Perhaps you’re enjoying a morning cup of coffee or getting dinner ready when your cat walks by. She’s always strutting her stuff, especially when you’re doing something. Cats are noisy by nature. But today, something’s different. A weird feeling washes over your body, your brain warning you that something’s wrong.
Looking closer, your cat is shaking her head rapidly. For a moment, you try to place it. What does that look like? Parkinson’s, she’s shaking her head like she has Parkinson’s disease, a serious condition. Cats can’t get Parkinson’s, can they? In fact, they can. Parkinson’s disease is caused by damage to specific nerve cells, which in turn leads to a drop in dopamine levels, resulting in shaking.
However, your feline’s shaking head likely isn’t the result of Parkinson’s disease, but instead another condition. We’re going to take a look at some diseases and conditions that could lead to Parkinson’s disease-like head-shaking among cats.
In some cases, Parkinson’s-like head shaking can be treated. Often, it depends on the underlying cause and at what stage that condition is diagnosed. It’s typically easier to treat conditions when caught early. If your cat is shaking her head a lot or is suffering from tremors, consider taking her to a veterinarian for a checkup.
Why Your Cat Shaking Her Head Like She Has Parkinson’s Disease
Several conditions and diseases could cause your cat’s head to shake or for her to suffer head tremors. Your cat’s head shaking may be caused by feline infectious peritonitis, a serious viral disease caused by certain strains of the coronavirus. Ear infections, including those caused by mites and bacteria, could also lead to head shaking. Allergies, insect bites, and genetic conditions may also cause head shaking.
Let’s take a deeper look at the conditions and diseases that may be the cause of your cat’s head shaking.
Many Different Conditions and Diseases Can Cause Your Cat’s Head to Shake
Occasional head-shaking is not a worry and is normal for cats, young and old. However, if your cat is constantly shaking her head, it may be a sign of a more serious problem. Unfortunately, many things could cause your cat to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease-like head shaking.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between head shaking and head tremors. When your cat shakes her head, she’s in control. With tremors, however, the shaking is involuntary. Often, with Parkison’s disease-like shaking, your cat is actually suffering from head tremors rather than shakes. Regardless, we’ll cover both head tremors and shaking as we look at causes.
Narrowing down the exact condition that is causing your cat’s head to shake is difficult because there are many different potential causes. Unfortunately, your cat can’t describe what’s going on, so it’s up to you to observe for signs of problems. When it comes to making a final diagnosis and prescribing treatment, it’s often best to leave it up to a professional vet.
That said, as a cat owner, you can and should keep an eye on your feline. So let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of head shaking.
Bacteria, fungi, yeast, and other microbes can cause ear infections, which may be painful for your cat. An ear infection can cause swelling and inflammation. It may also affect drainage and throw off your cat’s sense of balance. Besides head shaking, your cat may tilt her head while moving around.
Severe ear infections may cause permanent loss of hearing and even deafness. If you believe your cat is suffering from an ear infection, it’s important to treat it right away.
Besides microbes, ear mites can also cause ear infections. Mites are microscopic arachnids that often live on eyelashes and elsewhere. While mites are sometimes harmless, if they grow out of control in your feline’s ears, it can cause a host of problems, including head, shaking.
If your cat is frequently shaking her head or else scratching at her ears, it may be due to mites. Further, these parasitic arachnids can cause swelling and red inflammation, so keep an eye out for that.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a serious disease found in cats all over the world. This disease can affect cats of any age. However, it is more common in younger felines. FIP is caused by the feline coronavirus. So far, veterinarians still don’t know much about this disease, and no laboratory tests exist. Besides head shaking, cats suffering from FIP exhibit lethargy, loss of appetite, and high temperatures.
Side-Effects of Drugs and Other Substances
Certain drugs and other substances may cause localized tremors in cats, including head tremors. If you’re giving your cat any medications, it’s smart to read up on the side effects of these drugs and to talk with a veterinarian. If your cat is exposed to other substances, such as household cleaners, it’s possible that this exposure is causing head tremors.
At the moment, many experts point to permethrin as one of the most common causes of involuntary tremors in cats. Permethrin is sometimes used to treat lice and as a mosquito pesticide. Permethrin is often used on dogs to repel fleas but should not be used on cats. Avermectins are another group of substances used as pesticides and can cause tremors. Other pesticides, such as DEET, may also cause tremors in cats.
Some human medications, such as Ziprasidone (used to treat certain mental conditions, like bipolar disorder), may cause involuntary tremors among cats. If your cat ate a medication pill that fell onto your bathroom floor, it could cause head tremors and other problems.
Kidney Failure/Renal Disease
One common cause of tremors in cats in kidney failure. Many older cats suffer from declining functioning in their kidneys. In addition to reducing the quality of their fur coats, kidney failure can also cause tremors. Veterinarians can run blood tests to check for kidney failure.
Cerebellar Hypoplasia and Other Genetic Conditions
Cerebellar Hypoplasia is a condition, often inherited, in which the brain fails to properly develop. Unfortunately, this condition can affect the brain and nervous system, resulting in head tremors. Many cats suffering from this condition may struggle to walk and may fall down frequently. Some may not be able to walk at all. Cats may suffer from other genetic conditions that cause Parkison’s, like shaking.
Many cats have large, beautiful ears that aid with hearing and help protect the inner workings of the ear. Unfortunately, if a blood vessel is damaged in the ear flap, it could cause serious problems and also cause your feline to shake her head. This is called an aural hematoma.
Aural hematoma can be caused by injuries, ear infections, and frequent head shaking. This sets up a bit of a chicken or egg situation: Is your cat shaking her head because of aural hematoma, or does she have aural hematoma because she’s shaking her head?
Either way, aural hematoma and/or its underlying causes need to be treated. Treatment may include antibiotics, draining, and other methods.
Lodged Foreign Bodies
Many cats have large, relatively open ears. This affords them an excellent hearing, and indeed, your average feline has much better hearing than your typical person. That said, it’s relatively easy for a foreign object to fall into your cat’s ear and to become lodged.
Your cat may shake her head to try to remove this object. If it’s lodged and not coming out, she may shake her head a lot. It’s a good idea to grab a flashlight and to peer into her ear to see if you can see any objects. If so, you’ll need to get it removed. Many people chose to take their cat to the vet to avoid any risk of damaging their ears.
If the object stays lodged in your cat’s ears, an infection may develop. Your cat may suffer from inflammation, swelling, puss, and other issues.
Diet and Electrolyte Imbalances
Your cat’s diet is very important. If she is not enjoying proper nutrition and/or is suffering from an electrolyte imbalance, it may cause shaking and tremors. Mineral/vitamin deficiencies and low blood calcium levels, among other things, may result in head tremors or shaking.
Parkinson’s Disease in Cats
Parkinson’s disease can affect cats if they suffer nerve damage and a loss of dopamine-producing cells. In both cats and humans, Parkinson’s Disease is more common in older individuals.
Rabies, Cancers, and Various Other Causes Can Cause Head Tremors and Head Shaking
We’ve covered many of the most common causes of head shakes and tremors among cats. Often, this shaking will look like Parkinson’s Disease. While nervous system damage may be the cause, many other things could cause your cat to suffer from head shaking or head tremors. The above list is quite comprehensive but not exhaustive. It’s possible that another condition, such as cancer or rabies, is causing your cat to shake her head or to suffer from head tremors.