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Vestibular Disease

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Any animal with a vestibular system can suffer from vestibular disease; this ranges from fish and birds to dogs and cats. A pet’s vestibular system is comprised of nerves and inner ear workings that inform the brain of bodily motion, maintain equilibrium, and control eye movement while the body is in motion; essentially, it is responsible for balance, coordination, and posture. Vestibular disease occurs when the nerves have difficulty performing these functions. There are two types of vestibular disease, peripheral and central, with peripheral vestibular disease being more common. Peripheral vestibular disease is caused by disorders of the inner ear (the body’s balance center), whereas central vestibular disease arises from balance issues within the brain.

There are many possible causes of vestibular disease, though the exact catalyst is often unable to be determined. The following are several commonly known triggers.

Causes of vestibular disease: 

  • Brain or inner ear polyps. 
  • Brain or inner ear tumor. 
  • Ear infections.
  • Negative reaction to certain medications. 
  • Nerve damage. 
  • Old age.
  • Stroke.
  • Trauma to the head. 
  • Under-active thyroid.

Vestibular disease is commonly misdiagnosed as a seizure, stroke, or poisoning. The symptoms between each of these illnesses can be very similar so diagnosis can be extremely difficult. Pets usually begin displaying symptoms quite suddenly, and because most sufferers are elderly animals, the ailments can be debilitating. The peak level of discomfort usually occurs between 24 to 36 hours after initial onset, but clumsiness can remain for several weeks.

Symptoms of vestibular disease: 

  • Circling. 
  • Dehydration. 
  • Dizziness.
  • Excessive vomiting.
  • Head tilt. 
  • Lack of coordination. 
  • Loss of appetite. 
  • Loss of balance/disorientation. 
  • Rapid eye movements. 
  • Staggering.
  • Unwarranted falling over.

How is vestibular disease treated? To diagnose vestibular disease, the veterinarian carefully performs diagnostic tests, examining the ear canals and performing a neurological exam. After it is certain that vestibular disease is the cause of the pet’s symptoms, very little can be done. There is not a cure for vestibular disease, so treatment usually involves curing the side-effects; the veterinarian can prescribe a medication to relieve nausea or a sedative that helps your pet manage its balance complications. The disease will gradually resolve on its own over the next 7 to 30 days. There remains no way to accelerate this process. Also, for some pets, the head-tilt side-effect will remain permanent. Once a pet gets vestibular disease, it is very rare that it reoccurs, though it is entirely possible for this to happen.

For pets suffering from vestibular disease caused by another serious medical issue, further testing and attention may be necessary. If your pet requires further care, the veterinarian will address a treatment plan during your pet’s exam.

Please feel free to contact our office with any questions you might have about vestibular disease.