Nystagmus in Cats – Quivering Cat Eyes

Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Jenny

Originally published Oct 30, 2015

The first time I took Trigg, my blue lynx mitted Ragdoll cat, to the acupuncturist (can’t remember how old he was, but it’s been a few years), she asked me, “Did you notice the Nystagmus in his eyes?” I had never even heard the word and my regular vet had never said anything. Nystagmus is when the eyes quiver back and forth or oscillation of the eyeballs. She said it wasn’t a big deal and that it is quite common in Siamese cats.

I have always thought Trigg has somewhat of an eyesight problem – for example, I can come home and be wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up and he freaks out, not recognizing me until I vocally say, “It’s OK, Chiggy, it’s me.” and then he settles down and relaxes.

Anyway, I wanted to share his Nystagmus with you guys – hopefully, you’ll be able to see it.

Here’s what our regular vet said when I asked her about it:

“The nystagmus or rotary movement of the eyes are a normal finding in some breeds of cats. These are usually very mild like what we saw with Trigg.

Increased nystagmus can cause balance problems and that is when we need to treat. If Trigg is having trouble with balance or has a permanent tilt to his head then we should take a look. If he is “normal Trigg” but seems to have a little more ‘shakiness’ to his eyes when he is holding still than this is likely normal variation for your boy.

One more test would be to take Trigg’s head and gently but quickly move his head from side to side (2reps). If this movement causes increased nystagmus and immediate balance problems then we should take a look.”

Does anyone have experience with Nystagmus?

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37 thoughts on “Nystagmus in Cats – Quivering Cat Eyes

  1. CarrieV88 says:

    I have a beautiful Siamese mixed kitty named Gamora whose eyes also twitch. They’ve twitched as far back as I can remember so I assume she’s had it since birth. Her mother (who was not Siamese) didn’t have the condition. Gammy doesn’t seem bothered by this, and has no issues with her balance. From the research I’ve done on the topic, it seems very common in Siamese cats.

  2. JENN says:

    My Ragdoll, Oliver, was exhibiting this in December. He ended up in the emergency vet overnight with what I had thought was a stroke or seizure. Luckily it was only a severe ear infection. He now has a permanent head tilt, it’s not that noticeable now and thank goodness he is doing well.

    • Jenny says:

      oh wow – i am not sure if this is what he had. mine has had this his whole life – no issues like you described. sounds like yours might have had eye issues as a secondary thing to the ear infection?

  3. Ashley says:

    Thank you for posting this! I have a Chocolate mit Ragdoll and have noticed his eyes slightly moving side to side. The vet never said anything and he’s never seemed affected by it.
    I decided to google and found a link to neurological issues, then thankful saw this.
    He’s such a sweet boy, loves cuddles and to be held like the big baby he is.
    Glad to see that this is a ‘normal’ thing with these breeds. I just wish he’d stop sleeping on my clean laundry

  4. Sandi says:

    I adopted a Lynx Point Siamese last April 2020, he was severely scared, and un-socialized. The owner did not give me any info. except they had found him on the freeway as an infant, took him to the Humane Society until he was old enough to adopt. He had stopped eating after they had 4 month old twins. They would not give a name, address, phone, nothing. Yes very suspicious but I could see he needed me, so I paid $50.00 and took him home. He was 3 when I adopted him. He is now 4. His eye quivers sometimes. I have A LOT of experience Fostering Adult Cats and Kittens, but he has been very hesitant to come out of the bathroom where I isolated him until he was ready to join me. He has been with me for 14 months, but still is very afraid to come out of the bathroom. He has a child’s gate barrier to prevent others from entering. He is good with looking thru it, and jumping over it. He trusts me enough to rub his tummy, curl up on my lap purring, snuggle on my chest, eat food off my fingers, and venture for maybe 5 minutes out of the room. I wondered if his vision is impaired? I have never had a Cat take this long to adapt to life here. I lead a very quiet life, with just 1 other shy Cat, and a Sheltie. All Rescues. He is just the sweetest little boy, very afraid of everything. He never try’s to scratch or bite, he runs and hides when scared or upset. He is afraid of the Camera, I cannot get a brush on him yet, any change, any different movement. I have not taken him to a Vet as mine retired 2 years ago and I have not found a good one I like, but they have finally started opening up after Covid-19, so maybe he should be seen? I know it will set him back weeks to be taken somewhere strange. He has made good progress, just horribly slow. His weight is really good, he sits on my lap routinely and has survived 4x having his nails trimmed. They were talons when he came here. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

      • Sandi Schaefer says:

        I am pretty confident in my Socializing and Rehab. skills but I cannot tell if his eye issue is affecting everything, or is he just taking his time with learning to trust and overcome fear of everything. He is so sweet, but his favorite spot is behind the washing machine and dryer when anything flares up fear. I do not want him to live in fear, so I really would like to know if his eyes are contributing to that fear. I know he will be here for life, I love him dearly and really appreciate when he snuggles in my lap or offers his tummy for rubs. I have called a few Vets in the area, but only the receptionist will answer any questions over the phone, and they really do not know about Nystagmus except it occurs naturally in Siamese Cats. Since it is not treatable I do not want to spend money hopping from each Vet to get answers, but I do need to know if that is contributing to his fear, and eye sight. I am going to look into specialist eye doctors, Ophthalmologist’s, for small animals and see if that may help. I appreciate your site being here, as I could not figure out what was happening with his eyes. I previously had a special needs Ragdoll-Snowshoe mix. His eyes were so deep and pretty, he was an amazing boy also. The 10 years I Fostered I never encountered this in any of the Cats.

      • Sandi says:

        I am sorry I am not on facebook, I try to lead a very private life as my ex is not a good person and I do not want to be tracked. Sandi

        • Jenny says:

          I can post it on our Facebook for you – and send you a link, so you can read the responses. You do not need an account to be able to read the responses. PLMK if you want me to do that.

          • Sandi says:

            That would be really great !!!Thank you so much. I am wondering if his eyes are affected more than I know, as I moved his litter box 2 inches from the baseboard heater when it started getting cold here last October. He had seen it in the same spot for 6 months, but really freaked when I moved it 2 inches away from the heater to turn it on. It took him close to a month to get back to normal. I do not see how much his eyes are quivering as he usually has them closed, or facing away from me while he is snuggled on my lap. I am trying to look at his eyes more without upsetting him. He gets upset so easily then I have to gain his trust again. He is so sweet, I have no idea what he went thru before me, but I lead a very quiet life and pamper and love him unconditionally. He has tried numerous foods, treats and toys to find what he likes. He absolutely LOVES Hartz Delectable squeeze ups, so when he is upset I get one out and see if he can calm down and eat his yummy. It helps sometimes. I have to sit in the same spot on the floor before he will crawl in my lap for snuggles, back scratches etc. If I am off a few inches or face a little different direction he will go behind the washer and dryer and sit, or pace in the room. Since he is shedding I have tried to introduce him to a brush, without success. For now I collect as much hair on my hands and rub it off onto my clothes, if I put it on the floor or try to rub it on the brush he bolts. How did you figure out how much vision impairment Trigg had? Thank you so much !!!

          • Jenny says:

            Sandi – please e-mail EXACTLY what you want me to post. My email is info@floppycats.com

            How did you figure out how much vision impairment Trigg had? – I’m not sure he has much of any. I don’t think I would even try to figure it out though, if he did. Cats have superior senses, so he could use his others.

  5. Tae says:

    I just noticed this recently with my 10 year old Himalayan. It’s not bad but seems most active when he’s staring straight ahead at something. He’s an indoor kitty in good health but his brother doesn’t have have it so I was terrified it was a neurological problem. Very relieved to find this website, I feel comfortable waiting until my next vet visit to ask about it. The eye shaking doesn’t seem to affect his coordination or mood. He’s a very happy baby who loves snuggles and shoulder rides.

  6. Niki says:

    My Siamese mix, Mickey does this usually when she’s purring and looking at me. I always thought it was because she was happy (which she was also) but I thought I should look it up. She doesn’t have any balancing problems, but she does get nauseous and throw up a lot.

  7. Ryan Smalley says:

    Funny that this link pulled up b/c all I searched was “cats eyes shaking” in google and this site pulled up on the first page. Just so happens our cat is a ragdoll too. Our cat was classified as siamese by the humane society (adopted as a kitten) but have come to realize she is really a ragdoll (never heard of this breed prior to getting this cat). Anyway her shaking is very minor and just realized it today. She seems totally fine so I’m not concerned but will keep an eye (pun intended) on it just to make sure it doesn’t get significantly worse.

  8. Kristin Mantle says:

    My snowshoe has this problem. He is half siamese. It doesn’t happen all the time. Usually when he is focused on something. Sometimes slow. Other times its fast movement of the eyes like he is really dizzy. He has a small head tilt sometimes as well. And we started noticing it when he was an adult. But his vison seems fine and he is a healthy 10yr old cat

    • suaykitty says:

      My Ragdoll has a snowshoe sister. She is a most loving and loveable kitty. She licks Tommy ragdolls head like she was his mom and cries when she can’t find him.
      I’m so lucky to receive some of her kitty affection.
      Rich and two carnivorous kitties LA california USA

  9. VilmaAndVille says:

    Hi Jenny!

    I would like to ask, if you have taken Triggy for a vet about the Nystagmus? Or have you had any information how it affects his eyesight and quality of life? We have two years old Ragdoll boy Ville, who has this nystagmus, rotational kind. He has had it from his birth, at least we think so. We made a contact with his breeder about his condition, but she washed her hands out of it. She also claimed that she had no idea what this nystagmus is. We think every breeder should’ve atleast heard of this and she should’ve taken this seriously. Because she is still a breeder.

    • VilmaAndVille says:

      Also, i forgot to say, that we have watched your videos even before we took our cats and have really enjoyed them! I would appreciate if you’d have time to answer my questions 🙂 -Hannes from Finland

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Hannes,

      It was a vet that told me that Trigg had Nystagmus – so that would be the answer to your first question. I verbally say that in the video too. If you read the comments on YouTube – there are people with Nystamus that respond about what it is like.

      Sorry to hear the breeder doesn’t seem to care.


  10. ragdoll7 says:

    Hi-I am a new ragdoll owner only had him for 15 days-He is awesome. I am familiar with nystagmus my son has it let me know how I can help.

    Look forward to getting to know all the fellow ragdoll fans out there-my seal mitted is 7 1/2 months old, very chatty, so social, and so kind. Very happy!

      • Clair S with Charlie and Lola says:

        I’d be interested to know if the amount of Ragdolls that have this condition is similar to the amount of Ragdolls that can’t tolerate travelling in a vehicle?

        I put my twos travel dislike down to their eyes.
        The motion of the vehicle along with the Nystagmus must be quite unsettling to their equilibrium (similar to humans like me who don’t travel well when their eyes can’t focus).

        I wish my two would understand that if they slept it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s heartbreaking to be driving whilst behind your head two kitties are crying and trying to grab you.

        • Jenny says:

          My Trigg, with Nystagmus, travels better in the car than my Charlie who does not have it. So I don’t see a correlation there with my own two.

  11. Becca says:

    I noticed my Ragdoll eyes just recently doing this. She is 8 yrs old. Her sight does not appear to be affected, but I am going to observe her to see.
    Thanks Jenny

  12. Rhuel Adams says:

    Nala has this in her right eye, but not her left. Her one eye will randomly (but very briefly) go out of synch with the other one. Kind of weird, but doesn’t seem to affect her in a negative way.

  13. Patti Johnson says:

    Thanks for the heads up about this condition, Jenny! I was totally unaware this even existed. And thanks for making the video with Triggy. I’m so sorry he has the twitchy eyes but at least it’s nothing life threatening. Thank goodness! I’ll have to take a closer look at our Miss Pink Sugarbelle’s eyes and see if they twitch. I’ve never noticed it but I wasn’t looking for it either. If I see that they twitch I’ll let you know.

    Big hugs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3

    P.S. Meowloween is almost here! Yay!!!!

  14. Teresa Reid says:

    Yes, it’s just part of their inherent genes coming from their Siamese background like you said. Nothing to worry about and totally endearing to me. Illaria has it a lot but Gracie, just every now and then but very slight.

  15. keziah49 says:

    Boo, our part Ragdoll has nystagmus. His is worse than Trigg’s by quite a bit. I don’t think it affects his vision though. He can spot a fly 20 feet away!

  16. lrunning says:

    Emily’s eyes do that, too when she’s super focused on a toy or me. Very disconcerting at first and asked my vet about it. He also said nothing to worry about.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have a white and black tuxedo cat. He only has it in one eye. Looks really weird, but its luckily not seemed to have advanced to a serious problem.

      • Cheryl says:

        Nystagmus is an involuntary eye movement. In people, about 2% of the population has this naturally. In law enforcement, we use the observation of nystagmus in identifying drivers who are impaired by alcohol.

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