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What is Vestibular Disease?

Neurological disorders don’t actually specify the problem affecting an animal. Rather, they describe the conditions that the animal suffers, so there are a number of reasons that could be causing your pet’s neurological disorder.

A common problem that can lead to neurological problems is vestibular disease. It is characterized by a sudden disturbance in the vestibular system. The vestibular system includes the central parts of the brain and peripheral components in the ear. Because this part of the body is responsible for maintaining balance, animals with vestibular disease will usually experience loss of balance.

What are other symptoms of vestibular disease?

The severity of each case is different, so your pet may not experience all of the possible symptoms. Their changes in behavior may even go unnoticed without careful watch. Pet owners with older animals may want to pay special attention to any of the following behaviors:

  • Nystagmus (jerking eye movements)
  • Disorientation
  • Head tilting
  • Lethargy
  • Leaning to different sides
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (noises in the ear like ringing or buzzing)
  • Confusion
  • Poor depth perception

What causes Vestibular Disease?

Vestibular disease can be caused by ear infections, exposure to toxins or drugs, stroke, trauma, injury, tumors, or hypothyroidism. Certain breeds of cats have been associated with a hereditary form of vestibular disease and the disease has been found present from birth as a congenital defect for both cats and dogs. If the veterinarian cannot find a diagnosis, the disease is categorized as an idiopathic vestibular syndrome. Older animals are more likely to be affected by it.

How is vestibular disease a neurological disorder?

Vestibular diseases are the result of a problem with the nervous system, so it is categorized as a neurological disorder. Either there is a problem with the nerves in the inner ear, the peripheral system, or with the central system, the brainstem. If the issue originates from the brainstem, the animal could suffering from or at risk of encephalitis, also known as inflammation of the brain. This is a life-threatening disease that needs immediate treatment, so it’s important to see a vet as soon as possible for proper diagnosis.

How can I treat my pet’s vestibular disease?

Certain causes of vestibular disease can be treated. After the vet reviews the animal’s medical history and symptoms, a physical exam and diagnostic tests, such as radiographs and blood or urine tests, are conducted to narrow down the cause.

The veterinarian can treat patients with intravenous fluids if the symptoms are too severe for the pet to eat or walk on its own. There is also medication dogs and cats can be prescribed to relax and combat nausea or motion sickness. If the cause in an ear infection, antibiotics can be used to treat the problem from progressing. Most pets’ conditions should improve within 7 – 10 days as they adjust their balance. The most severe symptoms are typically in the first two days because the loss of balance is so jarring.

Is vestibular disease preventable?

Like any disease, vestibular disease happen to any animal unpredictably, no matter how well cared for they are. While there are ways to reduce risk, there’s no way to 100% prevent vestibular disease, especially if your pet is diagnosed with idiopathic vestibular syndrome. Generally, however, pet owners should keep their animals’ ears clean without overcleaning or disturbing the balance of bacteria already present in the ear. Ear infections can lead to vestibular disease, especially if they aren’t caught and treated early on. Supervising pets, so they aren’t involved in accidents or injuries that could lead to vestibular disease is also important.

Vestibular disease can be treated or managed if it is caught early on. Your cat or dog’s quality of life does not need to be compromised because of it! If you think your dog has been exhibiting signs of the disorder, give us a call at BrightCare Animal Neurology! Our vet neurologist and staff are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological diseases specifically. We also have a state-of-the-art facility with the right equipment and technology to properly care for animals with vestibular disease and other neurological conditions.

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