Vestibular System / Disease

Full Title: Vestibular System / Disease

Author: Sherry Health

Date of Publication: February 9, 2016


Research Paper Text:

Waking up one morning, I found my 10-year old Golden Retriever in a corner completely confused and disoriented. Not being by my side when I awoke was a sign that there was something definitely wrong. Once I was able to get her out of the corner, I noticed that she walked in circles (only one way) her head tilted to one side, and her eyes were darting back and forth in her head. Off to the veterinary office we went. She was diagnosed with vestibular disease.

The vestibular system is what maintains a dogs balance and sense of orientation. It prevents animals from falling over. There are two types of vestibular disease – peripheral originating from the inner ear and central nervous system originating from the brain. Peripheral vestibular occurs when the inner ear has difficulty connecting with the brain, for example if there is an inner ear infection. Facial paralysis and Horner’s Syndrome may also be present on same side of peripheral vestibular disease. Postural reactions are not seen with peripheral vestibular disease. Walking will be crouched and have side to side excursions of the head. The most common causes of peripheral vestibular disease are otitis media/interna, idiopathetic vestibular disease, ototoxic drugs, and hypothyroidism.

Central vestibular occurs when reactions in the sensory and motor pathways are obscured in the brain, for example, lesions on the brain. The most common causes of central vestibular disease are encephalitis, brain tumors, vascular infarction and metronidazole toxicity. Common signs of central vestibular disease are head tilt, (generally on the same side as the lesion), circling (toward the side of the problem), nystagmus (jerking eye movements from side to side or up and down), ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), motion sickness and dizziness. Dogs may also have decreased appetite; they may need help eating and drinking. The head tilt is often the last symptom to remain and sometimes can be permanent. The head tilt does not impair the quality of life. The prognosis of vestibular disease depends on the cause.

There are multiple ways to help with vestibular disease once you have visited a veterinarian and received a diagnosis. Massage will help by grounding the dog and helping it to feel secure, help with circulation (blood flow) and loosening the muscles. Also make sure that you have proper lighting and give a thick blanket to wrap up in, provide a quiet resting spot, and avoid carrying your pet and manage your own stress so that your dog is comfortable.


  • “Top 10 Things should know about vestibular Disease”; Jarred B. Galle , DVM;
    Dogwood Veterinary Referral Center

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