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dog vestibular disease

Vestibular Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, Management

The symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs can be frightening, but most dogs recover fully with proper treatment and management.

If your dog has difficulties standing up, it’s likely that they could have vestibular disease. Dog owners with no knowledge of this condition can easily mistake it for a stroke

If your dog has vestibular disease, don’t fret. They can recover fully with early medical intervention.

What Is Vestibular Disease?

Vestibular disease is a condition that affects the dog’s nervous system and is characterized by a lack of balance and severe dizziness. Your dog’s head may also be tilted on one side, and it could remain that way for a long time.

A unique aspect of this disease is that it can start suddenly with no warning indicators. Nausea and vomiting are also common for dogs with this condition.

Since the lack of balance also characterizes this condition, it’s advisable to ensure that your dog remains as comfortable as possible. This means that they should stay away from activities that require balance, like walking on stairs, as they could trip and get injured.

What Are the Common Causes of Vestibular Disease in Dogs?

Vestibular disease occurs when there’s a disturbance within the vestibular system. This usually happens when your dog develops an infection in the middle or inner ear, resulting from hypothyroidism, injury or trauma, or medication side effects.

There are dog breeds, such as German Shepherd, Tibetan Terries, Beagle, English Cocker Spaniel, Shetland Sheepdog, and Akita, that are genetically predisposed to the disease.

This disease isn’t life-threatening. On the first sign of the condition, the symptoms will be severe during the first 24 to 48 hours, but you’ll likely see improvements within 72 hours with prompt medical attention. In most cases, your dog should recover fully within three weeks after starting your treatment.

How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has Vestibular Disease?

It’s easy to spot the symptoms of vestibular disease. In most cases, your dog will have difficulties with balance, and they’ll even experience seizures. Here are more signs that it’s time to seek immediate medical intervention:

  • A dent in the head that’s usually in the downward direction whenever your dog changes their head position
  • Rapid eye flickering
  • Abnormal postures like head tilting or leaning
  • Vomiting because of dizziness or motion sickness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Walking in circles
  • Rolling or falling on one side

Note that the symptoms of this condition can strike suddenly without warning, which is why dog owners should always watch out for behavioral changes. For instance, if your dog was feeding properly but then has to lay on the belly before they can drink water or eat, it could be a sign of vestibular disease. 

How Do Veterinary Professionals Test for Vestibular Disease?

On the first sign of any symptoms relating to vestibular disease, seek quick medical intervention from the nearest veterinary clinic. Veterinary professionals will perform neurological examinations using the MRI machine to assess your dog’s brain and ears health.

CT scanners are still helpful in checking whether there’s an infection to the ear. However, your doctor will need to sedate your dog for optimal positioning and stillness.

The doctors may also perform cerebrospinal fluid analysis to check for any changes in the cell count and protein concentration. This also helps determine whether an infection in the ear could be causing your dog’s symptoms.

The doctors could also investigate whether inflammation could be the cause of the disease. The vets may perform a procedure called a myringotomy, where they’ll insert a needle through your dog’s eardrum and take a sample of the mucus in the middle ear.

If there’s an inflammation, the fluid from your dog’s ear will have a color similar to pus.

How Can You Treat Vestibular Disease?

This medical condition doesn’t require surgery, but depending on the underlying causes and extent of the disease, your dog may require surgical intervention. Here are the different approaches to treating this condition.

Managing the Underlying Condition

Depending on the causes of this medical condition, medical intervention may involve using antibiotics. Doctors may also consider radiotherapy treatment, but this is only in cases where other brain tumor treatments that cause vestibular disease haven’t been successful.

Supportive Care

When your dog is at the hospital, they’ll receive supportive care from a multi-disciplinary team of specialists such as physiotherapists and neurological clinicians.

Rehabilitation for dogs with vestibular disease is an essential intervention in your dog’s recovery because the lack of inactivity for a long time can result in muscle weakness and reduced joint movement, which can derail your dog’s recovery.

Do Dogs With Vestibular Disease Have Trouble Eating?

Now that you know what vestibular disease is and the treatment options, it’s crucial to understand how to take care of them to ensure a full recovery.

After you visit the vet, the symptoms of the vestibular disease may persist for three days to a week or even longer. During this time, ensure that you help your dog drink and eat because they may have trouble eating.

These difficulties occur either because of a lack of appetite, or because they have trouble walking to the bowl and holding themselves steady enough to eat and drink.

Tips to Help Dogs with Vestibular Disease Eat

If your dog can’t hold their head or they’re vomiting actively, don’t give them food. It’s okay to let your dog go for a day without eating or consider other care options rather than risking them choking on their vomit. Here are essential tips to remember.

Support Your Dog When Lying Down

When your dog has vestibular disease, they may have difficulties standing up. So, as they are lying down, try raising and supporting their head so that they can reach out to the food.

In such cases, lean them against the wall to prevent them from rolling as they try to eat. If you have a puppy suffering from this condition, you can support them using rolled towels or a dog bed.

Make Their Dog Food Appetizing

Ensure that you don’t introduce any new dog food or add “human food to your dog’s diet.” Ensure that they stick to their regular meals, but it should be easy to chew by adding low-sodium chicken broth or warm water to their kibble.

During the early stages of recovery, you can turn your dog food into easy-to-grab “meatballs” so that they can pick them up and eat with ease.

dog vestibular disease

Exercising Tips for Dogs with Vestibular Disease

Before you start exercising a dog with vestibular disease, ensure that the condition is under control. While it’s okay to perform exercises while your dog is undergoing medication, you should see significant improvement in the condition. Failure to adhere to these recommendations, your dog’s condition may continue to get even worse.

If you aren’t sure when to start exercising your dog, consult an experienced veterinary professional for help. They’ll brief you on the timelines when it’s right to do so.

Here are essential exercises to ensure faster recovery for dogs with vestibular disease.

Encourage the Dog to Walk While Holding Their Tail

Train them to start walking correctly using the tail-pull exercise when you notice that they’re gaining balance. You need to hold your dog’s tail at the base while standing at the back. Ensure that you grab the rump and not close to the tail.

Grasp this section firmly but don’t squeeze your dog’s tail, then start walking backward while pulling the tail gently.

Perform the Standing Balance Exercise

If your dog has trouble standing, provide them with extra support by placing a pillow under their belly or support them with your hands so that they can walk properly. You should then slowly remove your hands or any other support for about three minutes and watch whether they are gaining balance. Proceed to five then eight minutes depending on whether their standing improves.

When you notice a significant improvement in the movement, leave them to try walking independently. Ensure that you keep your hands close and hold them whenever they stumble.

During this exercise, maintain soft eye contact. This is important as it helps your dog to control their body movement. Remember that some dog breeds could perceive constant eye contact as a threat. So, be cautious about how your dog reacts and make adjustments accordingly.

Perform Abdominal Strength Exercises

When your dog is upright, try to tickle their belly. This will make them tighten their abdominal muscles. The other simple technique is to use treats to make your dog move its head to the right and left while their body remains still. You can do this at least five times on either side, three times a day.

Consider Weight-Shifting Exercises

If the vestibular disease has impacted your dog’s ability to stand properly, you can help them relearn by using the weight-shifting exercise. For this exercise, hold your dog closely and help them stand up. Place your arms and hands around their body, then rock them rhythmically at the back. Do this twice a day for at least a minute.

General strength training can also be beneficial; just be sure you don’t overdo it with your dog and try to advance too quickly, causing a setback.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to watch your dog suffer from vestibular disease. However, when you know the signs and symptoms and how to help them in their journey to recovery, they can get well in the shortest time possible. Additionally, don’t forget to follow the guidance offered by your veterinarian after treatment, which may include regular checkups by the vet when necessary.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor