Overview of Canine Vestibular Syndrome

Sick Dog

Canine vestibular syndrome may seem like a scary, insurmountable problem when a dog first begins showing symptoms, but with the right treatment, most animals do recover to some extent. Familiarizing yourself with the signs and causes of this syndrome make take some of the fear out of dealing with it.

Introduction to Vestibular Syndrome

According to Dr. Jennifer Coates in an article published at Pet MD, canine vestibular syndrome affects a part of the nervous system known as the vestibular system. This system includes the inner ear, nerves, eyes, and some areas of the brain, and it's responsible for balance and equilibrium. When vestibular syndrome sets in, it interferes with the system's normal functions and makes a dog feel dizzy.

Symptoms of Canine Vestibular Syndrome

According to an article published by the Vestibular Disorders Association, an animal may display any of the following signs when the vestibular system is affected:

  • Staggering and/or falling over
  • Tilting the head to the side
  • Flickering eyes; this is known as nystagmus
  • Walking in circles
  • A wobbly gait
  • Nausea due to dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty eating or drinking

The symptoms are usually the most severe at onset, and then they often begin to fade and resolve on their own. Depending on the cause, the dog may or may not experience recurrences.

Main Causes for the Condition

There are many possible causes for this disease since conditions that affect parts of the ear, nerves or brain can interrupt the normal operation of the vestibular system. According to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, there are three main causes of vestibular disease.

  • Brain lesions - This includes tumors, infections and, in rare occurrences, vascular accidents which interfere with circulation in the brain.
  • Middle ear infections - This cause is especially likely in dogs that have a history of ear infections. Debris in the outer ear is a good indication that the middle ear could be affected.
  • Idiopathic causes - The term "idiopathic" is used when the exact cause is undetermined. However, it is known that idiopathic causes are related to middle ear issues rather than brain-related causes.

How Veterinarians Reach a Diagnosis

Determining whether your dog is afflicted with this syndrome often requires you to document signs and symptoms. Keep a list of your observations, and take it with you to the veterinarian's office to assist the vet in reaching a diagnosis.

According to Veterinary Surgical Centers, the first order of business is usually to view the dog's ear with a scope and take a swab. This will help the vet conclude whether the ear canal is inflamed or shows signs of infection. If the source of the problem is not evident, the vet will then perform a neurological examination to decide which area of the nervous system is affected. The exam involves a physical test of the dog's reflexes since different areas of the brain control motor function.

In addition to an exam, the vet may order an X-ray or MRI to see if there are any obstructions or abnormalities in the brain. Spinal fluid is sometimes also collected and tested for infection.

Treating an Affected Dog

Once the cause of canine vestibular syndrome has been established, treatment depends on the severity of the syndrome. Veterinary Surgical Centers lists a variety of common treatment options.

  • Tumors, cysts or polyps may need to be surgically removed from the affected area.
  • Infections can be treated with medication.
  • Sedatives may be given to help the dog relax and stop struggling to move.
  • Injuries or vascular accidents are commonly treated with medication to control the nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness.

Recovery and Beyond

The prognosis for an affected dog is good, as long as the original cause of the vestibular disturbance can be treated successfully. However, recovery often takes weeks or months, and there may be some lingering symptoms that last the rest of the animal's life. It is important to continue to monitor the signs and symptoms during the recovery period. Be sure to notify your vet of any changes in your dog's condition in case the original treatment plan needs to be modified because providing proper care is the best way to increase your dog's chances of a full recovery.

Overview of Canine Vestibular Syndrome