Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Canine vestibular disease occurs when the nerves connecting the inner ear with the brain become irritated and your dog loses his sense of balance. Canine vestibular disease can be dramatic, but most cases improve rapidly and resolve within a few weeks.

Causes of Canine Vestibular Disease

There are a number of conditions that can contribute to the development of canine vestibular disease, or peripheral vestibular syndrome. Chronic or recurrent ear infections, head injury and stroke can all play a role, as can tumors and meningioencephalitis. All of these things can damage the nerves of the inner ear and make them likely to become inflamed.

Middle ear infections are a frequent cause of vestibular disease in younger dogs. These can occur when infections become chronic, and especially if a dog with an undiagnosed, chronic ear infection receives ear cleaning. Treating the ear infection can resolve the symptoms of vestibular disease, though they may be likely to recur.

Canine vestibular syndrome is often the result of a brain lesion or infection of the brain. It also occurs in older dogs for reasons vets don't understand. This type of canine vestibular disease occurs all at once and then resolves on its own just as suddenly, days or weeks later. Most dogs make a full recovery from this type of canine vestibular syndrome, though symptoms may recur.

Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

The most common symptom of vestibular disease in dogs is a sudden loss of balance. If vestibular disease has affected only one of your dog's ears, then he may walk in circles and assume a head tilt. His head will tilt in the direction of the affected ear. He may stumble and stagger or be unable to walk altogether.

Your dog may develop nystagmus, a condition in which the eyes jerk rhythmically side to side or up and down. If your dog is suffering from vestibular syndrome on only one side of his head, then only that eye will display symptoms of nystagmus.

While coping with vestibular syndrome, your dog may feel too dizzy and disoriented to eat or drink. He may feel nauseated or lack the motor skills to eat normally.

Coping with Canine Vestibular Syndrome

Canine vestibular syndrome usually improves quickly, though if your vet doesn't see any improvement within 72 hours he will begin testing for other possible causes, including stroke and brain tumors. If you can help your dog through the initial stages of vestibular disease, then he'll probably regain full motor control within a matter of weeks.

Help your dog cope with vestibular syndrome by hand feeding him while he recovers. Your dog may be too dizzy or nauseated to eat on his own. If your dog seems to have lost his appetite, offer him treats that he enjoys. Soft morsels will be easier to chew and digest. Elevate your dog's water bowl so that he can drink more easily during his recovery.