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Vestibular Disease in Dogs

The term “vetigo” sounds like the title of a foreign film, but vestibular disease in dogs, also called canine vestibular neuritis, is a very real, very common condition. More than three million dogs in the United States suffer from this problem, according to the American Kennel Club. And it has no cure.

So What Exactly is Vestibular Disease in Dogs and How is It Caused?

Well, want to shed some more light on this rather uncommon and much more common cause of both disturbing symptoms and loss of balance, something called idiopathic vestibular disease in dogs (canine vestibular neuritis). She states:

idiopathic vestibular syndrome is commonly associated with acute vestibular syndrome (AVS), which is a side effect of anti-anxiety medications. Because many medications are known to have temporary periods of mild dizziness, they can be considered triggers. The most common medications that are associated with this condition in dogs are anti-seizure medications, beta blockers, NSAIDs, antidepressants and beta blockers. As far as the symptoms go, most dogs report nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, head shaking, and discomfort. Some may also experience blurred vision or double vision.

There is a separate area of the brain that is involved in coordinating eye movements, called the labyrinth. Dogs with idiopathic vestibular disease will often display symptoms of dizziness, or problems following images, or walking on their head. If the syndrome is not treated, it can progress to a severe stroke in some cases. One particular type of stroke that can occur is called pontospinal stroke, and affects the brain stem that controls eye movement. The symptoms from this are similar to those experienced following a car accident, or after eye surgery.

Common Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

disease in dogs - vestibular syndrome	
- vestibular system - idiopathic vestibular syndrome

Many owners who have been seeing some unusual symptoms in their pets have reported changes in behavior, decreased appetite, and even vomiting after seeing their dog experiencing some of these symptoms. Other owners have commented that their pet has become lethargic and sleepy. The veterinarian will usually confirm the diagnosis of vestibular disease by performing certain tests, like x-rays, CT scans, or an MRI.

Unfortunately, this condition is often misdiagnosed by veterinarians. Oftentimes, they will just mark the neck and back as the symptoms, without ever really testing the pet. You need to become familiar with the symptoms so that you can spot the symptoms when they appear in your dog.

  • One of the biggest symptoms of Vestibular Disease is dizziness. All of us tend to get dizzy at times. However, if your dog is dizzy, then it could be vestibular disease. If your dog is suffering from chest pain or trouble breathing while standing, then this too may be a case of vestibular disease. Other symptoms include being unsteady on the feet, drooping eyelids, and having a hard time keeping up straight.
  • Another sign of this disease is excessive licking. All of us lick occasionally. However, if your dog is licking excessively, then it may be suffering from this condition. Another sign includes vomiting, whining, excessive barking, and burping. Some other symptoms may also be present depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Other symptoms of this disease may include pain in the ear, trouble moving the eye, and problems with vision. You should take your pet to the vet right away if you see any of these symptoms. It is important to get an examination done as soon as possible so that treatment may be started. There are some medications that can help to ease the discomfort that your dog is experiencing.

Treatment of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Treatment of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Your vet may prescribe antihistamines or even steroids to help treat the symptoms of the disease in dogs. If your dog has a positive history of allergies from fleas or food, then these medications may help as well. If there are no allergies in your dog’s history, then corticosteroids may be prescribed for mild cases.

When it comes to dealing with problems with vestibular disease, the veterinarian will use a variety of techniques to try to find out what is wrong. Some common imaging tools are the Electronystagomogram (EMG), Orthomindentomy/decortication, and the CT Scan. A CT scan will show if there is an inflammation or problem in the brain and will show if the MRI abnormalities appear abnormal. If a tumor is present, then x-rays will also be used to determine size. Blood tests may be necessary as well. Therapy options will depend upon the diagnosis, and how severe the problem is.

Treatment of vestibular disease will also depend on the location of the tumor, and how big it is. If it is located in the brain, treatment will focus on making it shrink, stopping blood flow, and treating any damage done to the brain cells. If it is in another part of the body, treatment may focus on pain control or repairing any damage that has already been done. An MRI is used to determine the size of the tumor.

Your vet will discuss with you which treatment options are available to you, and he will likely want you to undergo a diagnostic test to determine if your dog has vestibular disease. He will monitor your dog’s head tilt, chest movement, and will likely do additional testing to determine the actual cause. Treatment choices will vary based upon the severity of symptoms, but most dogs respond to medications including steroids, anti-emetics and antibiotics. Swelling and pain control medications can help ease some of the symptoms.

Vitamin B12 is usually a recommended medication for older dogs. You can give them Vitamin D along with Vitamin B12, to help prevent further symptoms of Vestibular Disease. Interfering with how your dog sleeps and moves around can help to control the vestibular symptoms as well. Make sure your dog is getting enough sleep and exercise. You may want to consider making your dog more comfortable when they are moving around. Putting them down after a long walk or giving them toys to play with can help as well.

You can also get treatment from the many different supplements on the market today. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes are all options that you can choose from. You should make sure that you check the ingredients of any supplement or medication you are considering. There may be some vitamins or herbs that could interact with other medications to create problems or give you a negative response.


Because there is no cure for this disease, it is best to start treatment early in order to help your dog. He or she may never be the same after the disease has been treated. With early treatment, you will also find that your pet has a greater chance of living a long and healthy life. The course of treatment and severity of the disease will help determine the success of the treatment you plan for your dog. Understanding the symptoms of Vestibular Disease and the various treatment options will help you as you seek out the best treatment available.


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