If you have been around cats for any time you have probably witnessed some pretty amazing feats of balance. Have you ever watched them walk along the top of a narrow railing, as confident as if they were walking a 3-foot wide path? They really are pretty incredible. The cat’s balance skills must be the envy of tightrope walkers.
Because of this sense of balance, they often land on their feet when they fall. However, sometimes their landings are not safe or graceful.
What Gives the Cat this Great Sense of Balance?
There is an old wives’ tale that the whiskers hold the cat’s sense of balance. This is not the case. The cat uses those whiskers to tell if he can fit through a small space. They also help the cat deliver a successful neck bite on prey, especially at night, as they can sense movement through the whiskers. However, the whiskers have no effect on balance.
Because a cat has no collarbone and has a flexible back, they are better able to turn, thus allowing them to land on their feet. If they fall back first, they will twist around in the air and land front end first. The tail helps the cat to align legs and body during the fall, keeping the cat level.
The Inner Ear Helps the Cat Regain Balance
When a cat is off-balance, his inner ear will let him know. He rights his head first, then front feet and body. It will take from four to six weeks for the cat’s ability to right himself in the air to mature. It will take him 10 or 12 weeks to gain the ability to walk a narrow plank.
Though a cat could be seriously harmed or killed if he falls from a great height, it is not uncommon for cats falling from heights of six stories or more to do better than a cat who only falls a short distance. As the animal has more time to right himself in the air, he can arch his back, stretch out feet and limbs, and then the skin catches the air and acts as a parachute. This action will also slow him down.
Remember that your cat, and especially a kitten whose balance is not fully developed could be injured if he falls or is dropped.
Have You Heard of Ataxia?
If your cat does not seem to be coordinated, he could have a form of ataxia. This is a sensory dysfunction. Ataxia can cause your pet to wobble, stumble, shake, sway, or collapse.
This sensory dysfunction often happens due to damage to the brain or to the inner ear.
What Are the Types of Ataxia?
There are three types of ataxia
- Cerebellar ataxia
In this condition, there has been some damage to the cerebellum, which is responsible for coordination and movement. The causes could be genetics or heredity, or through a brain tumor or infection. If the problem is due to heredity, there is no cure. Simply monitor the animal’s behavior and try to keep it from harm’s way.
- Vestibular ataxia
This condition is caused by damage to a nerve from the inner ear to the brain. It results in unsteadiness or strange neck or head position. There are a number of possible causes. It could be a fungal ear infection, poisoning, inflammation, cancer, or other disease.
- Sensory (proprioceptive) ataxia
Sensory ataxia is caused by spinal cord compression. This compression can be caused by a number of factors, such as spinal cysts, lesions, blood clot, cancer, and others. If your pet has this disorder, he will seem uncoordinated and weak.
How Are These Conditions Treated?
Treatment will depend upon the type of ataxia. For example, if caused by an ear infection, treatment could be fairly easy. If it is due to hereditary or congenital defects, it cannot be cured.
Pets with ataxia need supportive treatment. Make them as comfortable as possible. Mentor them closely, as they are more susceptible to injury.
Never give any medication to your pet before first consulting your veterinarian. Some medications, such as anti-seizure medication, could make the condition worse.
The source for this information was PetCareRX.
What is the Feline Organ of Balance?
According to Angelfire.com, the feline organ of balance is called the Vestibular apparatus. This apparatus is what gives your cat such amazing balance skills.
Because of the structure of the shoulder blades, the cat can walk along narrow ledges, placing one foot directly in front of the other. The tail is used as a tightrope walker uses a balance pole, as a form of counterbalance.
The Vestibular apparatus in the inner ear has three fluid-filled semicircular canals filled with millions of tiny hairs. When the cat moves his head, the fluid moves around those canals, sending signals to the cat’s brain. These signals tell the animal the direction and speed of any movement. They also give the cat information as to its up or down orientation.
How fine it would be to have the balance of a cat!