Vestibular Syndrome In Dogs And Cats

Aug 16, 2022 | Pet Health, Pets

Happy Wednesday everyone!  We know that dogs and cats can get ailments and sickness just like humans do but did you know they can suffer from Vestibular Syndrome.  Vestibular Syndrome refers to a group of diseases that affect the balance system (also known as the vestibular system).  Common signs of vestibular syndrome in dogs and cats include loss of balance, falling, rolling over, abnormal flickering of the eyes and general wobbliness.
If you have suffered a dizzy spell or bouts of dizziness then you know that it is not fun.  Can you just imagine what it is like for an animal if left untreated!  Like vertigo (dizziness) in humans, vestibular disease in dogs is caused by a dysfunction of the inner ear. The symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs are similar to the symptoms of vertigo in humans.

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I have been using Tide Free and Gentle for years now with no dyes or perfumes.  A vet recommended it to me when my first dog, Bear, was suffering with allergies.  

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Vestibular Syndrome |
What is vestibular disease?
Vestibular disease refers to a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance. It is more common in older dogs. It is also referred to as old dog vestibular syndrome and canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome.
What are the clinical signs of vestibular disease?
Most dogs present with the sudden onset of loss of balance, disorientation, head tilt, and irregular jerking eye movements called nystagmus. Many dogs will become reluctant to stand or walk. Most dogs will lean or fall in the direction of their head tilt.

What causes vestibular disease?
Causes of vestibular disease include middle or inner ear infections, drugs that are toxic to the ear, trauma or injury, tumors, and hypothyroidism. When no specific cause is found, the condition is called idiopathic vestibular syndrome. These cases are distinguished by the sudden onset of clinical signs and the subsequent rapid improvement with little, if any, medical intervention.
Vestibular Syndrome |

Causes of Vestibular Disease in Dogs
Various causes of vestibular disease in dogs include:

• Ear infection that extends past the eardrum into the middle and inner ear. Middle or inner ear infections are the result of a chronic traditional ear infection, or when an ear infection is left untreated.

• Ruptured eardrum or trauma caused, for example, by using a cotton-tipped applicator during your dog’s ear cleaning.

• Tumors or polyps growing around the middle ear.

• Hypothyroidism

• In extremely rare cases, some medications may cause vestibular disease in dogs like aminoglycoside antibiotics, metronidazole, or topical chlorhexidine.
Vestibular Syndrome |
How is vestibular disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on medical history, clinical signs, and the results of blood and urine tests. In some cases, diagnostic testing might include blood pressure measurement, or radiographs (X-rays) of the head to assess the appearance of the middle and inner ears and the tympanic bullae. Occasionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans will be performed to look for tumors or other abnormalities. Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing may also be performed in some patients.
• Ear cytology: A sample of debris from the ear canal is collected which identifies if yeast, bacteria, mites (or a combination) is causing an ear infection. Not all ear infections extend past the ear drum into the inner ear. Based on symptoms, the physical exam, and test results, your veterinarian can determine if an ear infection is the likely cause of the vestibular disease.

• Complete blood count: Confirms or denies other systemic infections or blood-related abnormalities like anemia that may also cause stumbling similar to vestibular disease.

• Internal organ function or biochemistry test: Although it cannot determine cancer or tumor location, this test can suggest if further cancer or other organ dysfunction testing is needed.

• Urinalysis: Results, in conjunction with other tests, identify if an underlying condition may be the cause of the vestibular disease.

• Advanced imaging: X-rays (radiographs) or CT (computed tomography) scans confirm the suspicion of polyps or tumors.
Vestibular Syndrome |
The criteria for diagnosing canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome are:

• older dog
• sudden onset of peripheral vestibular signs
• no detectable cause (i.e., no signs of outer- or middle-ear infection, ototoxicity, trauma, hypothyroidism, infectious disease, etc.)
• signs resolve over several weeks
What are common symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs?

• Pronounced Head Tilt 
• Staggering or Stumbling
• Nausea and Vomiting
• Lack of coordination 
• Continuous circling in one direction
• Standing with legs spread wide
• Unwillingness to eat or drink
• Loss of balance / falling over
• Rapid eye movement while awake
• Choosing to sleep on hard surfaces
• Horner’s syndrome (drooping of the upper eyelid and face muscles on one side of face)
Vestibular Syndrome |
How is vestibular disease treated?
Treatment is directed at the underlying cause, if one can be identified. In severe cases, supportive therapy such as intravenous fluids and hospitalization may be required until the dog can eat and walk on its own. If the dog is seriously disoriented or ataxic (stumbling, unable to stand or walk), it may be given sedatives to help it relax. Drugs that help combat nausea or motion sickness may be beneficial. Antibiotics may be used in cases suspected of having middle or inner ear infections. Although corticosteroids have been used in the past, there is little scientific evidence to support their use in this condition and are generally not recommended.

What is the prognosis for a dog diagnosed with vestibular disease?
The clinical signs associated with vestibular disease are often most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Many pets begin to improve within seventy-two hours. The head tilt and stumbling often improve over a seven to ten-day period. Most patients are completely recovered within two to three weeks, although some will have residual symptoms such as a head tilt or mild “wobbling” for life.

If the patient fails to improve or worsens, then a more severe underlying disorder should be suspected, and advanced diagnostic testing should be pursued. A referral to a veterinary neurologist may be advised.  You should see a vet immediately if your dog or cat shows any of these signs mentioned above.

I’m Bobbi Jo, a lab-lover who took my passion for animals and dogs and turned it into something bigger.  When I adopted Jake and Maggie, my love for them became the driving force behind Two Adorable Labs, and my blog was born.  My hope is to not only share them with the world, but to help educate others on the importance of animal health and well-being. 

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