Vestibular disease in dogs, its causes and treatment

symptoms of vestibular disease

Vestibular disease in dogs is a condition that affects the ears. (The vestibular system) is in charge of maintaining bodily balance, uprightness, and horizon orientation. The vestibular system consists of a middle ear receptor, a short nerve, and the lower stem of the brain.

Vestibular disease is one of the most prevalent neurological manifestations in veterinary neurology, and it may also be one of the most difficult to treat. The vestibular system, often known as the apparatus, is in charge of maintaining balance, posture, and body orientation in space. This system also controls locomotion and other motions, as well as maintaining visual attention as the body moves. The vestibular system is made up of the vestibular apparatus, the vestibulocochlear nerve, and the regions of the brain that interpret and respond to the information provided by these components. Vestibular illness is defined as a “sudden non-progressive balance disturbance.”


can old dogs recover from vestibular disease ?
A rapid onset condition that affects one half of the system, i.e. one ear, is the most prevalent underlying cause of vestibular illness. It’s a sickness that affects older dogs more frequently, therefore it’s also known as ‘old-dog vestibular syndrome’ or ‘canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome,’ although it can also affect cats in rare cases.

The vestibule and three semicircular canals of the inner ear make up the vestibular system. These structures cooperate with the brain to feel, maintain, and restore equilibrium and a sense of where the body and its components are positioned in space, similar to a carpenters spirit level.

 vestibular disease of old dogs
old dog

What are the symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs?

Vestibular illness in dogs is characterized by a loss of balance, confusion, head tilt, and nystagmus, or abnormal jerking eye movements. Many, but not all dogs, depending on the degree and location of the vestibular condition, will be unwilling or unable to stand or walk, and may struggle to do so, which can be stressful for both the dog and you, the owner. The majority of dogs lean or tumble in the same direction as their head tilt. Some, but not all, of the following clinical indications can be caused by damage to the vestibular system:

  • Asymmetric ataxia, often known as drunken gait, is a condition in which a person’s gait is asymmetric.
  • Leaning or head tilt are examples of abnormal posture (towards the side of the problem)
  • Circling or veering off course (towards the side of the problem)
  • Position with a broad base
  • Nystagmus is a condition in which a person’s (rapid eye flick)
  • Vestibular system (positional) When the head posture is shifted, strabismus occurs, which is defined as a downward squint.
  • Vomiting is most commonly caused by motion sickness or dizziness.

What causes vestibular disease and how can it be treated?

We usually divide vestibular sickness into one of two syndromes’ (groups of clinical indicators) based on whether we assume the issue involves peripheral (ear and nerve) or central (brain and spinal cord) components (parts of the hind brain).


It’s critical to pinpoint the cause of the problem and distinguish between peripheral and central vestibular illness for therapy and prognosis. Depressed mental state (e.g., disoriented and inadequately interactive) and postural impairments (e.g., loss of strength and proprioception) are the most reliable indicators of central vestibular illness (i.e. the sense of where the limbs are in space). Vestibular illness can be caused by a variety of factors, including metabolic, neoplastic, inflammatory, nasopharyngeal polyps, toxica, and trauma, to mention a few. Your neurology specialist will be able to tell you what is most likely causing your dog or cat’s vestibular illness. The photos below show how vestibular illness might manifest itself:

What are the signs and symptoms of vestibular disease?

Vestibular illness may be strongly suspected with the emergence of abrupt vestibular clinical symptoms. The most significant ‘test,’ however, is a complete neurological examination, which is used to identify whether the vestibular condition is peripheral or central, indicating the need for further study and treatment. Diagnostic imaging, on the other hand, is frequently necessary to confirm a diagnosis. The most useful is MRI, which can examine both the ears and the brain. Ear infections, on the other hand, can be detected with CT scans and, in certain situations, radiography.


Vestibular disease may be strongly suspected after a quick start of vestibular clinical symptoms. The most significant ‘test,’ however, is a full neurological examination, which is utilized to identify whether the vestibular illness is peripheral or central, as well as the road to further inquiry and therapy. Diagnostic imaging, on the other hand, is frequently necessary to confirm a diagnosis. The most useful is MRI, which can check both the ears and the brain. Ear infections can, however, be detected using CT scans and, in certain situations, radiography.


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examination, which examines the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord for abnormalities in protein content, cell counts, and other characteristics, may be indicated as well. This test is particularly beneficial for determining if your pet’s clinical indications are caused by an inflammatory and/or infectious illness process. Infectious agent tests.

Such as those for viruses and protozoa, may also be necessary, which require the collection of a blood sample or urine. To see whether your pet is suffering from an inflammatory condition that is generating clinical symptoms. During a surgery termed myringotomy, a sample of fluid from your pet’s inner ear may be taken. The neurologist inserts a blunt-ended needle (sprools needle) into the tympanic membrane (eardrum) to aspirate a sample of the mucus that is routinely formed around the inner ear equipment. When a patient has an inner ear infection.


It’s possible that this fluid looks like pus. The neurologist will want to collect this fluid so that he or she may order a bacteriology culture and, based on the results, prescribe the best medicine to treat the inflammation. Some neurologists utilize the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) to evaluate hearing circuits that are related to vestibular networks. Along with all other clinical indications, deafness, whether temporary or permanent, is another consideration to consider.


If diagnostic testing are not possible, for example due to budgetary constraints, the best course of action is to monitor your pet’s neurological state through regular and thorough neurological examinations. Knowing if your pet’s condition is central (brain) or peripheral (ear or nerve) can also help you determine prognosis and treatment options.

What is the treatment for vestibular disease?

how do you treat vestibular disease in dogs ?
Vestibular disease is mostly a non-surgical disorder, however certain of the disease’s underlying causes may necessitate surgical intervention. In any case, managing vestibular illness necessitates a two-pronged approach:

Addressing the root of the problem (if possible)

is vestibular disease in dogs curable ?
Medical intervention, such as antibiotics, or supplementary surgical or radiation treatment, such as in neoplastic illness of the middle or inner ear, where total surgical excision of tumors might be difficult or failed, are examples of peripheral vestibular disease underlying causes. Cats with nasopharyngeal polyps, on the other hand, almost always require surgery to remove the polyps.

Antibiotics, corticosteroids, antifungal, and antiepileptic medications are commonly used in the treatment of central vestibular disease. Which therapy is appropriate for your pet depends on the underlying cause of the ailment.

Providing patient care that is supportive

The most significant aspects in the rehabilitation of vestibular disorders are vestibular physiotherapy and supportive treatment (peripheral or central). During your pet’s hospitalization, a multidisciplinary team of neurology physicians, patient care team, chartered physiotherapists, and hydropathy will offer supportive nursing care.

Our experienced team of licensed physiotherapists will examine your dog and plan and implement a physiotherapy and rehabilitation program tailored to your dog’s needs to help them get back on their feet. Physiotherapy is essential in the treatment of patients with vestibular dysfunction because inactivity and recumbency cause reduced joint mobility, stiffness, muscular weakness, and contracture, all of which obstruct the patient’s rehabilitation.

What is the prognosis for those with vestibular disease?

The recovery prognosis for vestibular dysfunction is highly reliant on the underlying etiology of the clinical indications. The speed and degree of recovery is difficult to predict, although it might take days, weeks, or months, and some patients may have persistent deficiencies, such as a little head tilt.


To ensure that the underlying cause of the vestibular condition is properly handled, your pet may require medication for a week or months. Some central vestibular illnesses, on the other hand, may necessitate lifelong care. After a complete neurological exam and a definite diagnosis of the source of your pet’s clinical indications, your neurologist will be able to offer you a more precise prognosis for your pet.

Dogs with a head tilt
Head Tilt

Common symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs include:

  • Staggering Head Tilt
  • Vomiting
  • Coordination issues
  • Circling in a single direction indefinitely
  • Standing tall and wide-legged
  • Loss of appetite or a refusal to drink
  • Falling over due to a loss of equilibrium
  • When you’re awake, you have rapid eye movement.
  • Making the decision to sleep on hard surfaces

how long can dogs live with vestibular disease ?

Although the symptoms of vestibular disease may appear upsetting, bear in mind that this ailment is not lethal, and most dogs recover entirely within two to three weeks.

Tags: Dog diseases

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