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:
- Head tilt
- Loss of coordination
- Rhythmic movement of the eyeballs
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
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 a cranial nerve
- Injury to the ear or head
- 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
We should also be aware of 'idiopathic' or “old dog vestibular disease”, which is vestibular disease that occurs in older dogs for no obvious reason. Attacks can be severe and come on suddenly but usually resolve within a few days with only supportive care needed.
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 and cancer 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.
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 lesions 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.
Vertigo Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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