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What is Disorientation?

Disorientation can occur acutely, or develop and worsen over time depending on the cause. You may notice that at times, or consistently, your dog is developing what seems to be a struggle to maintain a balanced position, or perhaps all of a sudden his eyes cannot focus and dart back and forth. Disorders related to the vestibular system can be broken down into the peripheral and central disease. It is a common neurological condition in dogs, with no predisposition to sex or breed.

Disorientation, head tilt, and loss of balance are all common to an upset in the vestibular system. This system is responsible for maintaining and stabilizing the position of the head (which thereby gives the body stability), and the eyes during head movements. Vestibular disease will interfere with your dog’s entire sense of balance. It is important to take your dog to the veterinarian in order to correctly diagnose the cause and rule out other conditions such as stroke or hyperthyroidism.

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Disorientation Average Cost

From 67 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,500

Symptoms of Disorientation in Dogs

There are many symptoms associated with the vestibular disease. Prompt attention by a qualified primary veterinary caregiver is the best course of action and will result in the most positive prognosis. Schedule a visit for your dog with the appropriate veterinarian without delay if you see any of the following abnormal signs:

  • Head tilt (this can range from mild to severe)
  • Darting eyes (nystagmus)
  • Eyes which are abnormally aligned and may be accompanied by a squint (strabismus)
  • Drooping eyelid or presence of third eyelid (Horner’s syndrome)
  • Facial paralysis
  • Head tremor
  • Circling
  • Falling or rolling to one side
  • Unsteady gait (ataxia) or inability to walk
  • Unable to stand, or uses a wide stance
  • Vomiting
  • Development of motion sickness when in a vehicle
Types

Vestibular disorders are either peripheral or central. The vestibular system is an important and critical part of the central nervous system, coordinating with the visual (focus) and the gravity (detected by skin receptors detecting pressure). The sense of orientation experienced by your pet will be affected by the proper function of these neural systems.

  • Idiopathic vestibular disease

    - This is a peripheral disorder. It presents with acute onset and severe nystagmus (rapid, darting eyes), which causes extreme vertigo because the eyes cannot focus on the horizon. It can disappear over time without treatment. Some owners have been known to confuse idiopathic vestibular disease episodes as seizures.

  • Inner ear disease

    - Peripheral as well, inner ear disease has a slower progression and may exhibit varying degrees of facial paralysis and Horner’s disease (drooping eyelid). The most common cause is otitis media (inflammation of inner ear), with bacteria moving into the eustachian tube of the ear. Fortunately, antibiotics work well as a cure.

  • Central vestibular disease

    - The prognosis is less optimistic for this type of disorientation in dogs. There can be brainstem damage, leading to cranial, motor, position and movement difficulties. Illnesses such as Lyme disease and liver dysfunction can precipitate central vestibular disease.

  • Vestibular syndrome

    - This peripheral disorder was originally called geriatric vestibular syndrome because it was documented in older dogs. Recent studies reveal that middle-aged dogs have also been affected, thus the name change. The episode lasts between a few days to a few weeks, and usually the dog can be nursed through the condition with favorable recovery (occasionally a dog will end up with a permanent mild head tilt).

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Causes of Disorientation in Dogs

The causes for disorientation in dogs are not totally known; further study and discovery will enlighten the medical field as to the mysteries of this condition.

Idiopathic vestibular disease
  • It is suspected that a cause may be a lesion in the eighth cranial nerve (auditory vestibular nerve) which brings instructions and sound relating to spatial position and movement into the brain
  • Thought to be a possible condition affecting the antigens (a substance that causes the immune system to produce antibodies) of the vestibular nerve; the substance can be outside the body like a chemical or virus, or inside the body like bacterial toxins Inner ear disease
  • Fungal infection
  • Neoplasia (growth of abnormal tissues)
  • Conditions that cause a defect in chemical reactions in the body such as hypothyroidism
  • Toxicity of antibiotics
  • Bacteria from otitis media
Central vestibular disease
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • Antibiotic toxicity
  • Neoplasia
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Granulomatous meningoencephalitis
  • Liver disease (with metabolic brainstem degeneration)
  • Lyme disease
  • Canine distemper
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Ehrlichiosis, which is a tick-borne bacterial infection
Vestibular syndrome
  • Thought to be a complication of old age, but can be seen in middle-aged dogs
  • Studies show it may be related to inflammation of nerves connecting the inner ear to the cerebellum that controls equilibrium, spatial orientation and body balance
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Diagnosis of Disorientation in Dogs

Prompt veterinary care is essential in order to diagnose the cause of the disorientation that your pet is experiencing. Having no balance, or having the sense of being unable to focus and walk will affect your dog in many ways. The veterinarian will concentrate on making your dog comfortable first and foremost. If the nausea and spatial disorientation are extreme, your veterinary caregiver will administer medication to ease the symptoms. Some pets, who have been too distressed and imbalanced to drink, for example, will be given intravenous fluids to hydrate and equalize the system.

The veterinarian will ask for a history of your pet’s behavior over the past weeks, and will want to know if you can pinpoint how and when the symptoms began. The assessment of the nystagmus (eye movement direction, horizontal or vertical for example) can lead to a diagnosis. However, because animals can learn somewhat to adapt to balance, the indications may be variable.

Ataxia (unsteady gait) may be difficult to interpret because of the stress that your dog is going through as a result of the imbalance issues, and the possible need of support for your dog to be able to walk. A nonslippery or regular surface may be required because your pet will find any flaw in the surface difficult to navigate in his state.

Indications for the veterinarian may be facial paralysis (as in peripheral) or a change in mental activity or weakness on the entirety of one side (as in central). If your veterinary professional is unable to determine the diagnosis of why your pet is disoriented, she may choose further diagnostic tools.

After a complete physical and neurological examination, the veterinarian may decide to analyze baseline diagnostics by checking blood pressure, complete blood count, urinalysis, thyroid level and serum biochemical profile. Examination of the ear canal, or very careful removal of substances of the ear canal (for analysis) may be done.

If the veterinarian has a suspicion of a central lesion, or after a few days or weeks the symptoms are not ceasing, more intensive testing may be ordered. MRI (to image the brain or middle and inner ear) could be ordered to look for central or peripheral disease. If further testing is necessary, an option is a spinal tap to rule out meningitis or encephalitis.

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Treatment of Disorientation in Dogs

It should be noted that some types of disorientation in dogs can clear up on its own while others may point to a more serious condition. A central vestibular disorder has limited hope for a successful treatment because the brainstem area does not respond well to neurosurgery. There are drugs currently under study with the hopes of offering a solution to the disease, as in the case of tumors for example.

In the case of peripheral disorders, the scenario is quite different. Please note the following treatment procedures that may accompany a diagnosis of a peripheral disorientation (idiopathic, inner ear or vestibular syndrome):

  • All treatments will be based on the underlying cause
  • Medication for nausea, vertigo and dizziness may be necessary
  • Intravenous therapy can be utilized if your dog needs fluid recovery because he has not been eating or drinking enough
  • Sedatives are sometimes used to calm dogs as a part of the recovery process
  • Idiopathic vestibular disease tends to resolve with time and the support of the owner
  • The inner ear responds well to antibiotic treatment but the duration of medication must be carefully monitored in order to fully treat the infection
  • Surgery and radiation can be an approach to resolve abnormal tissue growth
  • Vestibular syndrome most often resolves on it’s own with time
  • Complications due to antibiotic toxicity may be eradicated after the antibiotic is stopped
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Recovery of Disorientation in Dogs

As is the case with any time that your pet is ill, follow up with the veterinarian is always part of the equation. The recovery process may be a challenge, but with your caring manner and practical support, your dog can often resume a sense of normalcy. Your primary veterinary caregiver will remind you that patience as you await results is key with a diagnosis of any vestibular complication.

Remain calm and caring at all times. Offer comfort, warmth, and attention. Aid your dog as necessary with balance needs in his day to day function. Dietary changes might be suggested, as will a follow-up visit at the clinic a few days after the initial appointment. It should be noted that a head tilt may remain, even after your pet recovers. Relapse of vestibular disease is not the usual scenario.

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Disorientation Average Cost

From 67 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,500

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Disorientation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Miniature Pinscher

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Six Months

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Falling Over Cant Control Body

I don't know what is wrong with her

Aug. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, without being able to examine your puppy, I can't say why she might be having this problem. That does sound quite serious, and it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian right away. They will be able to examine her and see what might be the problem, then what treatment she might need. I hope that all goes well for her and she feels better soon.

Aug. 27, 2020

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Labradoodle

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Disoriented

VERY STRANGE AND OUT OF CHARACTER ALL OF A SUDDEN AND SHES SEEMING TO PACE AND CIRCLE AND BOBBLING HER HEAD AROUND WHATS WRONG PLZ GIVE ME ANSWERS

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, There are many things that can cause this issue such as toxin exposures, inner ear infection or neurologic infection. It would be best for your dog to see a vet. It is impossible to tell you exactly what is going on without seeing your dog.

Aug. 3, 2020

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Chihuahua

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Drooling, Eyes Shutting Down , Loss Of Balance

What is wrong with my dog?? Can you please help.

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that your dog is not feeling well. From your description, if your dog is drooling, there may be some GI upset, or there may have been a toxin that they ate. It would be best to have them seen by a veterinarian right away, as they can examine your dog, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them so that they feel better. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

July 31, 2020

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Mini Australian Shepherd

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Three Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Loss Of Balance

She is walking around like she drunk and making weird head movements and acting out of it.

July 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Giving your description, it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian right away. It is possible that she is having a low blood sugar episode, or she may have gotten into it. They will be able to examine her, see what might be going on, and get treatment for her. I hope that she is okay.

July 28, 2020

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Yorkshire Terrier

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6 weeks

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Bobs Head, Falls Over A Lot

Is there anything I can do to help at home? Doesn’t stand as a normal pet would on back legs as much Has been wormed, eats soft foods well(does not do as well With drinking, but does drink)

July 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. It is difficult to say if what you're describing is actually a problem, or normal behavior for a 6 week old puppy. The best thing you can do at home is to make sure that the puppy is eating regularly, every few hours , so that there is not a drop in blood sugar. Otherwise, it would be best to have the puppy seen by a veterinarian, as they can assess neurologic status and see what's going on. I hope that all goes well with the puppy.

July 21, 2020

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Roxy

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German Shepherd

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11 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Not Responsive

about 1:30 this morning my puppy was on my bed and starting growling and barking at my almost 11 year old german shepherd. I called the shepherd a couple of times and she did not respond normally she would come right to me even in the middle of the night. I got up and went to her she was not moving her eyes were open but she looked confused or out of it or something. I started petting her and talking to her she finally moved to another position but not a lot of movement. this morning she seems fine. What happened?

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BabyGirl

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Chihuahua

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15 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilting, Circling, Drool

I have a 15 yr old Diabetic Chihuahua mix, she has had two episodes of head tremors that I thought might be a sugar drop so I gave her a few treats and she seemed to be fine after a few minutes. I spoke to the doctor and he said it could have been just what we thought. However, now its a few months later and for the last couple of days she has been having different episodes of head tilting, circling falling to the side and drooling a bit. The first couple of times this happened we gave her a treat and she popped out of it within a few minutes but today its happened and it's taking her much longer. Is this something that needs attention right away or as I have been reading about Vestibular disease will it go away itself? Should I panic and take her to the emergency vet or schedule a regular appointment?

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Jack

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Cocker Spaniel

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11 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Tilting Head Up And Down

Hi My 11 year old working cocker spaniel has started tilting his head (up and down) and staring at the ceiling and appers to be spooked, he has no other symptoms eats well loves going out on his walks he only does this indoors, he is and was always a very active dog (hill walking munro's etc ), vet suspects its neurological but why dosent he do this when he is out walking or outdoors .? he has had ticks on him over the years and i always inspect him when we come off the hills or back from walks and remove any with the proper tools, could it be lyme's disease and is it treatable ......Thanks in advance

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Rocky

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Yorkshire Terrier

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2 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

My 2.5 year old 4lb. male pure bred Yorkie has been having episodes of disorientation. He will be asleep and all of a sudden wake up looking disoriented, eyes wide open and hind leg is up and not being able to really walk straight. He is also shaking at the time. He has had about 4 episodes in front of me, not sure if he has had more when he’s not in my presence. However, once I hold him and reassure him he is back to normal like it never happened. He is otherwise quite healthy and eats dry dog food and sometimes wet food all from the vet. If anyone has any knowledge with this please comment.

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Izzo

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Scottish Terrier

dog-age-icon

5 Years

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Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Disorientation
Lethargic
Crying
Blindness
Abnormal Behavior
Not Wanting To Close His Eyes

Initial symptoms started about 3 weeks ago in my mom's 5 year old Scottish terrier mix; lethargic, not wanting to eat or drink, unsteady gait. Seen the vet nearly 2 weeks ago and was dx with bronchitis started on steroids. Labs came back normal. Still lethargic, increased eating and drinking, appeared to have a seizure last week. Since, continuous crying, doesn't seem to see very well (which vet put eye cream when we were there and seems to have affected eye sight). Normal urine output, is stooling, at times normal, other times runny and smells really bad. Vet can't see him again for 3 more days. I am seriously concerned. Parents did pull a tick off him several weeks ago. If infected wouldn't the labs shown that?

Disorientation Average Cost

From 67 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,500

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