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What are Nystagmus?

Nystagmus is a rapid, involuntary movement of the eyes. It may appear as though the dogs’ eyes are bouncing up and down in their sockets or moving rapidly back and forth without focusing. This can be characteristic of either a peripheral vestibular disease involving the trauma or inflammation of the inner and middle ear, or central vestibular disease that affects parts of the system located near the brain stem. Dogs can also develop vestibular issues due to advanced age (idiopathic vestibular syndrome) or be born with a physical defect that results in congenital vestibular disease. The peripheral form of the disease is most common, and once the underlying cause is determined, it can usually be cleared up within a few weeks. Central vestibular disease is rare, but due to the prevalence of brain damage, the prognosis for recovery is poor.

An unintentional eye movement, or nystagmus, is most often a symptom of an underlying vestibular disease. The vestibular system includes the inner ear organs, and is responsible for balance and spatial awareness in most animals, including humans. Vestibular diseases occur when nerve messages to the brain are disrupted by irritation of the nerves from the inner ear.

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Nystagmus Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,500

Average Cost

$1,800

Symptoms of Nystagmus in Dogs

  • Falling
  • Lack of coordination
  • Head tilt
  • Walking in circles
  • Rolling
  • Eyes jerking side to side or up and down
  • Stumbling
  • Disorientation
  • Motion sickness
Types
  • Peripheral Vestibular Disease
    • Peripheral Vestibular Disease is the most common form of this affliction, affecting the inner and middle ear. Once the cause is determined, it can usually be cleared up in a matter of weeks.
  • Central Vestibular Disease
    • Central Vestibular Disease is the rarest and most life-threatening of these disorders. The central vestibular organs are located at the base of the brain stem and conditions that cause this form of the disease are much more catastrophic.
  • Congenital Vestibular Disease
    • Puppies who are born with a congenital vestibular disease usually show signs between birth and three months. Prognosis is positive, however, since the dog will likely adapt to the problem and compensate for it naturally. Several breeds have a predisposition for this kind of congenital issue including Doberman, German Shepherd, Beagle, Smooth Fox Terrier, Tibetan Terrier, English Cocker Spaniel, and Akita.
  • Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome, also called Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome
    • Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome occurs in older dogs, and usually come on rapidly with no discernable cause then resolves itself just as mysteriously. Because of the alarming symptoms, it can sometimes be mistaken for a stroke.
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Causes of Nystagmus in Dogs

Peripheral vestibular disease can be caused by many factors: middle or inner ear infections, perforated eardrum, head trauma, hypothyroidism, stroke, polyps, tumors or as a side affect from medication. Central vestibular disease can be caused by a chronic inflammatory disease, infection, bleeding on the brain, trauma, impaired blood flow, or cancer.

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Diagnosis of Nystagmus in Dogs

Your veterinarian will conduct a physical and neurological exam and need the animal’s complete medical history including any medications the dog may be taking. They will use and otoscope to exam the dog’s eardrum for signs of irritation or perforation. They will take blood and urine samples for culture and microscopic examination to determine if an infection is present and what kind. They may need to x-ray your dogs’ head to look at the structure of the vestibular system. If tumors or polyps are found, the veterinarian may need to perform a surgical biopsy. An MRI or CT scan could be necessary to rule out tumors, bleeding or other brain-stem abnormalities.

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Treatment of Nystagmus in Dogs

Determining a course of treatment will really depend on identifying the underlying cause. If your veterinarian suspects a medication side effect is causing the issue, they may take the animal off that drug and see if symptoms clear up in a few days. If it’s caused by an infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. If it’s a case of hypothyroidism, management of the metabolic condition should resolve the vestibular issue. Surgery will be needed if polyps or tumors are present. Cancerous tumors of the central vestibular organs can cause devastating brain stem damage, and are often fatal.

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Recovery of Nystagmus in Dogs

During recovery, your veterinarian may also prescribe medications to alleviate symptoms of the vestibular disease. Your dog may need motion sickness medications for vomiting and nausea, and even sedatives for a dog that is severely disoriented. If your dog is dehydrated due to vomiting, it may be necessary for them to stay a night or two in the hospital receiving fluids until the symptoms start to dissipate, and they can eat and drink normally again. If the dog is overwhelmed by dizziness, they may be reluctant to walk and will need to be carried indoors and outside for bathroom breaks. As long as the underlying cause of the vestibular disease is identified and treatable, your dog should recover fully within a couple of weeks.

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Nystagmus Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,500

Average Cost

$1,800

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Nystagmus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Cody

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Pug

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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8 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Nystagmus, Stumbling

I have a 13 year old Pug that has had nystagmus before, however, it has become more and more frequent – almost once a week. The first time was a little over a year ago, then it happened again about 2 months ago and it's been on and off each week since then. He's been to the vet for the first instance and stayed overnight at the vet on the second instance. All of his blood work was clear with no signs of organ issues or ear infection. He's not getting sick and still has an appetite but is a bit aggressive when it comes to eating now. I've been giving him the motion sickness meds too. I remember the first few instances where his eyes shifted horizontally, but now it's always vertical or diagonal. Is it common for nystagmus and vestibular issues to happen this often? Does the direction of the nystagmus identify anything? Everyone says that this should pass after a few weeks, and thats how long it took for him to recover from the first instance last year, but lately it's been happening too often with recovery within 1-2 days. Any suggestions or diagnosis based on the info above?

July 20, 2018

Cody's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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8 Recommendations

I'm sorry that Cody is having that problem. The direction and frequency of the nystagmus can be significant, yes. Horizontal nystagmus can be caused by vestibula disease, and often will resolve on its own over time. Vertical nystagmus can be a little more serious, and can sometimes indicate something going on in the brain. The increasing frequency is worrisome. If you are able to get an MRI done, that may give you a better idea as to what is causing this problem for him, and any treatment options that might be available.

July 20, 2018

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Slingshot

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Pekingese

dog-age-icon

14 Years

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

Moderate severity

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2 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt
Head Tilt Eyes Rapidly Moving

So slingshot has his head tilt to the side he's kind of looking up into the air he's eyes are moving rapidly he's blinking a lot he has really bad balance he has been on medicine for seizures since August of 2017

June 20, 2018

Slingshot's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Dogs sometimes develop vestibular disease, and it can be related to a problem with the ears, or the brain. If this is a new occurrence, it would be best to have him examined by your veterinarian today to see what is going on, and what treatment he may need. I hope that all goes well for him.

June 21, 2018

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Nystagmus Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,500

Average Cost

$1,800

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