The White Cat

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

Dixie was having some difficulty restraining Mary’s cat. Mary had the cat wrapped in a towel when she entered the clinic. It was still straining to turn flips as Dixie struggled with it on the exam table. Mary had withdrawn from the exam table and stood against the wall, concerned and not understanding what was happening with her Ghost.

“Oh, Doctor Larsen, I don’t know what happened to Ghost,” Mary said when I entered the room.

I grabbed Ghost by the back of the neck to help Dixie control his movements. Ghost’s head continued to twist and turn, even with his body restrained.

“How long has this been going on?” I asked.

“Ghost has always been a little odd for a cat,” Mary said. “He started acting sick last week and was holding his head to one side most of the time. But this turning flips, like this, has only started the last hour or so. What is going on with him?”

“This is a vestibular problem,” I said. “He has lost his inner ear function. The world is spinning for him right now. I am going to get an injection for him that will sedate him so we can do an exam.”

After giving Ghost an injection of ketamine, we waited a bit for the drug to take effect. Then we removed the towel.

“White cat, and with one blue eye,” I said. “If he has always been a bit odd, I would guess he is deaf.”

“You know, Fred has wondered about that a couple of times,” Mary said. “Why do you guess that?”

“White cats have a genetically linked deafness associated with the white coat. Blue eyes are also on the same gene. Some of these cats, not all of them, will be born deaf or at least lose all hearing shortly after birth. White cats with two blue eyes will have the highest percentage of deafness. One blue eye, maybe less than half, will be deaf, and a few white cats with normal eye color will be deaf.”

“That explains the odd behavior,” Mary said.

“Yes, these cats seldom get along well with other cats,” I said. “There must be a lot of verbal communication that they never learn. When I was growing up, we had a white cat in the barn for a time. She couldn’t get along with the other cats and finally moved up on the hill behind the barn. She would come down to eat, but that was all.”

“Is his deafness causing this problem?” Mary asked.

“I don’t know if there is a correlation,” I said. “Most of the time, this is associated with an ear infection, and sometimes it just happens. Sort of like the same thing with people.”

“I have heard of people with dizzy spills, but I have never heard of them acting like this,” Mary said.

“I don’t know if anything this severe occurs in people,” I said. “They probably seek care earlier than a cat.”

With the initial questions answered, I started with an exam on Ghost. When I came to his ears, his problem was evident. Black debris filled both ear canals. Ghost must have had a chronic ear mite infestation.

I grabbed a forceps and tugged on the hardened debris in the left ear canal. It came out almost entirely intact and as a perfect casting of the ear canal. A flow of white pus followed the casting. 

“Well, that explains the problem,” I said. “I have never seen anything like this. We sometimes see an ear filled with mite debris but not solid like this stuff. Probably with his deafness, the debris in his ears wasn’t a big bother to him.”

“That looks awful,” Mary said. “What do we need to do?”

“We have him sedated,” I said. “We will take him back to treatment, clean these ears, and get him on some medication. He is going to need to keep him for a day or two. Usually, this balance issue clears up. Sometimes these cats will have a head tilt when they recover. They sort of realign themselves with the world as they see it. I have no idea how things will turn out with this infection in these ears.”

We took Ghost back and cleaned his ears. When we removed all the debris, I could see that the eardrums were intact. We flushed the ears to remove all the exudate and then instilled some medication for the infection and the ear mites. I gave Ghost an antibiotic injection and some dexamethasone.

“We will give him a little more ketamine before we leave tonight,” I said to Dixie as we put Ghost in his kennel. “That should keep him quiet until morning, especially in the dark kennel room.”


In the morning, Ghost was up on his feet, looking a little confused by his surroundings. His head tilted to the left, and his eyes still had a slight nystagmus.

“You look better than I expected,” I said to Ghost. He didn’t respond to my words at all. “Deaf as can be, I guess.” I opened the kennel door to pet Ghost. He was cautious of my hand but pushed back when I petted him.

“Sandy, give Mary a call and tell her that Ghost is doing better than expected,” I said. “We will send him home at the end of the day if he continues to do well.”

Ghost was ready to go home in the afternoon. We sent him home with medication for his ear mites and ear infection and some antibiotics for a couple of weeks.

His hearing never improved, of course. But Mary and Fred got along with him better now that they understood he was deaf. 

With time his head tilt lessened, but even several years later, he was not back to level.

Photo by Dids on Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

2 thoughts on “The White Cat

  1. I am always grateful for the education on this site. I remember talking to you many years back about one of our white cats I thought might have been little deaf, or going deaf. I think it was Nod, the one with the blue eye. So far, it seems her hearing is still OK. She does like to whack the other cats, including her sister. They were born with grey tabby stripes on their heads Those disappeared after they reached adulthood, leaving them solid white.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That earmite infection, with the pus and all and the enduring head tilt can hap´pen to any cat if the owner does not keep attention on their pets ears. I have seen two cases of feral cats who could not walk properly (Mirok and Mitch) – who until this day (3 and 1 year after adoption) have a head tilt. In both cases the eardrums were perforated but healed. Mitch had a polyp in one ear, too. Poor chap was really hard hit. But now he lives a good life with a very cautious owner.
    The eardrums of both cats healed eventually – sth I thought was not possible, but I learned sth new. Tinykittens is a well of knowledge as they broadcast their cats (not only mom cats, but also feral sick cats) on youtube and they work together with a vet clinic that was chosen Vet of the year (I think last year or 2020, Mountain View Veterinary Clini, Dr Renee Ferguson). Tinykittens resides in Canada, near Vancouver (Langley to be precise). And I have learned so much from the health problems of the cats they took in and took not only to Dr F, but also to countless other specialists, when needed.

    Liked by 2 people

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