If you have ever experienced vertigo, you know just how uncomfortable it can be. You’re dizzy, confused and have trouble moving around as you normally would. Unfortunately, your furry friend can also experience these symptoms brought on by vertigo. Dog vertigo is better known by the term vestibular disease, but the symptoms and causes are quite similar. There are two types of vestibular disease, peripheral and central, with one being much less serious than the other. Central vestibular disease has a worse diagnosis because it is more linked to brain function while peripheral is a miscommunication between the brain and the inner ear and is fairly common in elderly dogs. For this reason, it is sometimes known as “old dog disease”. While usually more prominent in larger dog breeds, all dogs are at risk. If you have a dog with vertigo, it is essential that you are aware of the signs, symptoms, and treatment options so you can make them as comfortable as possible.
Symptoms of Vertigo in Dogs
Depending on what form of vestibular disease your dog has, either a peripheral or a canine neurological disorder, he will be prone to a multitude of different symptoms. Generally, these symptoms do not escalate over time but come on suddenly, so they will be simple to identify. While the symptoms of the two types of vertigo may look similar, the causes are very different. The most common symptoms are:
- A serious head tilt
- Falling over
- Difficulty getting up
- Complete loss of coordination
- Nausea or vomiting
- Turning in circles
- Acting very dizzy or confused
- Eyes darting back and forth
The vestibular system is in charge of balance in your dog and is made up of the inner ear, the brainstem, the vestibulocochlear nerve and the vestibulocerebellum. A failure in this system throws off your dog’s equilibrium, leading to these unwanted side effects listed above.
Central Vestibular Disease
Central vestibular disease is the more severe type of vertigo in dogs. This type is accompanied by an attack on the central nervous system and brain. Generally this strain is by caused canine brain tumors, serious inflammatory disease in the nervous system, fungal infections or even brain bleeds. For these reasons, central vestibular disease is much harder to cure in your dog. Central vestibular disease can induce canine seizures and strokes in your dog. Most dogs that experience strokes have preexisting conditions which predispose them to this life-threatening event. Some of these conditions are canine kidney disease, hypertension and protein-losing disease.
If you think your dog may be having a stroke, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Signs of stroke in your dog may include the canine rolling his eyes uncontrollably and an inability to move his paws. Other signs are loss of bowel control and generalized movements of his body. Canine stroke is incredibly serious and in the most severe cases, some dogs have to be euthanized because the stroke came on so quickly there was nothing the veterinarian could do. While some dogs recover from strokes without any medical treatment, it is still highly advised to take your dog to the vet if you assume he may be suffering from a stroke.
Peripheral Vestibular Disease
The less serious type of vertigo in dogs is called peripheral vestibular disease. While central vertigo attacks the brain, peripheral is caused by an infection within the body. The infection throws off your dog’s bodily functions and makes his systems go haywire, causing vertigo. Generally, when these infections are cleared up, the vertigo is cured along with it. These cases are not as dangerous and generally have a higher success rate of survival.
This type of vertigo can be caused by a number of issues in your dog’s body. Some of the most common are:
- Ear infections
- Eardrum ruptures
- Injury to the head such as a concussion
- Infections in the head or neck
- Inflammation in the head or neck
- An allergic reaction to antibiotics
- An allergic reaction to a foreign body
- Old age paired with neurological dysfunction
Diagnosis of Vertigo
Upon arriving at your veterinarian, they should begin by giving your dog a physical examination. This examination will consist of eye checks, ear checks and any other physical test that your vet deems necessary. It is a good idea for you to keep a list of all your dog’s symptoms that he has displayed in recent days. If your vet assumes it could be a vestibular disease issue, the vet will perform an ear exam and some neurological tests to see how severe the damage is. If they do find problems with your dog’s neurological responses, they may choose to do an MRI or a CT scan to rule out a brain bleed or any skull issues. Broken skull bones and serious contusions may also cause vertigo.
If unable to pinpoint the cause of vertigo in your dog, the veterinarian may choose to keep him overnight to observe. Further samples such as urine, blood, more diagnostic test or other X-rays could be taken to rule out other problems that may be responsible for your dog’s vertigo. If all is cleared up, the vet will send your dog home for you to watch unless something more severe comes up while at the appointment. Vets will often prescribe anti-nausea medication to make your dog more comfortable. Mild cases almost always are treated with home care.
Some diseases and disorders look and sound like vertigo, but have completely different origins. If your veterinarian is concerned your dog’s vertigo may be something else, they will run a series of tests to ensure that they have considered all possible conditions.
These tests could be:
- Ultrasounds of the abdomen to look for tumors
- Thyroid tests
- Cortisol tests
- Electrolyte tests
- Test for Addison’s disease
- Testing for urinary tract infections
Medical Treatment of Vertigo
Treatment for your dog’s vertigo depends on what is directly causing it. If the cause is simple and common, such as an ear infection, your dog will be prescribed antibiotics and sent home for observation. If an allergic reaction to an environmental stimuli or prescribed medication seems to be a problem, your dog will simply be taken off of them to restore balance to his vestibular system. Occasionally, these causes are accompanied by anxiety or nausea and vomiting, so sedatives and anti-nausea medication will be sent home with you as well.
In more life-threatening cases such as tumors or brain bleeds, surgery will be scheduled as soon as possible to keep the damage minimal. These will need to be stopped or removed from your dog before the symptoms stop completely. Surgery recovery is different for every dog and may take weeks before he is back to full strength. The long-term effects of these more serious cases can range from minimal to incredibly severe.
Long-term Effects of Vertigo
In most cases, your dog will be out of the veterinarian’s office and back home within a day or two. By eliminating the underlying problem such as tumors, ear infection or allergies, the vertigo and the symptoms will also be eliminated. These symptoms generally all clear up within a few days once they have been treated with medication. Before they’re completely gone, while your dog should not be in pain, he may still have difficulty getting around and may continue to be slightly disoriented. Treat your dog with vertigo as you would treat one with a concussion and try to keep him calm and quiet during the recovery period. Be sure to avoid dehydration, especially if his vertigo was accompanied by vomiting brought on by dizziness and nausea. Keep water near your dog at all times so he can find his water himself whenever he needs it.
How to Prevent Vertigo in Your Dog
Although some of the conditions causing vertigo may be impossible to prevent, there are some ways to help your pet avoid this scary situation. Keeping your dog regularly bathed and clean should prevent any serious infections causing peripheral vertigo. Make sure to keep your dog up to date on vaccines and take him to the vet routinely for his yearly physicals. If you see your dog hit his head or think he could possibly have internal damage, always take him to the vet to avoid central peripheral disease. The best thing you can do for your dog is to pay attention to ensure you don’t miss any signs of brain bleed or tumors. As the owner, it is your duty to keep an eye out for any unfamiliar symptoms or signs that something is wrong with your dog. By being a watchful and cautious owner, you’ll be