What would cause a cat to stagger and lose its balance? Our 14 year old cat recently started falling over when he walks. He keeps his head slightly twisted to one side. His right pupil is enlarged and we're not sure if he can see out of that eye any more. His symptoms came on suddenly. He doesn't seem to be in pain but meows loudly when he wants food. He is eating normally. In fact, he seems to be eating more than usual but is losing weight. His vet doesn't know what is wrong with him. Our cat was on antibiotics for three weeks in case it was an inner ear infection that was affecting his balance, but his condition didn't change. He was tested for diabetes but was negative.

ANSWER: It could be Borna Disease which has also been called:

Sad Horse Disease
Staggering Cat Disease
Wobbly Possum Disease

due to its having been observed in not only those animals, but many others, including:

Donkeys and mules
Alpacas and llamas
Man (take careful note, and please read on)

The virus has also experimentally been made to infect an extraordinarily wide range of other animals, including:

Rhesus monkeys

The disease, and its causative virus, are named after BORNA, a town in Germany, where it was first described in 1766, affecting horses. Its symptoms include neurological, cognitive and behavioural changes, with hyperactivity, depression, somnolence, apathy and loss of appetite. Both aggressive and passive stages have been noted, and infection causes disturbances similar to those noted in certain neuropsychiatric syndromes.

Mortality rates reach 100% (horses) and greater than 50% (sheep). I have no data upon human mortality.

The mode of the spread of the virus seems to be by direct contact, and via exposure to salivary and nasal secretions.

The worrying bit: some researchers have linked human affective and mental disorders with a viral cause, and a number of cases of schizophrenia have been linked with viruses, including some of those disseminated by ticks. Recently a study linked cat ownership with schizophrenia. (See above - 'Staggering Cat Disease'!?)

It is not surprising then that one of the hottest topics in medical research these days is viral involvement in chronic nervous system diseases and mental illness. Borna virus has been isolated from patients with mood disorders, and there is evidence of 'a new human virus infection possibly threatening mental health'.

Personal Comment:
This is worrying to me. We all know how viral infections can turn into epidemics or even pandemics: we only have to look at the Asian flu epidemics in recent years, or the Great Plague two hundred years ago. And let us not forget the insidious spread of AIDS. Remember how Ebola exploded into Africa not very long ago? Might we one day read of whole countries being turned into aggressive schizophrenics or depressive hyperactives?
My source materials for these pages tend to be dry and factual, reporting 'evidence for...' and 'laboratory studies reveal...', but should we not read between the lines and occasionally permit ourselves to imagine the possible outcomes? Whatever your cat has, don't let him shoot mucus into your eye with a sudden sneeze! That's how I caught MYCOPLASMA PNEUMONIA.

SUNSTROKE. HEAT. DEHYDRATION. Above all, keep fresh dishes of water, big ones, all around the front and back garden in shady places and when you water, change daily. I let the hose run a while so none of the 'stuck in the hose' - water gets in their dishes.

POISONING- Keep a bottle of activated charcoal around the house. If your neighbors poison rats, make a wad with some soft cheese or cream mixed in it, put it down back of his tongue. Drug store now has poison kits. If it's in capsules, let it out. Caps is for when HUMANS poison themselves with salmonella.

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