vestibular disease in dogs

Vestibular disease in dogs

Vestibular disease in Dogs – The vestibular syndrome is a set of visible neurological signs, the most relevant of which is the tilted position of the animal’s head. Determining the origin of this syndrome is essential to provide the most appropriate treatment for the canine patient. Then, we review the possible causes of this disease, as well as its treatment.

The vestibular system’s function is to guide the animal concerning space and gravity, harmonizing its movements. Stabilizes the position of the eyes, body, and limbs concerning the head. This system works like a reflex arc; thus, it is a neurological alteration due to lesions in the VIII cranial nerve. In the inner ear (peripheral changes), or to an injury in the brain stem (central modification). Finding the lesion area is essential for detecting the pathology that causes the syndrome.

Visible symptoms and signs

Generally, four signs are observed:

Head tilted: The dog keeps its head tilted or turned towards one of its ears. Usually, the vestibular lesion will be located on the side to which the animal tilts its head.

Nystagmus: Horizontal, rotating, or vertical eye movements are observed. There are usually movements in two phases: a slow phase towards the injury area and an active phase in the opposite direction.

Strabismus: The eyes are positioned abnormally, especially when the head is tilted or when the animal lies on its side.

Ataxia: Vestibular ataxia is distinguished from other forms of ataxia in that it is asymmetric. The animal maintains a broad base position, with its legs open, balancing its head and trunk, and may even fall or roll to the sides when trying to lift.

How to distinguish peripheral from central vestibular disease

Determining whether the origin of the lesion is peripheral or central is crucial for making a complete diagnosis and revealing underlying pathologies. In the case of primary vestibular disease, specific signs are observed. For example, vertical nystagmus is typical of a primary injury; likewise, changes in consciousness and neurological signs that correspond to lesions in other cranial nerves are apparent symptoms.

Causes of the vestibular syndrome in dogs

Vestibular syndrome in dogs is usually the manifestation of an underlying disease. The most common reasons are:


Infectious otitis that affects the inner ear. This is the most widely recognized reason for this disorder.

Trauma in the tympanic bulla. Neoplasms in the nerve or bone structure.


Neoplasms. Inflammatory processes, such as distemper or granulomatous meningoencephalitis.

Ischemic hemorrhages in the brain stem, which compromise the vestibular nucleus.


If the origin of vestibular symptoms is unknown and other neurological signs are absent, we are experiencing the idiopathic vestibular syndrome. It is common to appear in the acute form and is the second most frequent cause after internal otitis.

Some purebred canine breeds are more likely to develop a form of the idiopathic vestibular syndrome. That appears in dogs, from birth to approximately twelve weeks of age. In this case, the change usually disappears on its own between two and four months of age.

The vestibular syndrome has a different and curious name, and it seems rare. Still, it is considered a common disorder in veterinary medicine. You have probably seen a dog behaving strangely, which is a disease.

Tremors, walking “staggering,” head always tilted to one side, loss of balance, and strabismus: these are the behaviors and signs that a dog with Canine Vestibular Syndrome shows. Other worrying signs are lack of appetite, many falls, and vomiting. If your four-legged friend is going through something similar to this, it is prudent to take him to the vet urgently!

Is Vestibular Syndrome severe?

Can be! The disease can be considered critical if it has reached the central nervous system, reaching the dog’s brain. To achieve this stage, the pet must have had a severe illness previously that brought Vestibular Syndrome as a sequel. They are pathologies such as distemper, toxoplasmosis, some tumor, otitis, and others.

How does Vestibular Syndrome occur?

It is responsible for maintaining the balance of the animal. When something is wrong, the individual’s feeling is as if his conscience is altered or “”drunk””. When symptoms appear in elderly animals, supportive treatment can be done at home, and soon, it will return to normal, as long as it is not severe. If the dog’s clinical signs are so severe that they do not allow him to walk, hospitalization and several tests are necessary and recommended to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.

What are the major warning signs?

The signs to observe in the animal with suspected Vestibular Syndrome are: staggering, in circles, head tilted to one side (head-tilt), repeated falls, eyes moving from side to side (nystagmus), vomiting and loss of appetite.

Recommended treatment and prognosis

In the case of infection, the use of antibiotics will be essential. Still, it is always preferable to perform an antibiogram to determine which drug is most effective. In the case of the excretion and thickening of the tympanic bulla, surgical drainage should be considered.

The prognosis will depend on the response to these treatments. In the case of idiopathic vestibular syndrome, the prognosis is favorable, and treatment is unnecessary, as it may regress on its own after a period of 3 to 21 days. Even so, it will be preferable to prevent the animal from moving too much during the acute period.

To rule out other many injuries, antiemetics (anticholinergics) may be prescribed if necessary. When the lesion causing the dog’s vestibular syndrome is central, the most uncomfortable signs for the animal can be treated using calcium channel blockers or anticholinergic drugs to reduce vertigo and vomiting, if any. For this situation, the anticipation will rely upon the hidden reason.


Topical antibiotics are indicated for the treatment of bacterial infections. Many of these antibiotics are found in preparations that also contain antifungals, acaricides, and corticoids. Some of the first-line medicines used to treat otitis in dogs. Include gentamicin, enrofloxacin, and neomycin with polymyxin B.