What is Canine Vestibular Disease?

Posted by Stacey Venzel

If your dog seems suddenly off-balance, he may have vestibular disease.

From walking straight to holding the head up high, the vestibular system helps mammals maintain balance. When it's impaired, normal everyday tasks can become a hassle.

Parts of the brain and ear are involved in the vestibular system. When they fail to function properly, a dog exhibits signs of imbalance. These include wobbly walking, vertigo, nausea, head tilt, and rapid eye movement known as nystagmus.

The disease occurs most often in old dogs, which is why is why it is sometimes dubbed "old dog vestibular syndrome."

dog vestibular

Underlying causes sometimes exist, with ear infections being one of the most common. Thyroid disorders, tumors, and head injuries can also result in the disease.

However, sometimes a root cause is never found. When no cause is found, which is typical in senior dogs, the diagnosis is idiopathic vestibular syndrome, meaning the origin is unknown. Idiopathic diagnoses usually see symptoms subside within a month or two.

dog vestibular

X-rays and bloodwork, in addition to clinical signs and the patient's past history, can help determine if a dog has vestibular disease.

Treatment for the disease when it has a known cause is aimed at the culprit, such as ear medication to treat an ear infection. To soothe nausea and anxiety that often accompany the disorder, antiemetics and sedatives might be prescribed.

If the patient does not get better with treatment or on its own in cases believed to be idiopathic, then there is likely a larger issue at hand, such as a brain tumor. Further testing might help give a more accurate diagnosis, but often the prognosis is poor if the symptoms cannot be reversed with treatment.

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What is Canine Vestibular Disease?