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Vestibular Disease

What is canine vestibular disease?

The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining normal balance, with sensors in the inner ear and a specialised control centre in the midbrain. It’s the system responsible for keeping your pet standing upright.

A variety of conditions, such as tumours, inflammation, stroke. and diseases affecting the middle ear can all result in signs of vestibular dysfunction. One of the most common causes. of. vestibular disease is a sudden, spontaneous dysfunction of the vestibular system that resolves within a few days (idiopathic vestibular disease).This most commonly affects older dogs.

What are the symptoms?

Vestibular dysfunction can affect both cats and dogs, and is commonly found in older animals. The main sign of vestibular dysfunction in dogs is a loss of balance, often presenting with a head tilt.


Other symptoms of vestibular disease in cats and dogs include:


  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Turning in circles
  • Abnormal, darting, eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Inability to stand

The diagnosis

Although idiopathic vestibular disease is mild and rarely life-threatening, the symptoms can mimic other life-threatening illnesses, such as strokes, and brain tumours. Your vet will rule out more serious problems when making a diagnosis.

An older dog. presenting with a sudden loss of balance in conjunction with other signs as described above. and with no detectable cause, will possibly be diagnosed with idiopathic vestibular disease. A diagnosis is usually based on medical history, clinical signs, and blood and urine tests. Occasionally, your specialist may order an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to check for abnormalities such as tumours.

How do we treat vestibular disease?

Treating the underlying cause: Treatment is generally directed at the underlying cause, if one can be identified.In cases of idiopathic vestibular disease, treatment is supportive, using drugs to combat nausea, and ensuring food and water is readily available

Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation with a physiotherapist is often necessary for pets affected by vestibular disease, and can be beneficial for improving their quality of life. These therapies usually focus on maintaining soft tissue flexibility and improving core stability, with programmes tailored to their condition and adjusted as they recover.

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