free shipping over $100 (USA & Canada)

1-877-937-4372 the pet expert hotline

free shipping over $100 (USA & Canada)

Vestibular Disease in Dogs and Cats

Photo of a senior looking dog laying down to illustrate an article about Vestibular Disease in Dogs and cats.

Vestibular disease in dogs and cats happens when there is a problem in your little one’s vestibular system, which is responsible for maintaining your canine companion’s balance and spatial awareness. That’s because the vestibular system consists of sensor receptors located inside the ear in the inner ear of your pup to help prevent the animal from losing equilibrium.

The vestibular system also comprises a central component that works as a control center in the brain, situated in the spinal cord, brainstem, and cerebellum. Together, these components help adapt your furkiddo’s position of the eyes, head, neck, and body, which is vital for navigating gravitational forces and averting potential falls.

Let’s delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and natural support for vestibular disease in dogs and cats.

What Causes Vestibular Disease in Pets?

The most prominent types of vestibular issues in pets are feline idiopathic vestibular syndrome and vestibular disease in elderly dogs. In both cases, neoplasms and nervous system inflammation stand out as the primary culprits.

Patients exhibiting peripheral vestibular signs are typically diagnosed with otitis media, an infection in the inner ear. The symptoms are also commonly associated with idiopathic vestibular disease, characterized by a sudden and non-progressive balance disruption. 

While less common, additional factors can contribute to dysfunction within the vestibular system. These include:

  • Congenital alterations.
  • Trauma.
  • Hormonal disorders.
  • Poisoning from drugs or other chemical agents.
  • Meningoencephalitis in its various forms (bacterial, viral, protozoal, fungal, or granulomatous).

What Are The Clinical Signs of Vestibular Disease?

The vestibular syndrome manifests as a set of neurological clinical symptoms primarily associated with balance and spatial orientation. One of the main signs that there’s something wrong with your little one’s vestibular system is ataxia. This symptom is characterized by a lack of coordination without associated weakness or involuntary spasms.

Additionally, affected animals may display distinctive behaviors, such as walking in circles and experiencing episodes of uncontrolled falling. The presence of nystagmus, characterized by repetitive, uncontrolled eye movements, is also a common occurrence. Noticeable head tilts may serve as an additional indicator of potential vestibular disease.

Photo of a cat laying down to illustrate ataxia and the possible symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs and cats.


What Are The Diagnostic Tests for Vestibular Disease?

If you suspect your pet is suffering from vestibular disease, take note of the symptoms mentioned above. Your veterinarian will use these clinical signs as a starting point to diagnose any underlying issues affecting your furry companion. In addition to a thorough examination, more generic laboratory tests, such as blood work, X-rays, and tomography, may be conducted.

For a confirmed diagnosis, the vet may recommend further investigative procedures, including an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and an examination of the structures within the ear (otoscopy). The CSF collection necessitates general anesthesia, during which a small amount of fluid is withdrawn using a specialized spinal needle.

A precise diagnosis is imperative for identifying the origin of the syndrome. This not only aids in formulating a more accurate prognosis but also informs a tailored therapeutic protocol to address the specific underlying cause effectively.

What Are The Treatment Options For Ataxia?

The therapeutic protocol prescribed by your vet aims to relieve the clinical signs and improve quality of life. However, it is essential to establish the diagnosis of the underlying condition for more effective treatment.

Regarding neoplastic diseases or those caused by microorganisms or toxins, the veterinarian might prescribe pharmaceutical treatment or even recommend surgery. When the condition is stable or slowly progresses, the patient’s nervous system can naturally compensate for the dysfunction of the vestibular system. You can facilitate full recovery by stimulating routine activities in these cases.