- “Vestibular” relates to perception — When used to describe a system or disease, vestibular means something has affected the ability to perceive position and movement.
- Some dogs are more susceptible to vestibular disease — Doberman pinschers and German shepherds are especially prone to developing vestibular disease. It is also commonly seen in older dogs of all breeds.
- Vestibular disease does not always have an underlying cause — As frustrating as that sounds, some cases have no diagnosable cause. These cases are called idiopathic vestibular disease .
What are the symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs?
Whether there is an underlying cause or not, vestibular disease presents in generally the same way for most dogs. If your dog is suddenly displaying any of the following behaviors, contact your vet to discuss possible conditions.
Causes of canine vestibular disease
The vestibular system controls balance, among other things. It’s a major sensory system located in the inner and middle ear. Because of this, conditions that affect the ear can cause vestibular disease. Ear infections, perforated eardrums, tumors, recent trauma, hypothyroidism , or even antibiotics are all common causes.
Sometimes, vestibular disease has no underlying cause. This is called idiopathic vestibular disease, or canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome. In some instances, the symptoms associated with vestibular disease can be a sign of a more serious issue like tumors or neurological disorders. This is why it’s important to talk with your vet as soon as you notice any of the above symptoms.
👉 It’s important to note that there’s a difference between central and peripheral vestibular disease in dogs. This article deals with peripheral vestibular disease which is non-fatal and non-progressive. A general overview of the more serious central vestibular disease can be found here.
Diagnosing and treating vestibular disease
Peripheral vestibular disease is non-fatal and usually clears up on its own after a few weeks with little to no medical intervention. However, diagnosis by a veterinarian is still an important step in the recovery process.
Your dog’s age, medical history, and the results of blood and urine tests will be factors in an official diagnosis. They’ll also look for underlying causes such as ear infections, perforated eardrums, or other visible trauma. Your dog may need more diagnostic testing in the form of X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, or other forms of testing.
If an underlying cause for your dog’s case of vestibular disease can be found, treatment will be aimed at resolving it. For instance, if a blood test reveals that your dog has hypothyroidism, medication will be prescribed and you should see the signs of vestibular disease subside in a few weeks.
🚨If after three weeks, your dog is still showing signs of vestibular disease, contact your veterinarian ASAP.
How to help dogs with vestibular disease
The good news is that most cases of vestibular disease (with the exception of central vestibular syndrome) are neither painful nor progressive. But that doesn’t mean your dog won’t experience discomfort while they’re recovering. The disease is most severe in the first 24 to 48 hours. During this time, your dog might suffer from nausea, vomiting, extreme disorientation, and an inability to eat or drink.
Keep your floors clear of obstacles and give your pup a comfortable place to rest. Your vet can prescribe anti-nausea medicine to help with motion sickness or even intravenous fluids for severe cases of dehydration . Most dogs make a complete recovery within two to three weeks. Over the course of those weeks, you’ll notice the head tilt and imbalance issues subside, although some dogs will have a slight head tilt or wobble in their walk for life.
For ongoing support for your dog’s vitality, consider supplementing their diet with a nutritional therapeutic like ZipZyme™ Omega. Sourced from all-natural ocean algae, ZipZyme™ is an easy and effective way to help address and prevent further issues down the line including loss of mobility and cognitive decline. ZipZyme™ is a direct source of DHA, the most important type of omega-3 fatty acid, fats that are essential to a dog’s health.
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Frequently asked questions
How long can dogs live with vestibular disease?
Thankfully, vestibular disease is usually not fatal, even in older dogs. In most cases, your dog’s life expectancy will not be affected.
What triggers vestibular balance disorders in dogs?
Almost any condition that affects the middle or inner ear can trigger vestibular balance disorders in dogs. This is because balance is controlled by the sensory system that is located in the ear. Ear infections, perforated eardrums, trauma, tumors, hypothyroidism, reactions to ear medication (ototoxicity), or side effects from antibiotic use are all common causes of vestibular balance disorders.
Can senior dogs recover from vestibular disease?
Senior dogs are more prone to vestibular disease. This is often referred to as old dog vestibular disease or canine idiopathic vestibular disease. But their recovery looks just like that of younger dogs. Symptoms arise suddenly, worsen over 24–48 hours, then begin to subside within three weeks. Most older dogs will have no residual issues after recovering from vestibular disease.
Can vestibular disease in dogs get worse?
After the initial 24–48 hours, the condition should improve, not worsen. Allow your vet to do a full diagnostic evaluation if you suspect your dog has vestibular disease. There could be other more serious conditions that mimic the symptoms of vestibular disease such as sensory or cerebellar ataxia.
Can my dog get vestibular disease more than once?
It’s uncommon for dogs to experience vestibular disease more than once in their lifetime. If your dog has had and recovered from vestibular disease but you notice some of the same symptoms, it’s likely another issue is present. Make an appointment with your vet to diagnose the problem.