Vestibular syndrome in dogs: symptoms and treatment


You may have seen a dog with a crooked head, who walks in circles or who falls very easily. You probably thought that he lacked balance and that he was surely dizzy and indeed, you were right.

When a dog presents these symptoms, among others, he suffers from what is known as the vestibular syndrome, which affects the system that bears the same name. Do you know what this system is and what it is for? Do you know how your syndrome affects dogs?

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

What is vestibular system syndrome?

The vestibular system is what gives balance and spatial orientation to the dogs to be able to move. In this system they work together: the inner ear, the cochlear vestibule nerve (it serves as a connection between the inner ear and the central nervous system), the vestibular nucleus and the anterior and posterior middle tract (they are parts of the central nervous system) and the muscles of the eyeball. All these parts of a dog's body are connected and involved in the task of facilitating the animal to move and orient itself without problems. Therefore, this system allows to avoid the loss of balance, dizziness and falls to animals. It is precisely when any of these parts or connections fails, that vestibular syndrome occurs.

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

There is more than one way in which this disease can occur. We can differentiate the peripheral form of this syndrome, which arises from the peripheral nervous system, also known as the external central nervous system, and is caused by a disorder that is affecting the inner ear. We can also detect it in its form known as central vestibular disease or syndrome. This last manifestation of vestibular disease in dogs is more serious than the peripheral form but, of course, is much less common. It is known as central because its origin occurs in the central nervous system. In addition, there is a third option in the way this syndrome can occur. When we cannot identify the origin of the vestibular syndrome, then we will face the idiopathic form of the syndrome. In this case, there is no clear cause and the symptoms develop very suddenly. It may take a long time and the dog has to get used to it or disappear in a few weeks without knowing the cause, luckily, the latter is the most common.

In most cases, the peripheral form presents arapid improvement and recovery if the cause of this is treated soon and well and is not allowed to move forward for a long time In contrast, the central form is more difficult to solve and sometimes cannot be remedied. Obviously, the idiopathic form cannot be solved with any treatment since the cause of the syndrome is not known, so we must help the dog adapt to its new condition so that it leads the best possible life for the duration of the syndrome.

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

But, really, it is more frequent that this syndrome occurs in elderly dogs. Then it is known as geriatric vestibular syndrome.

Causes and symptoms of vestibular syndrome in dogs

The causes of vestibular syndrome are very diverse. When we talk about the peripheral form, the most common causes are otitis, chronic ear infections, recurrent infections of the inner and middle ear, cleaning of the excess ears that greatly irritates the area and can even perforate an eardrum , among other possible causes. If we deal with the central form of the disease, the causes are other conditions or major diseases such as toxoplasmosis, distemper, hypothyroidism, internal bleeding, trauma of a brain injury, stroke, polyps, meningoencephalitis or even tumors. In addition, this form of the most serious vestibular syndrome, there are certain medications that can cause it such as aminoglycoside antibiotics, amikacin, gentamicin, neomycin and tobramycin.

Next, the most common symptoms in vestibular syndrome in dogs:

  • Disorientation
  • Head twisted or tilted
  • Loss of balance, fall easily
  • Walk in circles
  • Difficulty eating and drinking
  • Difficulty urinating and defecating
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Dizziness, dizziness and nausea
  • Excessive drooling and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritation to the nerves of the inner ear

These symptoms may appear suddenly or may gradually show up as the condition progresses. In case of detecting any of these symptoms it is very important that let's act fast and take our furry to our trusted veterinarian, to identify as soon as possible the cause of the vestibular syndrome and act.

Diagnosis of vestibular syndrome

As we have just commented, it is vitally important that as soon as we begin to detect any of the symptoms described above, we go to the vet with our furry. Once there, the specialist will make you a general physical examination of the dog and will perform some specific tests to check the balance, which side tilts the head or walks in circles because, normally, that will be the side of the affected ear. The ear should be observed both externally and internally and, especially if with these previous tests the safe diagnosis cannot be given, other tests such as radiographs, blood tests, cytologies, cultures, among many others that can help to find the problem or, at least, to eliminate possibilities. In addition, if it is suspected that it may be the central form of the disease, the veterinarian may require tomography, MRI, biopsy, etc. Likewise, as we have said before, there are times when it is not possible to identify the cause of the balance condition.

As soon as the professional 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 professional.

Treatments for vestibular syndrome in dogs

The treatment for this condition it will completely depend on what form it is treated and on what the symptoms are. It is vital that, in addition to the main cause of the problem, secondary symptoms are treated to help our dog pass the process as well as possible. In the case of peripheral vestibular syndrome, as we have already mentioned, it is most likely that it is an otitis or chronic ear infection. Therefore, the most common treatment in the case of the peripheral form is usually the treatment for otitis and for irritations and difficult ear infections. If we find the central form of the condition, it will also depend on the specific cause that causes it. For example, in the case of hypothyroidism, the dog should be medicated with the indicated hypothyroid supplementation. If it is a tumor, the possibilities of operating it will have to be assessed.

In all the cases mentioned above as possible causes of the disease, if it is treated as soon as possible, we will see how little by little it is solved or the main problem is stabilized and that in turn the vestibular syndrome is also corrected until it disappears.

When it comes to the idiopathic form of the disease, as we have already pointed out previously, since the cause is unknown, it is not possible to treat either the main problem or the vestibular syndrome. But, we must think that although it may happen that it lasts a long time, the most likely when it comes to an idiopathic case is that it ends up happening only after a few weeks. Therefore, even if we decide to continue doing more tests to try to find some cause sooner or later, we should focus on making life easier for our furry partner while going through the process.

How to help the affected dog feel better

While the treatment lasts or if the cause has not been found and our dog will have to get used to living with it for a while, It will be our responsibility to help you feel your best and make things easier for you during this time. To do this, we must try to clear the areas of the house in which our dog is usually, remove the furniture, because they usually hit continuously due to disorientation. We will also have to help you eat and drink, giving the food by hand and bringing the drinker to your mouth or even giving the water with a syringe directly in the mouth. We will also have to help you to lie down, get up or move. Many times it will be necessary to help you defecate and urinate. We can also help you calm it with our voice, affection and with natural and homeopathic remedies for stress, because we must think that from the first moment you start feeling bad, dizzy, disoriented, etc., our dog will be suffering from stress.

With all this, little by little it will be better until the day that the cause has been resolved and the vestibular syndrome disappears. In case of being something very durable, following all these tips discussed above, we will be helping you get used to your new condition and little by little we will see that you start to find better and that is able to lead a very normal life. In addition, if the syndrome is congenital, puppies usually grow up with this condition quickly get used to everything that entails and thus make a perfectly normal life.

This article is purely informative, at we have no power to prescribe veterinary treatments or make any kind of diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian in case he presents any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Vestibular syndrome in dogs, we recommend you go to our Other health problems section.