Diagnosing Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Diagnosing Vestibular Disease in dogs can be an extensive process. The outcome can be an unknown cause or it can become fairly complicated. The main function of the Vestibular System is to keep the body balanced. It contains nerves that start in the brain and continue to the inner ear. Sensors in the inner ear will inform the brain if there are any movements. Vestibular disease affects the brain by not recognizing abnormal body position. The body is then not able to correct these abnormalities resulting in a loss of balance. There are two different disorders of Vestibular Disease: Central Vestibular Disease and Peripheral Vestibular Disease.

Central Vestibular Disease

Central Vestibular Disease is associated with an abnormality in the brain, such as a brain tumor. This usually takes place in the cerebellum or the vestibular nuclei. Symptoms of central vestibular disease may include unexpected falling, horizontal and vertical nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eyes), circling, rolling, reduced coordination, stumbling, weakened limbs or a head tilt.

Peripheral Vestibular Disease

Peripheral Vestibular Disease is linked to an abnormality with the receptor organs or vestibular nerve in the inner ear. This disease is known as Idiopathic (ie has unknown cause). Most cases of Vestibular Disease are Peripheral, and are seen in older dogs 12 to 13 years of age. Symptoms that are noticed with Peripheral Vestibular Disease are unexpected falling, horizontal nystagmus, incoordination, circling, stumbling, facial paralysis and a head tilt.

Diagnosing Vestibular Disease

Because of the similar symptom, owners often mistake Vestibular Disease with a Stroke. Unlike Vestibular Disease, Strokes are rare in animals. If you suspect that your dog has Vestibular Disease, a proper examination by your veterinarian is needed. A complete medical history, physical and neurological examination will be preformed to distinguish Vestibular Disease with other disorders that can affect your dogs body in the same way. Other disorders with similar symptoms include inner ear infection, middle ear cancer, thiamine deficiency and head trauma. Blood work such as a CBC, urinalysis, glucose and liver/kidney function test may be completed for diagnosis.

Treatment of Vestibular Disease

Treatment of Vestibular Disease will depend on your veterinarians diagnosis and the underlining cause. If your dog is diagnosed with Peripheral Vestibular Disease he should slowly improve within 1 to 2 weeks with little or no treatment. If your dog is experiencing dizziness, your veterinarian may recommend motion sickness medication such as diphenhydramine. Your dog may experience a permanent head tilt. If your dog is diagnosed with Central Vestibular Disease then other actions will be required. More diagnostic tests may be necessary to determine the cause of illness, such as an MRI or X-rays. Treatment of Central Vestibular Disease usually involves surgery and the treatment can become intense.

Vestibular Disease can occur suddenly and sometimes without any cause. The symptoms that your dog may experience can be distressing to an owner, but the earlier your dog is diagnosed with this disease, the better understanding you will have of this disorder and possibly the better chances of survival he will have.