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What is Vestibular Disease?

The term vestibular refers to the inner ear organs of the body.  Vestibular disease in dogs is not a true “disease” as such but actually is a composite of various neurologic signs that occur as a result of a malfunction of some part of the vestibular system.  This system is responsible for the maintenance of balance and the coordination of position of the head, eyes, neck and limbs in space. It can be either peripheral (PVD) or central (CVD) in nature and can be the result of a vestibular lesion or other disease like hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) or hyperadrenocorticism (abnormal excessive presence of adrenocortical hormones, especially cortisol in the body).  Both types of this condition usually present with acute onset (suddenly) and a peripheral vestibular issue may follow a recent ear infection.

Vestibular disease is defined as the sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance.  It is also known as old vestibular syndrome and canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome. It is usually found more often in older dogs than in younger ones.

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Vestibular Disease Average Cost

From 396 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,000

Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

This condition will likely present suddenly and can be central or peripheral in nature.  The primary and most noted symptoms are:

  • Head tilt to one side or the other
  • Vestibular ataxia (lack of muscle control) often asymmetric (not equal on both sides)
  • Tight circling, falling or rolling
  • Spontaneous nystagmus (rapid involuntary eye movements)
  • Nausea and vomiting similar to that of motion sickness
  • Strabismus (misalignment of the eyes or the condition of having a squint)
  • Disorientation
  • Reluctance to walk or stand
  • Leaning or falling in the same direction as the head tilt    

The most likely symptoms that you will note in your pet in regard to CVD:

  • Depressed mental state in which the animal displays disorientation and poor interaction with other animals and humans
  • Postural defects like the loss of normal strength and proprioception (the sense of knowing where your joints are in space or body awareness)

The symptoms that will likely be most obvious to you, the owner, will be the head tilt and vestibular ataxia noted above.  Seek medical care as soon as possible when these symptoms are noted.

Types 

Vestibular disease is generally a condition that affects older dogs and is usually peripheral or central in nature.  There are several types: 

  • Peripheral vestibular disease (PVD) usually produces leaning in one direction and increased resting nystagmus - this type involves the ear and nerves

  • Central vestibular disease (CVD) usually produces a non-ambulatory animal with decreased resting nystagmus - this type involves the brain
  • Congenital peripheral or central vestibular disease is very rare in puppies

The dysfunction is more common in older dogs but can be secondary to a neoplastic lesion.  The head tilt and positional strabismus is pretty much equal in regard to the symptoms noted in your pet in both types of vestibular disease in dogs.

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Causes of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

There are a number of known or suspected causes of vestibular disease.  Some of these causes are more serious than others and will require some sort of medical assistance or intervention to resolve.

  • Middle ear or inner ear infections
  • Drugs that are toxic to the ear, for example Metronidazole
  • Trauma or injury
  • Tumors (neoplasia)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Vascular disease, for example, stroke - though a rare cause

Depending on the actual cause of the episode, after a fairly fast onset of the clinical signs mentioned above, there could be a period of relatively rapid improvement of those symptoms and signs with minimal if any medical intervention having been required.

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Diagnosis of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Diagnosing this disease will require a neurological examination by your local veterinarian.  He or she will need to determine if the vestibular issue is peripheral or central in nature.  Here is what he or she will be looking for in the physical neurological assessment:

  • CVD - Vestibular signs like body awareness on one side only, unilateral paresis (paralysis), altered mental status, cranial nerve deficits (especially those related to cranial nerve V and VII)

  • PVD - Vestibular signs like body awareness as above, normal strength, normal mental status, cranial nerve deficits (cranial nerve VII and Horner’s only)

There will likely need to be some diagnostic testing done as well:

  • MRI of ears and brain
  • CT scan and radiographs - ear infections are better seen and assessed via these imaging methods

  • Blood pressure testing
  • CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) analysis to help in the determination of the presence of inflammatory or infectious disease
  • Testing for viruses versus protozoa
  • Myringotomy (surgical infusion into the ear drum to relieve pressure or drain fluid) for middle ear infections
  • BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) to evaluate the hearing channels and pathways which are in close proximity to the vestibular pathways
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Treatment of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

The treatment of vestibular disease in dogs is twofold:

The underlying or root cause of the disease needs to be determined and treated. Your veterinarian will need to identify the possible cause so that she can develop a treatment plan. 

Supportive care comes into play as well in the form of things like:

  • Intravenous fluids if your dog is dehydrated
  • Anti nausea medication to prevent or limit vomiting
  • The administration of a medication called propentofylline to hasten the brain’s natural ability to compensate after any unilateral vestibular damage occurs
  • Close monitoring of your pet during treatment
  • Antioxidants and essential fatty acids to assist the body’s healing powers
  • Quiet environment if the nystagmus persists or if it goes away and then returns
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Recovery of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Research has revealed that there is some experimental benefit to be gained from the use of the medication propentofylline in rats as it has shown some increasing of the speed at which the brain is able to compensate after unilateral vestibular damage.  If this medication option is utilized, then it will, of course, require close monitoring of your pet during treatment.

Additionally, the nystagmus can make an occasional return suddenly and last for a brief period of time.  If your pet experiences this symptom reappearance, you should keep your pet in a quiet environment during that period of time and you should monitor him closely.  If the nystagmus persists, then your veterinarian will need to re-examine and re-investigate the physical condition of your companion. Depending on the cause and the type of vestibular disease identified, the end result could be permanent damage in which your beloved family pet displays a permanent head tilt, balance issues, and disorientation. There may be adjustments needed in the home environment and by the family to deal with any permanent physical or neurological damage following vestibular disease, in order to keep him safe.

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Vestibular Disease Average Cost

From 396 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,000

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Vestibular Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Ask a Vet

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Pistol

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Staffordshire Bull Terrier

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12 Years

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

Fair severity

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1 found helpful

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

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt
Vomiting
Off Balance
Stumbling

This morning around 430am I heard my dog start to vomit. He fell a short distance. Very unsteady on his feet. Reluctant to walk/stand. Rushed to ER vet in fear of stroke. No eye movement. Still within the first 24 hours. His regular vet is on vacation. Seems to be improving, lots of rest and good appetite. Fear of something worse going on.

Sept. 7, 2018

Pistol's Owner

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Sandra

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cross

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2 Years

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

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Nystagmus
Falling Over
Eye Movement
Instability

Since we rescued Sandra at 1 year old she would randomly hold her head to the side and stumble around for very short periods of time. The frequency remains but the severity is getting worse. She drops to the ground now with her head on one side and when I support her head I see her left eye displaying nystagmus. This can last 10 seconds to 1 minute then she’s back to normal frantically zipping around with no lasting effects. Obviously this cannot be old dog vestibular disease but could it be congenital vestibular disease? She eats fine, exercises fine but has these little moments. I must say that the moments do mostly tend to occur when she is excited. What could this be and is there any treatments for her?

Aug. 31, 2018

Sandra's Owner

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Vestibular Disease Average Cost

From 396 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,000

Average Cost

$1,000

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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