Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

Vestibular syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system. The vestibular system is what keeps your dog walking straight and oriented and is comprised of nerves which lead from the brain to the structures of the inner ear. When your dog is running, it sends a message to the brain of the activity and the structures of the inner ear allow your dog to keep his balance and tact.

When vestibular syndrome is present in a dog, it means that the dog's brain no longer has the ability to recognize these messages and your dog cannot properly account for movement. Fortunately, this is a relatively treatable disorder and one that does not cause life-threatening issues.

Causes and Tendencies

Vestibular syndrome can occur when the nerves in the brain or inner ear do not develop correctly. Many times inner ear infections can lead to the destruction of the nerves in the inner ear and result in vestibular syndrome. However, it is not uncommon for this syndrome to appear for no reason at all.

Vestibular syndrome typically develops in older dogs; which means that there is theoretically no known cause for the development of this disorder. If there were abnormalities in the nervous structures at birth, the syndrome would have appeared much earlier in life. However, because it appears commonly in dogs of advanced age, there is often no cause that can be attributed to its development.

Signs to Be Aware of

The signs of vestibular syndrome are typically very noticeable; however they can certainly be frightening to the dog owner because they are often stroke-like in appearance. If any of the following symptoms are observed, it should be cause for medical attention:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Inability to walk straight
  • Not able to get up
  • Rolling of the eyes
  • Stumbling or falling when walking
  • Lack of interest in normal activities

Diagnosing the Condition

Diagnosis will usually consist of a variety of testing methods. Your dog will need to have blood testing and a urinalysis to make sure that they are no underlying conditions which has caused this behavior in your dog. Additionally, your dog will need to have a thorough ear examination to determine if there is any infection of the inner ear. If the condition appears to be extremely severe, your dog may need to undergo some x-rays and cat scans of the brain to make sure that there are not any tumors present.

When all other conditions have been ruled out, a diagnosis of vestibular syndrome can be made. The interesting thing is that there is normally no attributable cause to vestibular syndrome. Most often it simply appears without reasoning or cause.

Treatment of Vestibular Syndrome

Vestibular syndrome is a not a disorder which can be reversed. Once the functions of the nerves have been lost, there is no way to retain them. However, there are some treatment methods available which will help alleviate your dog from some of the symptoms so that he can go on living normally.

Generally, a motion sickness medication, such as meclizine, will be prescribed for your dog. This will help to alleviate your dog from feeling as though the room is spinning and it will help him to get back some of his functions of coordination. Most likely, this medication will have to be given indefinitely.

The next step in treatment is good home care. Because your dog cannot act or feel normally without the use of medication, you will need to make sure that he is not left to roam the house unsupervised. This can lead to accidents and harm to your dog. Additionally, you will need to make sure that your dog is not allowed to run free in the yard without a fence or a leash. Because his coordination is gone, he cannot judge distances and speeds when cars are driving by.