Dog Vertigo: Signs and Can It Be Treated

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Vestibular disease in dogs refers to any disturbance in a dog’s vestibular system. From a pet parent perspective, vestibular disease may look like dog vertigo.

Dog vertigo

The vestibular system exists to help humans and animals with their balance, coordination, and orientation. It is made up of two parts. The peripheral vestibular system is made up of the inner ear and nerves traveling from the ear to the brain. The central vestibular system consists of the brain stem, which connects the brain to the spinal cord, and the cerebellum, which is responsible for coordinating movement.

What Causes Dog Vertigo?

Causes of dog vertigo can be divided into disorders that affect the peripheral vestibular system and disorders that affect the central vestibular system.

Peripheral Vestibular Disease

The most common cause of peripheral vestibular disease is an ear infection affecting the middle or inner ear, but there are many possible causes.

Causes of peripheral vestibular disease include:

  • Ear infection
  • Tumors of the inner ear
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Head or ear injury
  • Idiopathic*

*Idiopathic or “old dog” vestibular disease is another common form of peripheral vestibular disease. Idiopathic means there is no known cause. It typically happens in older dogs, and comes on suddenly. Though signs may be quite severe, they often improve significantly without any specific intervention within a few days.

Central Vestibular Disease

In general, disorders that affect the central vestibular system are much more serious than those that affect the peripheral vestibular system.

Causes of central vestibular disease include:

  • Strokes in the brainstem
  • Inflammation or infection in the brainstem
  • Tumors in the brainstem
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Severe ear infections*

*Although ear infections are typically a cause of peripheral vestibular disease, they can sometimes be so severe that the infection invades the skull bone and nerves and travels into the brain.

How to Tell if My Dog Has Vertigo

The most obvious sign of vestibular disease, or dog vertigo, is a sudden loss of balance, but there are other symptoms that help with diagnosis.

Dog with vertigo being seen at SEVN

Signs of dog vertigo include:

Vestibular Quality Ataxia

Your dog is walking like a drunken sailor, leaning or falling to one side. Sometimes a dog is so off balance that it just rolls to one side over and over again like an alligator.

Constant Head Tilt

Your dog’s head is cocked to one side, so that one ear or one eye is lower than the other.

Nystagmus

Your dog is experiencing involuntary, abnormal eye movements, characterized by slow movement in one direction and rapid movement in the opposite direction.

Strabismus

Your dog’s eyes are in an unusual position, so that both eyes cannot be directed at the same object at the same time.

Is Dog Vertigo Dangerous?

As previously mentioned, conditions that affect the central vestibular system are generally much more serious and harder to treat than those that affect the peripheral vestibular system. So the short answer is yes, central vestibular disease can be dangerous. That’s why it’s so important to have any dog that shows signs of vertigo evaluated by a veterinary neurologist.

 

Whether the problem is in the peripheral vestibular system versus the central vestibular system determines the list of possible causes, diagnostics performed, treatment selected, and prognosis. Sometimes neurologists can tell the difference and even have a pretty good idea of what’s causing dog vertigo from the neurological examination alone. However, an accurate diagnosis is only achieved through testing.

Based on exam findings, tests such as blood and urine tests, blood pressure, chest X-rays, ear cultures and cytology, MRI of the brain, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis are often performed to rule out dangerous conditions.

Possible Treatment Options for Dog Vertigo

Possible treatment options for dog vertigo depend on the reason for the vestibular disease, so it is extremely important to work with a veterinary neurologist to find the cause.

If after thorough investigation, your dog’s vertigo is diagnosed as idiopathic vestibular disease, supportive care and treatments aimed at reducing nausea are used until the condition resolves itself within a few weeks.

On the other hand, if your dog’s balance problem is found to be secondary to another disease, the primary ailment must be treated in order for the vestibular symptoms to resolve.

Contact Southeast Veterinary Neurology to Treat Dog Vertigo

“Vestibular disease in dogs can be very distressing to both the pet and pet parent, so achieving a diagnosis and initiating treatment in a timely manner is essential,” urges Dr. Christine Senneca, Veterinary Neurologist at Southeast Veterinary Neurology.

Dr. Senneca giving a neurology exam to a pet

 

At Southeast Veterinary Neurology, we offer viable treatment options for every vestibular patient. Please call us if you notice any signs of dog vertigo. We have locations in Miami, Boynton Beach and Jupiter, FL, with a new location coming to Virginia Beach, VA in 2022! Contact our team today by calling any one of our locations or requesting a consultation online.