As a dog owner, it could be very disturbing to see your dog suddenly walking around like it’s drunk. These scary symptoms are signs of vestibular disease and though you might feel worried, your pet will most likely recover after some days or weeks.
In fact, this is a common disease in dogs that all canine owners should know about. It may happen to any pooch, although it is rare in puppies (other than those suffering from the congenital vestibular disease). It is, however, more common in older dogs and specific breeds.
All About The Vestibular System
The dog’s vestibular system is composed of two elements. The central components are in the brain, while the peripheral ones are found in the inner ear. Despite that, its function has nothing to do with hearing at all but instead, it sends information to the brain. It then supports your pooch’s spatial orientation, balance, and sense of motion and coordinates its head and eyes with the neck and limbs.
This system relies on thousands of otoconia, which are extra-cellular minute calcium-carbonate minerals, in order to function normally. In the inner ear, there are 3 semi-circular canals where messages on the positioning and the movement of the head going to the brain are sent. The fluid in these canals keeps the otoconia moving in place, while the nerve fibers register any movement.
Any displacement on the otoconia disrupts the smooth flow of the fluid in this canal and sends a feeling of movement.
What Is Vestibular Disease?
Tons of dog owners mistake vestibular disease for a stroke or a brain tumor. In reality, it is more related to vertigo, which also afflicts humans. There are two types of vestibular disease – peripheral and central.
This type is observed more often in canine animals and as the name suggests, occurs in the inner ear’s peripheral vestibular system. It may result from some irritation to the nerves connecting the brain and the inner ear. While this might happen very quickly, which may alarm its humans, it may eventually resolve itself in time.
Some dog breeds are prone to this disease, like beagles, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, English cocker spaniels, Tibetan terriers, Akitas, and Smooth Fox Terriers. Moreover, older dogs are more at risk to this disease, whereas puppies are only likely to experience congenital vestibular disease. It will, however, become less severe as they grow older.
This kind of vestibular disease is much more serious because it occurs in the brain, possibly due to some inflammatory disease, cancer, trauma, blood flow loss, infection, or bleeding the brain. The positive thing is that it is very rare but in any case requires the vet to check out for any possible reasons like brain tumor.
What Causes Peripheral Vestibular Disease?
There are quite a few conditions that might lead to peripheral vestibular disease, which include the following:
BPPV, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, the most common reason for vertigo and vestibular disease, especially in the case of older dogs. The displacement of the otoconia happens because of an injury, intensive exercise, or even just a wrong step on a rough trail. It may also be due to a virus hitting the inner ear or may be related to head pain.
Other common causes of this disease are ear conditions. First of all, chronic ear infections, both in the inner and the middle ear, can lead to this condition. Other inner ear inflammatory diseases, like vestibular neuronitis and labyrinthitis, might also be the reason.
A stroke or trauma to the head may also cause vestibular disease. Tumors, polyps, and meningoencephalitis are also suspect. If your pet is taking drugs like gentamicin, tobramycin, amikacin, or neomycin, it may be a factor as well. Lastly, emotional stress has also been linked to this condition.
Recognizing Vestibular Disease In Your Dog
There are quite a few symptoms that signal vestibular disease, and most of them are very obvious. First of all, when your pooch is acting like it is dizzy and falling down, especially when it has trouble getting up, are the most usual signs of the condition. You might also notice the eyes darting back and forth, as well as a slight to extreme head tilt. It might move strangely, like rolling or turning in circles.
Due to the fact that it occurs in the part of the body responsible for balance and coordination, you might observe your pooch wavering and losing coordination and balance. Poor depth perception is another sign and it might even have issues putting its paws to stand up. When you are in a new place, your pet might seem sensitive and unsure when the walking surface changes. It might also suddenly have issues with walking in the dark.
Motion sickness is another huge symptom, which may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Your dog will start being sensitive to loud noises and moving light. Busy places will confuse your pet. Lastly, you might register some issues with sight and hearing, like issues focusing and loss of hearing.
These symptoms might show up quickly and it can greatly disturb any pet owner. Despite this, there is no reason to panic, as this disease is highly manageable.
What To Do In Case Of An Attack
When the symptoms occur and until the condition of your dog stabilizes, you would need to take some steps to keep your pet comfortable. This will also keep them safe from any injury that might happen due to being disoriented.
Your dog may also display signs of distress, so stay close by to soothe and comfort it. Keep it comfortable in a nice bed and provide adequate food and water. You should prevent dehydration at all costs, using an IV if required.
Make an appointment with the vet as soon as possible, in order to get your dog diagnosed and treated accordingly. Your vet needs to rule out any other disease or a condition like a stroke, brain damage, trauma or injury, tick paralysis, and a long list of other possible causes. These may also occur quickly and have similar symptoms.
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Getting Treatment For Your Pet
Depending on your beliefs, there are a number of ways to treat this condition. There are conventional medicines available, but there are also natural approaches that are successful in helping your dog overcome this disease.
Most vets will quickly prescribe vestibular suppressants that may include steroids, antihistamines, anti-emetics, antibiotics, benzodiazepines, and antiviral medication. However, some of them, including antihistamines, benzodiazepines anticholinergics, might cause side effects that mimic the same symptoms of the disease. Because of this, some pet owners try to use other treatment methods.
The fact is, the condition tends to resolve by itself after a few days or weeks even without medication. However, there are therapies that can be used to speed your dog’s recovery.
Spinal manipulation, or chiropractic treatment like Canalith Repositioning Procedure, is very effective in treating cases of BPPV. It works by moving any otoconia that have been displaced through specialized head movements. Moreover, vestibular rehab like balance training, habituation, and gaze stabilization can treat any feelings of dizziness. Therapeutic massage for canines has also been proven effective.
Homeopathic remedies may also help reduce the symptoms of vestibular disease. The most common remedies include Cocculus, Iodine, Conium, Rhus Tox, Lachesis, Cyclamen, and Aesculus. For example, Cocculus is normally used for motion sickness, dizziness, confusion, headaches, nausea, weakness, and falling, all common in this disease.
Moreover, some herbs may help, like gingko, amla, and ginger root.
There is also a product called Inner Ear Balance Herbal Formula, which is made for humans but is also safe to use on your pet. It works to balance inner ear fluids, improve balance, reduce tinnitus and vertigo, as well as alleviate stiffness of the neck. You will, however, need to adjust the dosage based on your dog’s weight and size, as the recommended dosage is for a 150 lb human.
All of these treatments will deal with any problems on the vestibular system of your dog and at the same time, ease the severe symptoms that accompany this disease. Although the condition will ease by itself without it, it will not be easy for you to see your pet uncomfortable and distressed due to these symptoms.
Although it is not a life-threatening disorder, many pet owners will feel panic seeing their dog confused and paralyzed due to this condition. Unfortunately, it is quite common and may even occur repeatedly depending on the dog’s breed and age. However, it is completely treatable without seeing a vet and it does not interfere at all with your pooch’s quality of life.
Still, it is important to have the vet rule out other conditions that might display the same symptoms and to keep your canine companion comfortable during this time. To do so, there are medications, as well as homeopathic cures and therapy that can help. Soon enough, you will see your dog bounce back to normal, jumping and slobbering all over you as always.
- Dr. Jennifer Michaels, Acute Vestibular Disease in Old Dogs, The MSPCA-Angell
- Dr. Gary Michelson, What is Vestibular Disease in Dogs?, Michelson Found Animals