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Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

Vestibular syndrome can cause vomiting in dogs.

Picture this: your dog is peacefully asleep, but when he wakes up and begins trying to move around, he is stumbling everywhere. His head is tilted at a funny angle, he is crashing into furniture and falling down, and then he begins to vomit. No doubt, this is an extremely scary scenario, but many dog owners experience it every year. While more than one thing can cause these signs in dogs, one of the most common conditions that does is vestibular syndrome.

What Is Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs?

Vestibular syndrome is a condition that affects the system of balance. It causes the dog not to be able to determine where his body is in space. The condition can be either peripheral or central. Peripheral vestibular syndrome occurs when there is disruption of the inner ear. Central vestibular syndrome occurs when there is a disruption in the central nervous system. Interruption of the dog's balance system results in severe vertigo, which causes the signs of this condition.

Causes of Canine Vestibular Syndrome

Multiple things can cause vestibular syndrome in dogs. Some of the most common include:

Never use any ear cleaner or medication on your dog without having him checked out by the veterinarian first. Certain medications and ear cleaners that are applied when the eardrum is ruptured can result in vestibular syndrome.

  • Inner ear infection
  • Congenital defect
  • Medications toxic to the ear
  • Trauma
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Tumors or polyps

Sometimes the cause of the vestibular syndrome is unable to be determined. In these cases, it is termed idiopathic vestibular syndrome, and this is the most common form of this condition. Idiopathic vestibular syndrome is most often diagnosed in older dogs.

Signs of Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

The signs of vestibular syndrome in dogs can be quite alarming, and they are often mistaken for signs of a stroke. The most common signs that occur are:

  • Head tilt
  • Vomiting
  • Ataxia and stumbling
  • Circling
  • Jerky movements
  • Rhythmic eye movements back and forth or up and down, known as nystagmus
  • Excessive drooling

These signs can all be caused by other conditions, as well, so a veterinarian must be consulted for proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

Your veterinarian will use your history in conjunction with a full physical examination including a neurological exam to develop a suspicion of vestibular syndrome. From there, further testing may include x-rays, CT scan, or MRI. Blood tests and urinalysis may be performed to rule out other conditions, and blood may be sent to the lab to check for infectious causes.

Treatment of Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

If a specific cause is determined for the vestibular syndrome, that cause will need to be treated. If the cause is determined to be idiopathic, treatment is supportive. Most cases of idiopathic vestibular syndrome in dogs resolve themselves over the course of about six weeks. During that time, dogs may need nursing care ranging from help getting around, leash walks outside to be kept safe while eliminating, and hand feeding.

Some dogs may benefit from the administration of anti-motion sickness medications. In serious cases, when a dog is unable to keep down any food or water, he may need to be hospitalized for more intensive care until his symptoms improve.

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