Vestibular Disease in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

Our Ventura emergency vets provide treatment information for concerned pet-parents witnessing the symptoms of Vestibular Disease in their dog.

What is vestibular disease?

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease often referred to as 'old dog vestibular syndrome', is a sudden and non-progressive disturbance of balance. This disorder stems from issues affecting the dog's vestibular system within the brain, located in the inner ear, and middle ear.

The vestibular system is responsible for controlling balance, which is why dogs with this disease will experience dizziness and have difficulty walking in a straight line.

Symptoms of vestibular disease are often most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, with improvements seen within seventy-two hours. Most dogs often recover within two to three weeks.

What are the causes of vestibular disease?

Causes of vestibular disease include an ear infection, perforated eardrum, hypothyroidism, trauma, tumors or possibly as a side effect of antibiotics. When no specific cause is found, the condition is called idiopathic vestibular disease. 

Some dog breeds are known to be more prone to developing vestibular disease, including German shepherds and Doberman pinschers.  While this condition is commonly seen in older dogs, younger dogs can also suffer from vestibular disease. 

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

If your dog shows any of the signs listed above call your vet for advice, as these symptoms could indicate a more serious condition. Therefore, communication with your vet over these symptoms is essential.

Based upon your dog's medical history and overall health, your vet may suggest bringing your dog in for an examination or waiting to see if the symptoms begin to improve within a few days.

How is vestibular disease treated?

While vestibular disease may cause your dog mild discomfort or motion sickness, the good news is, it isn't painful or dangerous and will likely clear up on its own without treatment within a few weeks.

It is important to monitor your dog's symptoms carefully.  If, after a few days, you notice that your dog's condition begins to worsen notify your vet.  Your vet will complete an examination to determine if there are other causes for your dog's symptoms.

If your dog suffers from nausea and vomiting due to vestibular disease, your vet may prescribe an anti-nausea medication.  If your dog is having difficulties drinking water your vet may provide IV fluids to hydrate your dog.

However, the main treatment for canine idiopathic vestibular disease is waiting while your dog recovers.

Can I help my dog to recover from vestibular disease?

You can help your dog stay comfortable while recovering by providing a comfortable place to rest, and easy access to water and food. Since vestibular disease is a balance issue, it is helpful to keep the floor clear of obstacles and block off stairs to keep your dog safe.

If your dog is showing symptoms of vestibular disease contact your primary care veterinarian. Our emergency veterinarians in Ventura are specially trained in emergency medicine and triage. If your pet is having an emergency late at night, on a weekend or holiday, or any time you are unable to reach your primary care veterinarian, we are here to help.

Vestibular disease in dogs, Ventura veterinary oncologist

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