Canine vestibular syndrome: treatment, symptoms and diagnosis


If you’ve ever seen a dog with its head bent, falling easily, or going around in circles, you probably thought it had no balance and was dizzy, and you did it right!

When a dog has these and other symptoms, it suffers from what is known as vestibular syndrome, a condition that affects the eponymous system. Do you know what this system is and what it is for? Do you know how this syndrome affects dogs?

If you are interested in knowing all this and more, keep reading this article from the Animal Expert, as we will explain what is vestibular syndrome in dogs , its causes, how to identify symptoms and what to do about it.

Vestibular syndrome: what is it

The vestibular system is one that gives dogs balance and spatial orientation so they can move. In this system they work together: the inner ear, the vestibular nerve (serves as a link between the inner ear and the central nervous system), the vestibular nucleus and the posterior and anterior middle tract (which are parts of the central nervous system) and yet the muscles of the eyeball. All of these dog body parts are connected and involved in the task of making the animal move and orientate smoothly. Therefore, this system prevents the loss of balance, falls and vertigo in animals. It is precisely when some parts or connections fail that the vestibular syndrome occurs.

Vestibular syndrome is a symptom that some part of the vestibular system does not work well. So when we detect it, we will soon suspect that the dog has some pathology related to the vestibular system that causes loss of balance, among other things.

The disease can manifest itself in one or more ways. We can differentiate peripheral vestibular syndrome in dogs , which arises from the peripheral nervous system, also known as the external central nervous system, and is caused by some disorder affecting the inner ear. We can also detect it in its form known as central vestibular syndrome.therefore, its origin occurs in the central nervous system. The latter is more severe than the peripheral form, but fortunately it is much less common. In addition, there is a third option of occurrence of this syndrome. When we cannot identify the origin of the vestibular syndrome, we come across the idiopathic form of the disease. In this case, there is no specific origin and the symptoms develop suddenly. It can disappear in a few weeks without knowing the cause or it can last a long time and the dog will have to adapt. This last form is the most common.

Generally, peripheral vestibular syndrome presents rapid improvement and recovery. If the cause is treated early and well, it will not allow the disease to go on for long. On the other hand, the central form is more difficult to solve and sometimes cannot be remedied. Obviously, the idiopathic form cannot be resolved without proper treatment, as the cause of the syndrome is unknown. In this case, we should help the dog adjust to his new condition and lead the best life possible while the syndrome lasts.

Vestibular syndrome can occur in dogs of any age . This condition may be present since the dog’s birth, so it will be congenital. Congenital vestibular syndrome begins to be seen between birth and three months of life. These are the races most likely to suffer from this problem:

  • German Shepherd
  • Doberman
  • Akita Inu and American Akita
  • Cocker Spaniel English
  • Beagle
  • Smooth Fox Terrier

However, this syndrome is more common in older dogs and is known as canine geriatric vestibular syndrome.

Canine vestibular syndrome: symptoms and causes

The causes of vestibular syndrome are diverse . In its peripheral form, the most common causes are otitis, chronic ear infections, recurrent infections of the inner and middle ear, excessive cleaning that irritates the area and may even puncture a tympanic membrane, among others. If we talk about the central form of the disease, the causes will be other conditions or diseases such as toxoplasmosis, distemper , hypothyroidism, internal bleeding, trauma to a brain injury, stroke, polyps, meningoencephalitis or tumors. In addition, this more severe condition of the vestibular syndrome may be caused by certain medications such as aminoglycoside antibiotics, amikacin, gentamicin, neomycin and tobramycin.

The following are the most common canine vestibular syndrome symptoms :

  • Disorientation;
  • Twisted or inclined head;
  • Loss of balance, falls easily;
  • Walk in circles;
  • Difficulty eating and drinking;
  • Difficulty urinating and defecating;
  • Involuntary eye movements;
  • Dizziness, dizziness and nausea;
  • Excessive saliva and vomiting;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Irritation in the nerves of the inner ear.

These symptoms may come on suddenly or appear little by little as the condition progresses. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is very important to act quickly and get the dog to a trusted veterinarian as soon as possible to identify the cause of the vestibular syndrome and treat it.

Canine vestibular syndrome: diagnosis

As we have commented, it is vitally important to take our pet to the vet as soon as we begin to detect any of the symptoms described above. Once there, the specialist will perform a general physical examination of the dog and perform some specific tests to check the balance , whether it walks in circles or to know which way it tilts its head, as this will usually be the side of the affected ear.

The ear should be observed both externally and internally. If these tests cannot be safely diagnosed, other tests such as x-rays, blood tests, cytologies, cultures, among many others can help to find the diagnosis or at least eliminate the possibilities. In addition, if suspected to be the central form of the disease, the vet may order CT, MRI, biopsy, etc. As we said before, there are cases where it is not possible to identify the origin of the balance change.

As soon as the specialist detects the cause and can tell if it is a peripheral or central vestibular syndrome, appropriate treatment should be started as soon as possible and always under the supervision and periodic monitoring of the provider.

Canine vestibular syndrome: treatment

The treatment for this condition will depend completely on how it manifests and what the symptoms are . It is vital that, in addition to the main cause of the problem, secondary symptoms are treated to help the dog go through the process as well as possible. In the case of peripheral vestibular syndrome, as already mentioned, it is likely to be caused by otitis or chronic ear infection. For this reason, the most common treatment will be for ear infections, irritations and difficult hearing infections. If we find ourselves with the central form of the disease, it also depends on the specific cause that causes it. For example, if it is hypothyroidism, the dog should be treated with the indicated supplementation for hypothyroidism. If it is a tumor, the possibilities of operating it should be evaluated.

In all the cases mentioned above as possible causes of the disease, if treated as soon as possible, we will see how the main problem resolves or stabilizes and the vestibular syndrome will also correct until it disappears.

When it comes to the idiopathic form of the disease, as the cause is not known, it is not possible to treat the main problem or vestibular syndrome. However, we must think that while it may last a long time when it is an idiopathic case, it is quite likely to disappear after a few weeks. So while we decide to continue testing more to try to find some cause, sooner or later, we should focus on making our furry companion’s life easier during the process .

How to help your dog feel better

While the treatment lasts or if the cause is not found, our dog needs to get used to living with the disease for a while and it will be our responsibility to help you feel better and make your life easier.during this period. To do this, it is necessary to try to free the areas of the house where the dog is normally, to separate the furniture because the animals often strike against them because of their disorientation, to help them eat and drink, giving them food by hand. and bringing the drinking fountain to his mouth, or giving him water with the aid of a syringe straight into his mouth. You also need to help him lie down, get up or move around. Often it will be necessary to assist you in defecating and urinating. It is vitally important to calm him down with our voice by caressing and stroking natural and homeopathic remedies, since from the first moment our furry friend begins to feel dizzy, disorientated, etc., he will be suffering from stress.

This will gradually improve until the day the cause is known and the vestibular syndrome disappears. If it is lasting by following all the above recommendations, we will be helping the animal to get used to its new condition and gradually we will notice that it begins to feel better and will be able to lead a normal life . In addition, if the syndrome is congenital, puppies that grow up with this condition will usually quickly get used to this reality that surrounds them leading a perfectly normal life.