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What is Vertigo?

Canine vertigo is more commonly known by the medical term of vestibular disease. The vestibular system is the system that is responsible for an animal’s sense of balance and when this system is disrupted it can cause a severe loss of coordination and a characteristic head tilt. Diseases and disorders affecting either the brain or the inner structure of the ear can be responsible for the disorder developing. In most cases, this disorder is short-lived and relatively benign; however, the involvement of the central nervous system can negatively impact the outcome.

Canine vertigo, or vestibular disease, can cause loss of coordination, nausea, and a characteristic head tilt in affected animals. Triggers for this disorder can range from ear infections to stroke.

Symptoms of Vertigo in Dogs

The symptoms of canine vertigo are similar regardless of the cause, although the eye movements may be more frequent and more pronounced in central vestibular disease and loss of coordination may be more profound. Signs that your dog is experiencing vertigo can include:

  • Circling
  • Falling
  • Head tilt
  • Leaning
  • Loss of coordination
  • Rhythmic movement of the eyeballs 
  • Vomiting

Types

The vestibular system is the system that is responsible for helping your companion keep their sense of balance. There are two parts to the vestibular system that work together, the peripheral and the central. 

Peripheral

- This portion of the vestibular system is located mainly in the ear of the animal, and can become compromised due to things like infections, growths, or reactions to certain medications; most vertigo in dogs is peripherally based 

Central

- Vertigo with a central nervous system foundation is rarer, and can be more severe and often harder to treat; central nervous system involvement can indicate serious conditions such as brain tumors, bleeding in the brain itself, and inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system

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Causes of Vertigo in Dogs

There are a number of circumstances that can cause an animal to experience vertigo and the triggers of peripheral vestibular disease differ from the conditions that initiate the development of central vestibular disease. 

Peripheral vestibular disease can be caused by:

  • Ear infections
  • Infection or inflammation of the cranial nerve
  • Injury to the ear or head
  • Polyps
  • Punctures to the eardrum
  • Reaction to antibiotics

Central vestibular disease can be caused by:

  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Brain tumor
  • Fungal infections of the brain stem
  • Infection or inflammatory disease

Incidents of both peripheral and central vestibular disease tend to increase as canines age, giving this disease the alternate name of “old dog vestibular disease.”

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Diagnosis of Vertigo in Dogs

Although this disorder can be relatively benign, it can also be caused by more dangerous disorders such as bleeding in the brain, cancers, and stroke, so a consultation with your dog’s doctor is a good idea. Your visit to the veterinarian is likely to start with a general physical examination. The doctor making the evaluation will most likely include an ear exam as well as neurological tests to try and clarify the origin of the disorder. A complete history of the animal will also be requested as certain medications and some allergic reactions can mimic the symptoms of vestibular disorders.

If the condition is suspected to have central nervous system involvement, the use of an MRI or CT scan may be used in order to get a clearer picture of the structure of the brain itself and X-rays will help to determine if there are any issues with the bony structures in the ear that may be affecting the animal. Standard blood tests such as a biochemical profile and complete blood count can also help to expose any infections or imbalances that may be contributing to the problem.

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Treatment of Vertigo in Dogs

The treatment of this disorder is dependent on the underlying cause of the vertigo. One of the most common causes of peripheral vestibular disease is an inner ear infection. In these cases, a course of antibiotics will be used to eradicate the infection, and if your companion is experiencing nausea or anxiety, antinausea drugs, motion sickness medications and sedatives may also be prescribed to help keep the patient as comfortable as possible during the ordeal. If the disruption to the vestibular system is caused by any tumors, polyps, or other growths, then these obstacles will also need to be removed surgically before the symptoms will be alleviated.

If there are any medications or drugs that are suspected as the root cause of the disorder, those medications will also be ceased in order to return balance to the dog. Naturopathic veterinarians may also recommend herbs like chamomile, valerian root, and passionflower to help calm the patient, although you should consult a veterinary professional before administering any medications or supplements to your pets to avoid any complications.

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Recovery of Vertigo in Dogs

The prognosis for dogs who are affected by vertigo is excellent in all but the most severe cases. Typically, the elimination of the underlying cause also eliminates the disorder itself, although the involvement of the central nervous system may negatively impact this prognosis. Although this disorder is rarely painful, it is disorienting for the animal, and their environment should be kept calm and quiet during their recovery period, which can range from two to three days to a few weeks, depending on how the disorder originated. Patients may have difficulty moving easily so ensuring that their food and water are easy to reach can be a crucial component to their recovery.

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Vertigo Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Golden Retriever

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Fourteen Years

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Unknown severity

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3 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Vertigo

My dog has been diagnosed with vertigo for the second time this year. She was prescribed antibiotics and is recovering. Are there any homeopathic treatments to cure or prevent this from happening?

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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3 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Whether there are any treatments depends on the source of the problem, really. Some dogs have what's called geriatric vestibular disease, and sometimes an anti-nausea medication will help with that. If there is another reason for the vertigo, there may be other treatments. Since I don't know more about your dog or what is causing the problem, I think it would be best to ask your veterinarian is there any prevention or treatments that you could consider. I hope that all goes well with your dog.

Sept. 29, 2020

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Pitbull

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Dizziness

I have a pitbull and since 1 week ago it has dizziness we dont have good doctors here we want to know what medicene we should use for it. No vomitting. No head tilting. It is a normal dog. But since a week ago it began you stumbling sometimes and sometimes fall down.

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. With out seeing your dog, I do not know why this might be happening. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 20, 2020

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Jindo

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Thirteen Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt

Will my dogs head keep tilting after medication?

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, without knowing what medication or what was wrong with your dog, it is hard for me to say if the head tilt will remain. There are many causes for head tilts, including ear infections, vestibular disease, or Strokes, so the best thing to do would probably be to call your veterinarian and ask if they expect a recovery or not. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

Aug. 7, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Thirteen Years

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Showing Vertigo Symptoms

Hi, I noticed my dog showing unusual behavior up during our afternoon walk a few days ago. She froze up mid walk, fell over head first. After picking her up i noticed her head tilting forward and she took a few minutes to regain herself after took her back inside. She is prescribed lasix which I know is a diuretic, and after looking up side effects of the medication, I thought she may have low electrolytes. I have been giving her homemade electrolyte water at home ever since and she does show signs of improvement but I notice she seems dizzy sometimes, which led me here.

July 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question Lasix can cause potassium to be depleted from the system, which can result in neurologic or muscular problems. If she has been on that medication for a while, having her electrolytes check with your veterinarian would be a good idea. They will also be able to examine her to make sure that nothing else is going on. I hope that all goes well for her.

July 29, 2020

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Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Sudden Onset Head Droop, Tail Droop, Staggering Gait Tending To A Circe. Will Respond To Me By Looking At Me. No Nystagmus, Vomiting, Diarrhea. Lasts About 5 Minutes, Then Normal. No Obvious Post-Ictal State. May Occur Daily Or Once A Month.

I question vertigo, the vet, after watching a video, didn’t know. Suggested trial of Keppra. I’m a neurologist and it doesn’t look like a seizure to me.

July 10, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, YOur dog may have vertigo and this may not be a seizure. Did your vet discuss CT with you or a referral to a veterinary neurologist? They can run the more advanced test than a normal vet can to figure out what is causing these issues. I hope your dog starts to improve soon.

July 10, 2020

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Tucker

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Standard Poodle

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16 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Balance, Head Tilt

September of 2019, Tucker had his first episode of vestibular disease. We thought he'd had a stroke and would have to be euthanized, but a trip to the ER Vet gave us the vestibular diagnosis. They gave him a shot of anti-naseau drug and one anti-naseau pill, and said give it a couple of days. In that time he bounced back, but within a couple of days after that, had another episode - fortunately short-lived. Tucker will be 16 in April - so he's no spring chicken and we chose not to put him through a bunch of costly neurological tests. He had an episode 1-2 months after the initial bout - but it started in the morning and by the end of day, was fine. Currently, he is experiencing another episode - this one worse and lasting since early Saturday a.m. I picked up anti-naseau medication from my vet - but he is eating and drinking. His balance is awful though with a severe head tilt. I am able to take him outside, using a harness to help hold him up when he stumbles, and he is urinating and defecating. My question is, is it common for these episodes to reoccur or is this an odd case? And is there anything I can get from my vet to help with the dizziness?

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Max

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Mastiff

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4 Days

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt
Loss Of Balance
Red Eye
Spinning In Circles
Not Moving

Started with chronic ear infections. Then was diagnosed with megaesophagus and aspiration pneumonia and hospitalized for a week. Recovered now after 3 months of antibiotic and anti nausea meds. Started losing balance a week or so ago, got home from work and he was spinning in a tight circle and collapsed. Rushed to vet who advised I go see a neurologist after initial review. Neurologist stated signs all point to vestibular/vertigo, continued on antibiotics and steroids now for a week and has gotten so much worse. Used to be able to walk outside with help/support, but can barely get off floor without falling over. Saving grace is that he eats and drinks by hand feeding. Dictor said he may need surgery which requires a MRI to verify infection or tumor. Devastated because we just spent $8k battling the megaesophagus and have no way of paying for this if he doesnt get better. Did anyone else's dog get worse before they got better?

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Bella

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Labrador Retriever

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking
Circling
Poor Appetite
Anxiety
Falling Over
Eye Twitch

I thought she was going to die. Every time she tried to stand up, she’d immediately fall down. She was drooling like I’d never seen before. I could tell she was panicking by the look in her eyes. I thought she had eaten something it was bitten. I raced her to the vet and found out about dog vertigo. I was relieved to find out it’s not as serious as it looks. We are on day 2 and she’s able to stand longer and go potty on her own. I just wish I could get her to eat something other than “cookies” and I’m hoping she improves in the morning.

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Gizmo

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Shih Tzu

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14 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking Head
Walking In Circles
Uncoordinated
Unbalanced
Trouble See

My dog was perfectly healthy until about 2 months ago, i found him outside flaying his limbs, blood shot eye, drooling, & panting. Doctors say it wasnt a seizure. Something was wrong with his balance. He finally came back home, bed ridden, & diagnosed w/ inner ear infection or stroke or brain tumor. Since then, he has improved a lot, but still loses balance, he can see but not well, it’s mainly a lack of depth perception & his pupils still don’t react to light. Why since this episode, he’s having neurological problems? He was perfectly fine. Neurologist ruled out brain tumor bc of his improvement but another vet thinks it’s a tumor. Im so scared for my baby, I want him back to normal. If he had a stroke should he have already recovered? He’s been taking antibiotics for the possible ear infection. What’s your opinion on this?

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Chiquita

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Chihuahua

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Tired
Always Walking In Circles
Walking In Circles, Loss Of Apetite
Suspect Trouble Seeing

My grandmother owns a dog named Chiquita. She resides in Mexico so you cant get veterinary treatment easily unless you drive out of town. According to my grandmas description. Chiquita doesnt want to drink any water but she will eat milk soaked dog food. She will spend most of her day spinning in circles. My grandma thinks she might not be able to see very well or hear either. She isnt very coordinated anymore. I got her when she was 2 Months old and gave her to my grandma when she was 6 months old. She hasnt had any problems before.. what are a few home remedies my grandmother can try before going in to the vet. This has been happening about 3-4 weeks

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