and a punctured eardrum. More serious causes include cancer, brain inflammation and hypothyroidism. In almost all cases, there is some level of treatment available to help your cat.
Because head tilting can be serious, your vet will urgently examine your kitty and offer a diagnosis. Depending on your pet's medical history and symptoms, a few tests may be necessary to check for underlying causes of her head tilt. Head X-rays, blood and urine tests, a CT scan or MRI of the head, a spinal tap, and a brain stem auditory evoked response test are important diagnostic tools when looking for the cause of your kitty's symptoms.
The results of your cat's tests, her symptoms, overall health and official diagnosis will help determine her treatment plan. In some cases, such as when an ear infection is to blame for your kitty's symptoms, treatment is short-term and highly effective. Other times, treatment is supportive and aims to minimize symptoms and improve quality of life. Your cat may need intravenous fluids to replace those lost during vomiting, medications to stop nausea and vertigo, or injectable antibiotics to treat severe infections. If cancer, hypothyroidism or another underlying disease or disorder is the cause of your cat's head tilt, your vet will work with you to develop a treatment plan for that specific disease.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Sandra Ketcham has nearly two decades of experience writing and editing for major websites and magazines. Her work appears in numerous web and print publications, including "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "The Tampa Bay Times," Visit Florida, "USA Today," AOL's Gadling and "Kraze Magazine."