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If your dog is suddenly acting strange,
falling over, rolling to one side, behaving not quite right, you may
want to consider that your dog has Vestibular disease. The sympoms are similar to that of a stroke, and prior to development in brain imaging
techniques, we often mistook Vestibular disease as being a stroke.
You will note that dogs can get strokes, but what we are talking
about here is something different than a stroke.
Vestibular disease is basically an
inner ear problem. The vestibular system being the name for the
inner ear and the nerves that run to the brain. Since balance is
controlled and regulated in the inner ear any problems with this area
will show as dizziness or balance problems. Vestibular disease is
You will want to note that the common
age of onset of Vestibular disease is after 10 years, but it can
occur in younger dogs as well.
Symptoms of Vestibular Disease
The dog may tilt its head to one side
Eyes tend to wander, often looking off
to the side
The dog may keep its eyes shut or blink
The dog may walk with a staggering
gait, even falling down to one side
Facial tics or twitching of the face
Paralysis of facial muscles
The dog may seem confused, drunk, or
The dog may loose interest in eating
Incontinence, or frequent urination
Causes of Vestibular Disease
Vestibular disease in dogs can have
many causes. Infection to the ear, or from the brain. Cancer,
poison, or even parasites in the ear. Immune diseases can contribute
to a dog developing this problem as can an under active thyroid.
Encephalitis can also bring on Vestibular disease. Sometimes we
simply do not know the cause of the problem, and occasionally it
starts, and stops, all on its own.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Vestibular
A veterinarian is required to diagnosis
vestibular disease and to make the distinction between it and a
stroke, or other problem. They may do a test of the Cerebrospinal
Fluid, which is fluid around the brain, and/or giving the pet an MRI.
Both tests may be costly to an owner. A thyroid test may be done as
well. Do not encourage the dog to “snap out of it” rather it is
best to keep the dog calm, and relaxed.
Once diagnosed, if the cause is
parasites (including ear mites), or infection, treatment for the
cause should be given immediately, however long term damage may have
already been done. As mentioned, sometimes vestibular disease
starts, and goes away all on its own, in these cases the dog may
still have a characteristic tilt to its head but other symptoms (such
as falling over) will have passed.
Focus is then placed on keeping the dog
safe, and comfortable. The dog may be given medication to deal with
the dizziness. Dogs should be taken for shorter walks, in safe
areas (not next to the road) and be kept on leash at all times. Care
should be taken in the home to prevent the dog from falling down
stairs; as such the dog should not be allowed to climb stairs or go
down them on their own, and stairways should be blocked off.
If the dog is unable to control its
urination, it may be fitted with a doggy diaper. If the dog has
problems eating it may need to be given a special, more pallet able,
Finally, if you own a dog with a
problem such as vestibular disease you must be sensitive; knowing how
you feel when going through a dizzy patch will help you understand
how your dog must feel. This condition is manageable with love and