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 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 :

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

Vestibular problems can occur due to middle ear infections, brain lesions including tumors and infections or they 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, and most have the idiopathic form. This form 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. If they look okay, he or she will recommend to wait a few weeks for this go away. If it does not then a referral to a neurologist should be recommended.

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,homeopathics, vitamin supplements 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. It is extremely important to give these dogs time to recover and support them. It is not a stroke or a reason for euthanasia.

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