Vestibular Disease in Dogs

The canine vestibular system is responsible for maintaining a dog’s sense of balance and equilibrium. The vestibular system is made up of central portions of the brain, inner and middle ear. A dog with vestibular disease experiences sudden loss of balance, this condition is sometimes called old dog vestibular syndrome.

Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

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Dogs with vestibular disease experience a sudden loss of balance, other signs of the condition include:

  • Disorientation
  • Jerking eye movements (rapid movement from side-to-side)
  • Stumbling
  • Dogs may show an unwillingness to stand up
  • Vomiting
  • Circling in one direction
  • Head tilts and shaking head
  • Leaning or falling to one side

Signs and symptoms of the disease will be most severe during the first 24 – 48 hours, with improvement occurring within 72 hours.  Although some dogs will experience the head tilt and wobbling for the rest of their life.

Causes of Vestibular Disease

There are many different causes of vestibular diseases in dogs including ear infections, toxins or drugs, traumatic injury, tumors, ischemic strokes, and hypothyroidism. Idiopathic vestibular syndrome occurs when there is no known cause to the condition, it is not a painful condition. Most idiopathic cases occur in older dogs and often resolve over the course of several weeks.

Treating Canine Vestibular Disease

If your dog is showing signs of disorientation and struggles to maintain its balance, they need to be seen by their veterinarian right away.

Your vet will order various diagnostic tests. These test may include blood and urine tests to determine the underlying cause of the dog’s symptoms. In most cases, a dog’s vestibular disease treatment is geared towards treating the underlying cause of their symptoms. Most dogs will show signs of recovery within days or a few weeks. If a dog doesn’t improve or their condition worsens there may be a more severe underlying cause to their balance issues.

Pet Parent's Guide on How to Help Your Aging Pet

Caring for a Dog with Vestibular Disease

  1. Take Your Dog to the Vet – dogs showing symptoms of vestibular disease need to be check out and treated.
  2. Assist Your Pet – Use a lifting harness to help support your dog and keep them upright. Pets with persistence wobbling and loss of balance may benefit from a 4-wheel wheelchair for additional support and help them maintain their balance as they walk.
  3. Avoid Carrying Your Dog – believe it or not, your dog needs to try to walk on their own. This can help recalibrate their vestibular system, guide them if needed but try to keep them walking.
  4. Keep Your Dog Safe – gate off stairs and other areas that may cause them to trip and fall and do whatever you can to keep them comfortable. Moving their food and water bowls closer to where they rest to make it as easy as possible for your pet.

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