Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs

Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Unintentional Eye Movement?

Unintentional eye movement in dogs is a condition in which the eyes of dogs seemingly dart around and quickly move from side to side or up and down. This condition is a direct result of several different conditions; hence it is more of a symptom than an illness.

When dogs exhibit symptoms of unintentional eye movement, or nystagmus, other symptoms can be shown as well. Dog owners tend to notice when their dog is suffering from nystagmus, as it is very obvious and can even be alarming. 

Dogs, as well as humans, have a vestibular system which is responsible for balance and spacial orientation. When a condition affects this system in dogs, symptoms occur such as unintentional eye movement. This is considered one of the main symptoms of a vestibular system abnormality, and your veterinarian will be quick to test the system that controls your dog’s sense of balance and orientation.

Unintentional eye movement in dogs, or nystagmus, is a symptom which is typically connected with an abnormal vestibular system. Nystagmus is characterized by eyes that dart from side to side or up and down.

Symptoms of Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs

  • Lack of coordination
  • Tilting of the head
  • Walking in a manner as if confused
  • Rolling of the eyes
  • Motion sickness
  • Jerking of the eyes in all directions
  • Falling
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness


Nystagmus caused by a vestibular disorder can also occur in older, or geriatric dogs. When an older dog has difficulty with his sense of balance or orientation spatially, his eyes can move unintentionally in different directions. This can cause an older dog to become anxious and scared. There are several types of natural therapies which can help calm an older dog when bouts of nystagmus occur. Be sure to always consult with your veterinarian before giving any natural supplements to your dog. Types include:

  • Amino acid L-theanine
  • Passionflower
  • Hops
  • Valerian
  • Chamomile
  • Skullcap
  • Tryptophan

Causes of Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs

There are several different causes of unintentional eye movement in dogs, and many of them are due to different underlying diseases. Causes of this condition include:

  • Inner or middle ear infection
  • Vestibular disease
  • Cancer of the brain
  • Cancer of the inner or middle ear
  • Polyps
  • Stroke
  • Medication side effects
  • Trauma to the head
  • Bleeding on the brain
  • Hypothyroidism

Diagnosis of Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs

If you are noticing your dog’s eyes are moving uncontrollably, make an immediate appointment with your veterinarian. Once you arrive, your veterinarian will closely observe his eyes and his behavior. He will take blood work, a urinalysis, and a biochemistry profile to get a better idea of what could be causing his nystagmus.

Once your medical professional conducts the laboratory testing, he may also perform a neurological examination on your dog. He will inquire about any medications your canine is taking and about his overall health and other diagnoses prior to your visit. He may also conduct imaging of the dog’s head to take a closer look at the inner and middle ears, perform an MRI to look for abnormalities such as tumors, and possibly order tests on the brainstem. A biopsy may need to be performed if tumors are found.

Treatment of Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs

If your dog has been diagnosed with nystagmus, the veterinarian’s treatment method will depend solely on the underlying cause of the unintentional eye movement. Treatment methods may include:

Supportive Therapy

Your dog may need to have fluids to help him rehydrate and replace any lost electrolytes. He may need to be hospitalized and monitored while the veterinarian is waiting on a conclusive diagnosis as to what is causing the nystagmus.

Sedatives and Medications

If your dog is confused, anxious, and scared due to his eye movement, your veterinarian may choose to sedate him to keep him calm while he is in the hospital for supportive care. He may also suggest a prescription you can give to your dog if you can take him home.

Treatment of Disease or Illness

Once your veterinarian knows what is causing the unintentional eye movement, he will begin to treat that specific disorder. He will let you know of your dog’s prognosis and what you will need to do at home once he is treated or if treatment will be long term.

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Recovery of Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs

The underlying disorder that your dog has will be the key to predicting his recovery. If your dog has something more mild, such as an ear infection, your veterinarian will tell you what you need to do in terms of his treatment and medication (antibiotics). For more serious diseases, he will explain to you his prognosis in detail and what you can do to manage the condition.

Your veterinarian may need to have follow-up appointments with your companion to monitor his progress and recovery. It will be very important to keep all appointments with your medical professional.

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