Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

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Although Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs is not common, it can be a difficult condition to diagnose. Vestibular syndrome can affect both dogs and cats.

While some animals recover on their own, others need treatment.

This article will discuss the symptoms of Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs and what you should do if your pet exhibits any of these signs.


What is vestibular syndrome in dogs


Vestibular syndrome, also known as vestibular disease in dogs, is a medical condition that affects the vestibular system in dogs.

The vestibular system controls balance and movement to prevent a dog from falling over (similar to our own ears).

So when this system is affected, it can cause problems with coordination, dizziness and even vomiting.

This will also explain why when dogs are affected with vestibular syndrome, you'll typically see a dog rocking back and forth, trying to control it's balance.


Causes of Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs 


Typically, the most common causes for vestibular disease in dogs (and cats) are:

  • Ear infections
  • Perforated eardrums
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Brain trauma (from being attacked, or crushed by something)
  • Side effects of some types of antibiotics (if your dog is allergic).
  • Poisoning (including consumption of certain plants);
  • Brain tumors affecting the vestigial system
  • Infections such as meningitis and encephalitis are also possible causes.
  • Vestibulitis inflammation due to infection
  • Inflammation caused by head injury
  • Infections such as meningitis and encephalitis.


In older dogs though, they can just develop vestibular syndrome without any causes - this is known as idiopathic (unknown cause), and it's believed to be due to degeneration of their vestibular systems due to age. (source)


Signs of Vestibular Disease in dogs 


The symptoms of vestibular syndrome in dogs usually vary depending on what is causing the problem, but common signs include:

  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo (a sense that you or your surroundings are spinning)
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Rubbing their face or head frequently
  • Dog rocking back and forth


Signs of old dog vestibular syndrome


Vestibular disease in dogs has another name - Canine idiopathic vestibular disease, also known as 'old dog vestibular syndrome'.


With a name like that, of course older dogs are at a higher risk of developing vestibular syndrome.


In addition to the symptoms already listed above, other common symptoms of vestibular syndrome in older dogs are:

  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Falling down frequently
  • General weakness or fatigue
  • Head tilt
  • Inability to move their eyes in all directions (nystagmus)

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it is important to take them to the vet for a diagnosis.

Vestibular syndrome can be caused by a number of different things, so it's important to get your pet checked out as soon as possible.


The problem with vestibular disease in older dogs is that the symptoms are very similar to other types of diseases as well.

For example, difficulty walking and standing can also be due to muscular or bone degeneration due to age, and fatigue in old dogs is to be expected.


This is why the best thing you can do for older dogs suspected to have vestibular syndrome is to bring them to a vet as quickly as possible for a thorough checkup.


Treatment for Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs 


We have to state this outright - there is no cure for Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs, but most cases clear up on their own without treatment.

If your veterinarian does determine that treatment is required, it may involve medications to control vomiting or antibiotics if there is an underlying infection.

Physical therapy may also be recommended to help improve the dog's balance and coordination.


In most cases, however, Vestibular syndrome will clear up on its own with no treatment necessary.

Of course, treatment options will vary depending on the cause of the condition.

Just make sure to bring your dog to the vet as quickly as possible if you suspect vestibular disease in your dog.



Prevention of Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs 

 


As there is no cure for vestibular syndrome in dogs, prevention will depend on the cause of your dog's condition.

However, if it has been determined that Vestibular Syndrome was caused by an underlying infection or poisoning, then you can take steps to prevent a recurrence.


For example:

If Vestibular Syndrome is due to head injury or brain tumor, avoid activities that may lead to more injuries such as excessive jumping and running around outside.

When you walk your dog into the woods or on the streets, make sure that your dog doesn't eat unknown substances - in this case, training your dog to recall will be an excellent skill.

Unfortunately, it's not preventable in old dogs - they can develop it anytime, and is completely at random (i.e. idiopathic)


How to Help Your Dog Deal with Vestibular Syndrome



If your dog is suffering from Vestibular Syndrome, there are a few things you can do to help make them more comfortable.

  • Keep their environment calm and quiet.

Loud noises or sudden movements may aggravate their condition.

  • Help them stay hydrated.

Providing plenty of fresh water and offer ice chips if they are vomiting.

  • Make sure they have a soft place to rest.
  • Avoid letting them walk on slippery surfaces.

Your dog will be swaying back and forth a lot, so having solid ground (like a carpet placed above your floor tiles) will be the best for them.


Dogs with Vestibular Syndrome will often feel unsteady on their feet and experience vertigo, dizziness, and nausea.

Be there for them wherever they go - they'll be relying on you, their human, to care for them while they're unsure of themselves.


Frequently Asked Questions about Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs


Can I help my dog to recover from vestibular disease?


To a certain extent, yes.

While it is not possible for dog owners to completely cure vestibular disease in their dogs, there are a number of things you can do to help your pet feel more comfortable:

  • Keep their environment calm and quiet.
  • Help them stay hydrated.
  • Make sure they have a soft place to rest.
  • Avoid letting them walk on slippery surfaces.


Is there a cure for vestibular disease?


There is no cure for Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs.

But majority of cases will clear up on their own without any treatment.

If your veterinarian determines that treatment is necessary, it may involve medications to control vomiting or antibiotics if there is an underlying infection.

Physical therapy may also be recommended to help improve the dog's balance and regain it's confidence.


Is vestibular disease in dogs fatal?


In general, no it's not.

In most cases Vestibular Syndrome will clear up on its own without treatment, and are not fatal.

However, if it has been determined that Vestibular Syndrome was caused by an underlying infection or poisoning, then it might prove to be more dangerous for them.

If Vestibular Syndrome is due to head injury or brain tumor, avoid activities that may lead to more injuries such as excessive jumping and running around outside.

If Vestibular Syndrome is due to an infection, remember to feed your dog the medication your vet provides to help your dog recover!


If my dog has vestibular disease will he get better?


Yes, the majority of cases of Vestibular Syndrome will clear up on their own without any treatment.


If your veterinarian determines that treatment is necessary, it may involve medications to control vomiting or antibiotics if there is an underlying infection.

Physical therapy may also be recommended to help improve the dog's balance and regain its confidence!


Should you put a dog down with vestibular disease?


No, dogs with Vestibular Syndrome should not be put down.

As we mentioned several times above, majority of cases will clear up on their own without any treatment.

However, if your veterinarian determines that your dog is (unfortunately) beyond the help of treatments and surgeries, then it may be something worth speaking to your vet about.

This is the ABSOLUTE LAST CASE MEASURE, and should only be considered if your dog's quality of life is beyond human help.


Conclusion


If you are an owner of a dog that is experiencing any symptoms or signs related to vestibular disease, please contact your veterinarian.

Vestibular diseases in dogs can be difficult to diagnose and treat without the help of a vet because there are many different causes for these problems.

The symptoms are often subtle, but may include head tilt or turning, seeing your dog swaying back and forth, difficulty walking straight on their legs without weaving and many others.

However, if they’re left untreated, some can lead to complications such as loss of balance and even blindness.

In some cases, vestibular disease in dogs can be prevented by ensuring your dog does not eat random junk and plants in the woods, or on the streets.

Take action now and train your best friend to not eat anything else apart from the food you provide, as well as to recall when commanded!





about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.


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