How to Care for a Dog with Vestibular Disease | PetFirst
How to Care for a Dog with Vestibular Disease
Pet Care & Health

How to Care for a Dog with Vestibular Disease

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
2 years ago

One minute your pup is fine, then without warning, they circle, tilt their head to the side, stumble a few steps and collapse onto the floor. Rather than a seizure or a stroke, it’s most likely vestibular disease. 

Vestibular disease affects your dog’s inner-ear sensory receptors, one of the main components that control’s an animal’s balance. Vestibular structures send information to the brain about where the body is in space — whether it’s moving, standing, sitting, leaning or falling. When the vestibular system functions correctly, your dog can run, jump, balance and live an action-packed life. 

But when vestibular disease occurs, a multitude of alarming symptoms arise. 

What Causes Vestibular Disease? 

Vestibular disease is often referred to as idiopathic, meaning the cause of the condition is unknown. Sometimes it can be attributed to ear infections, a reaction to certain antibiotics or head injury. Some dogs seem to have a genetic predisposition for the disease.  

It’s often referred to as “old dog vestibular syndrome,” since it’s more common in older dogs. However, it can occur in dogs of any age and breed.  

Luckily, this disease is not life-threatening, and symptoms typically go away as the vestibular system rights itself. Though minor, your dog may have a head tilt for the rest of his life. 

What Are the Symptoms of Vestibular Disease? 

The symptoms of vestibular disease are easy to spot, but the disorder is often mistaken for a seizure, stroke or brain tumor. Luckily, it’s not nearly as severe as any of those conditions. 

Still, if your dog displays any of the following signs of vestibular disease, you should take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis: 

  • Walking in circles 
  • Standing with an unusually wide stance 
  • Tilting of the head, which can range from slight to extreme 
  • Falling or rolling to one side 
  • Acting dizzy 
  • Drifting or darting eye movements 
  • Squinting or another abnormal eye positioning 
  • Stumbling or lack of coordination 
  • Shaking head 
  • Vomiting 

Symptoms are typically acute, meaning they come on right away and without warning. 

Look for other behavioral changes. If your dog loves to ride in the back seat, but suddenly begins experiencing motion sickness, or if they have to lay on their belly to drink from the water bowl, this could be a sign of vestibular disease.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Has Vestibular Disease?  

Luckily, vestibular disease typically goes away on its own after a few days, though it may stick around for a couple of weeks, and the head tilt could remain for the rest of his life. If symptoms don’t begin to improve after 72-hours, this may be a sign of something more serious.  

Even if you know your dog is suffering from vestibular disease and not a more life-threatening condition, it’s hard to watch them suffer. Here are five things you can do to help ease the symptoms. 

  • Take your dog to the vet — You should take your dog to the vet if they begin to show symptoms of vestibular disease, particularly if they’ve never had issues like this before, as they could be a sign of something more serious. Your vet can prescribe anti-nausea medication if your dog is vomiting. 
  • Assist your dog with essential functions — This may mean bringing food and water to them or keeping it nearby. Push their food and water bowl against a wall so they won’t drift when eating or drinking, and elevate them, so they don’t have to put their head down too far. Consider switching their food to something easy to eat and digest. You may also need a harness to help them get to their potty spot. 
  • Avoid carrying your dog — They need time to re-calibrate their vestibular system, which will occur as they begin to navigate their space again. Help them walk by placing your hands on either side of their body, or use a harness to help guide and support them. 
  • Keep your dog safe from harm — Limit the amount of space through which they can wander in your home. Keep them away from stairs and clear the floor of any clutter that your pet could trip over. 
  • Help them get comfortable — If your dog has trouble sleeping, try putting a rolled up blanket or towel under their head for support. Spend time on the floor with them while their world is all topsy-turvy. 

Though uncomfortable, vestibular disease in dogs is luckily not too serious as long as your pet is well-cared for in recovery. Provide love and support for them, and they’ll be back to their fun-loving self in no time! 

Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

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