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Brain Health and Neurological Disorders in Cats

All About the Feline Brain

By Madeleine Burry. April 03, 2013 | See Comments

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Brain Health and Neurological Disorders in Cats

A cat's nervous system is a complex thing, just like a human's is. Learn about the possible disorders and issues that can effect the feline brain.

Just like your own brain, a cat’s brain and nervous system has control over the emotions, movements, and general health of your cat. Neurological disorders in cats can be caused by imbalances or injuries to this complex system. The nervous system is divided into three sections:

  • Central Nervous System: Your cat’s brain and spinal column make up the central nervous system.

  • Peripheral Nervous System: This part of your cat’s nervous system is made up of the nerves that run through your cat’s body.

  • Autonomic Nervous System: The autonomic nervous system is made up of neurons controlling the actions of your cat’s organs -- as you might imagine, this happens automatically, without the cat needing to do or think something in order to have a pumping heart or functioning liver.

When everything is working properly, this complex nervous system will allow your cat to perform basic everyday tasks like breathing and moving as well as informing their more emotional responses. Given the power and intricacy of the nervous system, there is unfortunately a relatively high likelihood of things going awry. Typically, problems with the neurological system lead to symptoms like seizures, tremors and shakes, odd behaviors, and coordination problems.

Types of Neurological Disorders in Cats

From cancer to birth defects, several types of disease can affect the nervous system of cats, including autoimmune disorders, inherited diseases (such as hydranencephaly or spina bifida), toxic disorders (such as infections from ticks), or viral diseases. Find out some of the common neurologically related disorders that can occur in cats.

  • Tumors: Meningioma tumors are found in the tissue around a cat’s brain, and while these tumors are very often benign, their growth can lead to pressure on the cat’s brain. Surgery can sometimes be an option for treatment with meningioma, but other tumors, such as glioma tumors, can be out of reach of surgery, and have a poorer chances of treatment.  

  • Epilepsy and Seizures: Epilepsy can be an acquired disease -- occurring as a result of something like a head trauma -- but it can also be idiopathic, which is a medical term that means the cause of the disease isn’t determinable. The symptoms of epilepsy can be treated by medication, with the goal of reducing both the frequency and duration of seizures. Diseases other than epilepsy can lead to seizures as a symptom: FIV, FeLV, and FIP can all lead to seizures.

  • Hydrocephalus: Cats with hydrocephalus have excessive fluid within their brain -- as well as expanding the cat’s skull, the fluid presses onto the cat’s brain. In some cases, surgery can treat hydrocephalus.

  • Cervical Disk Disease: When disks place pressure along the spinal cord, it leads to this disease, which can cause symptoms ranging from neck pain to paralysis. In general, the treatment is proportional to the symptoms: a mild case of neck pain as a result of pressure from the disk can be handled with anti-inflammatory medications. More severe cases might necessitate surgery.

  • Feline Hyperesthesia: This somewhat bizarre disorder, commonly known as rippling skin disorder, is characterized by cats wildly running around -- sometimes in circles -- while yowling and meowing. As they make these erratic movements, the skin on the back of the cat’s lower back ripples. Cats may also develop an OCD-like grooming routine. The causes of this particular disease are not known, and neither is a cure, although regular playtime and medications can help reduce symptoms.

These are just a few of the diseases that display neurological symptoms in cats. Anytime your cat’s behavior seems drastically different -- whether it’s odd movements, unsteadiness, trembling, or moodiness -- a visit to the vet for a thorough examination is in order.

More on Cat Care

Is Your Cat Not Sleeping Enough?
Poisonous Plants to Cats and Dogs
Separation Anxiety in Cats

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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