Canine and Feline Vestibular Disease

What would you think if your old dog developed a sudden head tilt, seemed unco-ordinated and trouble controlling his facial muscles? Most people would think that their dog had had a stroke. Fortunately, strokes are very rare in dogs and cats but something that looks similar,vestibular disease is very common. Vestibular disease occurs when there is a problem in the body’s balance system. The balance center has 2 components–one is in the middle ear and the other is in the brain. When something goes wrong with this balance center then the dog or cat does not know where he or she is in space.

Signs of vestibular problems are :

1. lack of co-ordination and falling ( ataxia)
2. dizziness
3. motion sickness
4. head tilt
5. rolling
6. nystagmus ( rapid movement of the ears back and forth)
7. circling
8. loss of control of facial muscles

Cause of vestibular problems can occur from middle ear infections, brain lesions including tumors and infections,or it can be idiopathic. Idiopathic just means that the cause is unknown. The most common cause of vestibular disease in dogs and cats is idiopathic!

When vestibular disease occurs it is important to figure out what area is causing the problem. Is the brain involved or only the inner ear? There are some clues as to where the affected area is. If there are more cranial nerves involved ( mostly facial nerves but can be to ear, eye or tongue) and they are on the opposite side of the head tilt, then the problem is likely in the brain. If the eyes are rolling up and down rather than side to side, the lesion is usually in the brain. Only a CT scan or MRI done at a referral hospital will be able to determine this.

The good news is that most of these dogs with head tilts and rolling eyes have peripheral problems, that is, not in the brain. Most have the idiopathic form that comes on very quickly and gets better quickly. If your dog has these signs, most likely your veterinarian will take some blood and urine tests to see what’s happening and if they look okay will recommend to wait a few weeks for this go away. If it does not then he or she is likely to refer to a neurologist for an MRI.

Conventional treatment is anti-nausea medication and time. A holistic veterinarian can offer you and your pet more options that will speed recovery. Acupuncture,combined with physical therapy and homeopathics and herbs speed recovery of this idiopathic disease. I have used ginger with these dogs and the link to one I would recommend from PetWellbeing is here. With this combination, there is usually success within a few days. Even if you do nothing else but stand the dog up for 5 minutes every hour so his feet are touching the ground, you will see some improvement. Swimming these dogs, although it requires a life vest, is often extremely beneficial.


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