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Canine Vestibular Syndrome | Vertigo in Dogs

Updated on September 29, 2014
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Canine Vestibular Syndrome usually affects older dogs

Canine vestibular disease (vertigo) often affects dogs as they age. There are two types of canine vestibular disease - central and peripheral. Peripheral vestibular disease is the most common. Symptoms can be dramatic and worrisome but are often easily treated. You should consult your veterinarian in all cases.

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What is Canine Vestibular Syndrome?

Canine Vestibular Syndrome is a malfunction of the system which maintains balance. This system provides constant feedback to the dog's brain, orienting him to his position in relation to the rest of his surroundings. The central vestibular system is located in the brain itself while the peripheral vestibular system is located in the ears.

One of the most common causes of CVS is irritation to the nerves that connect the two areas - the brain and the balancing system in the dog's ears.

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Symptoms of CVS

The main symptoms are dizziness, unexplained falling over, holding the head in an abnormal position, circling, stumbling, bumping into obstacles, eye rolling and a general 'drunkenness' in the dog's movements. In severe cases the dog will vomit and experience seizures. These symptoms can be confused with a stroke and a veterinarian will be able to determine which it is by carrying out various tests.

These symptoms appear extreme, but if you have ever suffered a bout of vertigo then you will understand why they can look frightening. Hold on to the knowledge that the problem is probably not as bad as you fear.

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Canine Vestibular Syndrome often looks worse than it is. Contact your veterinarian in every case.

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Causes of CVS

According to WB Thomas DVM, Dipl.ACVIM (Neurology), of the University of Tennessee, one of the most common causes is bacterial infection of the inner ear.

Medication may also cause CVS and hypothyroidism (a decrease in thyroid function) is another possible factor.

Other, rarer, causes are brain and inner ear tumors, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

However, the main cause of Canine Vestibular Syndrome is degenerative ageing. The average age of afflicted dogs is 12.5 years. There may be no obvious cause and if one cannot be found then it is termed "idiopathic vestibular syndrome". Dogs affected usually return to normal health within 10 days.

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Treatment of Canine Vestibular Syndrome

Treatment of canine vestibular disease is dictated by its cause. Many cases will improve by themselves and the dog will be back to his usual self within two weeks, although there is a chance it will reoccur. Dogs are often prescribed motion sickness medication, as the symptoms are often identical to travel sickness and can be similarly relieved.

If your dog shows signs of suffering from canine vestibular disease, remain calm. He may panic so reassure him by talking and petting him. Remember that if he senses you panicking, it will make him feel worse -- and you cannot help him until you soothe yourself. It's going to be fine; CVS is not, in itself, life threatening.

Try to settle the dog in his bed then Call your veterinarian immediately and follow his advice.


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    • myraggededge profile image
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      myraggededge 2 years ago

      Hi Hannah, I would think that they are probably linked. It's just an aging thing and is best managed rather than put him through any procedures (unless your vet advises otherwise). He's doing great though - 15 is an excellent age.

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      Hannah 2 years ago

      My 15-year-old Australian Shepherd was just diagnosed with vertigo. I thought he was having a neurological problem and took him to the vet and was very pleased to find out it was vertigo. I did forget to mention to her that I've noticed he's not hearing very well could that have anything to do with the vertigo?

    • myraggededge profile image
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      myraggededge 3 years ago

      @nancy2014: Sorry to hear that, Nancy. She'll probably feel like eating soon.

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      nancy2014 3 years ago

      My dog was diagnosed 4 days ago with this and she is noow on meds for vertigo. But she has developed bad diarrhea now and still hasn't eaten in 4 days. She has improved however, with the vertigo

    • myraggededge profile image
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      myraggededge 3 years ago

      @frankielonglegs: Hi Frankie, you will have to consult a homeopath vet for that information. Sorry. If your dog is unable to urinate or defecate, you will need to take him to an emergency vet immediately as it is serious.

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      frankielonglegs 3 years ago

      What are the specific homeopathic exercises to treat vertigo in a dog with CVS, Canine Vestibular Syndrome? Boston Terrier 3.5 years old otherwise in perfect health. And, are there diuretics to give a dog with CVS as he will not urinate or defecate. Thanks.

    • myraggededge profile image
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      myraggededge 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It's so distressing, Sheila, but it helps to know that the cause is relatively simple and not life threatening. Glad Buddy is improving :)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Our Buddy was just diagnosed with this last night. We really thought he was dying and were extremely upset. Throwing up, couldn't walk, eyes darting back and forth and panting. He's almost 13. We took him to the vet and she gave him some med shots and subcutaneous fluids. We were sent home with nausea meds and also a sedative if needed. We have not had to give him the sedative, the vertigo/nausea meds keep him calm enough. We left him in the kennel while at work and he did fine. He still cannot walk on his own, but is eating and drinking water today, so we're thankful for that. He is much better and has the tail wag back tonight!! :) He's still not walking but has improved.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      My 13 year old was just diagnosed with this also. Would it be for her own safety to put her in a cage/kennel while I am out of the home? She hasn't been kenneled since she was a puppy, or would this stress her out more? I just want her safe while I am at work. Please give me some suggestions please and thank you.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      As you know I really love your lens. Sent out through google plus, stumbled and linked to my own hot off the press lens: http://www.squidoo.com/gifts-for-senior-dogs. I have a feeling that older dogs might be more likely to get this, as they are more likely to get a lot of health problems.

    • myraggededge profile image
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      myraggededge 4 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: Many thanks, bloomingrose. I agree, my hubby had vertigo once, for about 30 minutes. It was extremely frightening, but was nothing serious. Anyone who witnesses this sort of thing in a loved one, human or canine, needs to know that it looks far worse than it usually is.

      Chronic vertigo, as in Meniers disease, is something else completely and if you have to live with it, it can have a debilitating effect on your life.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      This is a well researched lens about a topic that is unique, and must be very troubling to both the dogs and the dog owners. I know that vertigo is so disturbing in people, I can't imagine dogs having to go through it since they can't understand what is going on. I searched a little on it, and found out that dogs are sometimes put down when they are suffering from this. I can tell by the quality of the comments that you are helping a lot of people. Blessed!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      My 15 years old German Shepherd just got it again for the second time. First time was about 6 months ago. Not sure what caused it but she suffers from re-occurring ear problems. The vet gave us nausea medication for her and she is improving, but we are having a hard time getting her to eat anything

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      My Australian Shepherd is only 6 years old and has vertigo. My vet suggested motion sickness pills which I started today. We suspect it might have something to do with his Lyme disease, but we can't be sure. He tested positive for Lyme several years ago, and every so often he shows symptoms. This we've never seen before, though. It is very disturbing. I hope the medicine works soon.

    • myraggededge profile image
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      myraggededge 5 years ago

      @anonymous: So glad Bailey is fine and that you feel reassured. It is scary and looks more serious than it is. Give her a big hug from me!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Experienced this for the first yesterday with our 12year 3month old cocker. I was sure she was having a stroke and panic we did. I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other trying to keep her from throwing herself off the seat. Thank God her vet is only about 3 miles from our house. The wonderful staff there figured it out quickly and administered a shot of diazepam which took hold quickly calming Bailey and me. I never want to see her go through that again. But I will be calmer knowing that she will be fine. Thank you for you great information, you explained it to the letter.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      my little baby sir jordan is 15 and he to dose suffer from this as we just found out and we do beleave that GOD dose heal them as he dose us thanx for the info ....

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      HalloweenRecipes 5 years ago

      My heart goes out to these pooches and their owners! It's so hard to see a pet in distress of any kind.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 6 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I had an older dog who had vestibular syndrome. Very helpful information. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 6 years ago

      I've never heard of this condition before. Although we've had several dogs over the years, like you we're dogless at the moment. None of my dogs ever exhibited any of these symptoms. Thanks for sharing this useful information.