Cats look like sedentary animals to the untrained eye. In reality, they plan their every step carefully and rarely waste a movement circling. Sometimes, this sense of purpose disappears, and cats start wandering in aimless circles. This can leave you feeling puzzled by this new behavior.
Vestibular disease is not the only explanation for your cat’s behavior. They could be struggling with any number of ailments. This guide will help you to make sense of why your cat is walking in circles.
My Cat is Walking in Circles and Meowing
When a cat starts walking in circles, there are a handful of possible explanations. These include:
- Vestibular Disease. It’s a sudden-onset disease that attacks the ear, leaving a cat uncoordinated and off-balance. It usually disappears as quickly as it arrives.
- Ear Infections. Cats obtain their sense of balance and direction from their inner ear. If they have an infection, this will be compromised. Ear infections should always be treated by a vet.
- Hypertension. If your cat has high blood pressure, they’ll likely become disoriented. This, in turn, could lead to them walking in seemingly aimless circles. As hypertension is very common in senior cats, monitor your cat’s blood pressure regularly.
- Hypoglycemia. This condition is common in diabetic cats. It occurs when a cat’s blood sugar drops dangerously low. Walking in circles before suffering a seizure is a common impact.
- Cognitive Dysfunction. Feline cognitive dysfunction is essentially cat senility. This could impact upon any senior feline. A vet must be informed at the first sign.
- Trauma and Head Injury. If your cat has taken a blow to the head, get them checked out. Even if they seem fine in the immediate aftermath, the impact could take hold later. Cats are more than capable of developing a concussion, or other neurological damage.
- Brain Lesions. If your cat isn’t injured, it’s possible that they have a brain lesion.
1) Feline Vestibular Disease
There are a great many possible reasons for a cat to develop vestibular disease. Sometimes a cause cannot be established. On such occasions, the condition will be described as idiopathic. Other possible explanations include:
- Infection (either fungal or viral).
- Inflammation and infection in the inner ear.
- Tumors and polyps are developing in the inner ear.
- Trauma to the head or ear.
Deaf cats are particularly likely to develop vestibular disease. This means that, statistically, white cats are likelier to struggle. This is due to their genetic predisposition toward hearing loss.
If vets are unable to deduce why your cat has a vestibular disease, it’s a good thing. After running many tests, your cat will be cleared of potentially serious health concerns. The symptoms will typically clear up by themselves after around three weeks.
2) Ear Infections in Cats
Ear infections are common in cats, and can drive a feline to distraction. A cat’s sense of direction is driven by their inner ear. This means that infection can play havoc with their coordination.
If your cat starts walking in circles, take a look at their ear. If you notice brown discharge that resembles coffee granules, your cat has ear mites. These are tiny parasites that set up home in your cat’s ear. Your vet will be able to flush out mites by cleaning your cat’s ears.
If you can’t find any sign of mites, your cat may still have an ear infection. Look for signs of redness or inflammation. Again, a vet will be able to treat this with a minimum of fuss. Eardrops or steroids will usually be prescribed. Your cat may also need a course of antibiotics.
Although an ear infection is rarely lethal, neither is it something to ignore. If an ear infection is left untreated, it can quickly spread. This could result in your cat losing control of their facial muscles, and permanent hearing loss.
3) Hypertension in Cats
Hypertension, aka high blood pressure, is very common in senior cats. Just because it’s a frequent occurrence, however, it doesn’t make it harmless. Hypertension plays havoc with any number of feline organs and mental faculties.
Walking in circles is just one of the symptoms of hypertension. This stems from confused neurological patterns. A cat with hypertension will find blood rushing to their head, impacting upon their behavior. This could make them lethargic and sleepy one moment, and manic the next. Walking in circles is just one example of this.
High blood pressure can also impact upon a feline’s heart, eyes, and kidneys.
With this in mind, have them monitored once a year from the age of 7. By the time your cat’s age reaches double digits, upgrade these checks to twice-annually.
Hypertension may be an independent medical condition, or it could stem from another concern. Your vet will run some tests to determine this. If your cat only has hypertension to deal with, it will be treated with oral medication. In such an instance, they should be able to continue living a full life. If there is an underlying cause, that will need to be treated separately.
4) Hypoglycemia in Cats
Hypoglycemia must always be treated as an emergency in cats. A cat that lives with diabetes has enough to deal with. If their blood sugar drops too low, they’ll become very sick. This could be a result of missing a meal, vomiting after eating, or overdosing on insulin.
Vet Street explains the common symptoms of hypoglycemia. Alongside walking in circles, usually with a staggering gait, these include:
- Loss of interest in everyday activities.
- Twitching muscles.
- Lack of muscle strength.
- Seizures, potentially leading to a loss of consciousness.
Always call a vet if you suspect that your cat is entering hypoglycemia. They will offer advice over the telephone for first aid. This will typically involve offering your cat something to eat to regain their strength.
5) Feline Dementia
Feline dementia, medically referred to as feline cognitive dysfunction, is as debilitating as its human counterpart. It’s also very common. According to the ASPCA, over half of cats aged between 11 and 15 will be impacted. This number shoots up to 80% for cats aged older than 16.
Cognitive dysfunction has many symptoms, none of which are pleasant. We have already covered the fact that your cat will become confused, and walk in circles. Other signs that your cat is succumbing to senility include:
- Eliminating outside their litter tray.
- Seemingly failing to recognize you, or other family members, when you come home.
- They are growing confused and upset about seemingly innocuous obstacles in their path.
- Staring into space, or at blank walls, for hours.
- Becoming distant and aggressive, or the opposite extreme – acting extremely clingy.
- Loss of interest in eating, grooming, exercising or playing.
- Struggling to sleep at night.
- Becoming extremely vocal, especially after dark.
Of course, these symptoms do not necessarily mean that your cat is living with cognitive dysfunction. They could be attributed to different illness or ailments. This does not mean that you should not get your cat checked by a vet, though.
If your pet’s faculties are fading with age, help may be available. If you capture cognitive dysfunction early enough, the impact can be slowed down. In some – very rare – cases, it can even be reversed.
6) Head Injuries in Cats
Cats can experience head trauma from a number of causes. Falls from a height, fights with other animals, collisions with blunt objects could all be to blame.
If your cat is not acting the same after a head injury, they must be seen by a vet. X-rays and other scans will be necessary to assess the severity of the damage. Your cat could have a concussion, internal bleeding, or any number of problems.
7) Brain Lesions in Cats
Tragically, cats can be subject to malignant brain lesions. These could strike any breed of cat, at any age. There is also no rhyme or reason to why a cat would develop a brain lesion. This makes them impossible to avoid through lifestyle choices.
A brain tumor will often make itself apparent through your cat’s behavior. Walking around in circles, seemingly confused, is just one symptom of a brain lesion. Others include:
- Seizures, which gradually increase in severity. These often eventually lead to unconsciousness.
- Pressing and rubbing the head against a wall, or other solid surfaces.
- Meowing more frequently, but purring less often.
- Inexplicable and uncharacteristic bouts of aggression.
- Lack of basic coordination, bumping into everyday objects and staggering.
- Displaying extreme sensitivity to the touch around the head and skull.
In the words of PetMD, a brain tumor is not always a death sentence for your cat. It’s a very serious concern, though. Get your pet checked out by a vet at the first sign of any concern. Once the appropriate tests have been run, a treatment plan will be drawn up.
The core treatments for brain lesions are surgery (to remove the tumor), and chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It’s impossible to give a prognosis for a cat’s recovery without all the relevant information. Your vet will be able to do so based on test results, however.
My Cat Keeps Wandering Around the Perimeter of the Room
If a senior cat has taken to endlessly pacing, they may be succumbing to cognitive dysfunction. This is particularly likely if they are also becoming increasingly vocal. Your cat will be distressed by their disorientation, and start to cry seemingly at random.
A senior cat that paces the perimeter of the room is likely struggling with their memory. They can’t quite recall where the litter box is, and they’re hoping to stumble across it. They want a nap, but they’re not sure where they are most comfortable. They’re adamant that they left their favorite toy somewhere, but they can’t think where. They may even stop and stare at a wall, seemingly for hours.
Take solace from the fact that your cat’s circling may have another cause, though. Younger cats will not need to worry about losing their cognitive function. Some of the other potential reasons for your cat pacing a room’s perimeter include:
- They heard something in the walls. Maybe your neighbors are being noisy, or perhaps you have a rodent infestation in the walls. Either way, your cat will be curious about the noise and will look to follow it. Pay attention to your cat when they do this. They may be able to alert you to a pest problem before you notice it yourself.
- There’s an interesting scent. Have you had another pet in the house? Have you recently painted or decorated the walls? Have you started using a new air freshener? Remember that cats have very sensitive noses. If they catch a new or unique smell, they’ll want to know everything about it.
- They’re looking for an exit. Are you attempting to turn your outdoor cat into an indoor pet? They will take quite some time to adjust. If your cat has not been spayed and entered heat, they’ll be incredibly determined to escape. Cats check every nook and cranny of a house, seeking a hole to slip through. You better ensure there isn’t space for them to climb out of.
- They haven’t had enough exercise. Don’t be fooled by the fact that your cat looks sedentary, or even lazy. Cats need exercise too, and they grow very restless if they don’t get it. If you have an indoor cat, give them a workout through play at least once a day.
- They’re stressed or anxious. Have you ever felt restless and needed to pace a room while stressed? Well, your cat is no different. If a feline does not feel comfortable for any reason, they’ll often walk around a room. A stressed cat may also walk around their owner and rub against their ankles. This is the pet seeking reassurance.
Any change in a cat’s behavior, especially something inexplicable, should be discussed with a vet. A cat pacing a room could be harmless – or it could be very serious and concerning. Only a professional, with access to many different tests, will be able to say for sure.
My Cat is Stumbling and Seems Disorientated
We have discussed the many and varied medical conditions that lead cats to walk in circles. There is one more thing to consider, however. Could your cat be going blind?
Vision problems in cats may not become immediately apparent. Felines are fairly near-sighted anyway, and rely more on their senses of hearing and smell. In addition to this, a cat will know the layout of their home. They can usually find their way around almost on autopilot. This is why cats grow so stressed when furniture is moved.
If your cat is becoming less surefooted, run some basic eyesight tests. In addition to this, you should book your cat in to see a vet. Amateur tests are never as accurate as those run in a professional environment with appropriate equipment.
Try attracting your cat’s attention through silent, vision-focused activities before your appointment, though. Shine a light toward your cat, and see if they react. Alternatively, drop something light from above and see if your cat follows the descent. If your cat pays attention, they have not entirely lost their sight. This will help your vet to focus on other symptoms. They will be able to pinpoint why your cat appears to be drunk.
Should I Stop My Cat from Walking in Circles?
If your cat has started to walk in circles, treat them with caution. Remember that your cat will be disorientated, and possibly sick. This means that they may not take kindly to being picked up.
To avoid a misunderstanding, keep your distance from your cat initially. Just don’t take your eye off them, as you may need to intervene. If your cat is circling you and rubbing against your ankles, leave them to it. Your cat is seeking reassurance, and you should provide it. If they stay away, just let them walk it off.
If your cat falls over, or starts to suffer a seizure, seek medical help. If this is your cat’s first incident, rush them to a vet but call in advance. A professional may be able to offer life-saving advice in the meantime.
Perhaps most importantly, never scold your cat for walking in circles. They are not trying to annoy you, or anything like it. They are unwell, and need to be treated with care and compassion. If your cat is sick, they’ll already be feeling vulnerable. Yelling will magnify your pet’s distress, leaving them afraid of you when you’re needed most.
I Stepped on My Cat While They Were Circling Me
Even if your cat isn’t circling you due to medical concerns, they’re not free of danger. Cats that silently and suddenly appear underfoot are always at risk of being stepped upon.
You’ll know if you step upon a cat’s tail or paw. They’ll unleash a loud, shrill meow, and often a hiss. They’ll also bolt away from you if they’re able. In such a scenario, give your cat a minute or two to cool off. Don’t panic, they won’t hold a grudge against you, and they’ll understand it was an accident. Despite this, they will be afraid of you for a short period of time.
Regain your cat’s trust by offering a treat, and very gently check for any signs of injury. This could involve limping, swelling or tenderness to the touch. If you have reason to believe that your pet has been hurt, speak to a vet. If nothing else, they may need a painkiller.
If your cat shows no sign of harm, relax and be a little more careful next time. If your cat is frequently circling you, it’s worth fitting them with a belled collar. This will warn you when your pet is approaching, and prevent future accidents.
If your cat has started to walk around you in circles, observe them. You should not take any chances, however. Get them booked in to see a vet. Any behavioral change in a feline should be taken seriously.
Sure, your cat may stop wandering in circles as quickly as they started. This suggests that your pet had a brief attack of vestibular disease, and has recovered accordingly. This still doesn’t mean that your cat is out of the woods, though. Any lack of coordination in a cat is unnatural, as they are so graceful by nature. You owe it to your pet to learn why they are so muddled, and seek treatment.