Dog Ear Problems: Canine Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome

Canine Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome is quite common in older dogs and although alarming, has a good prognosis. Learn more...

Unless your dog has had the bad luck to experience this condition, few people will have heard of Canine Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome, even though the complaint is not uncommon, especially amongst older dogs.

The symptoms are dramatic and sudden and are often confused with stroke or poisoning, even by some vets who may have had little experience with the illness. The fact is, Canine peripheral vestibular disease has nothing to do with malfunctions of the brain or a morbid appetite, but is caused by inflammation of the inner ear.

Usually there is little sign of any build up to the disease and one of its characteristics is its habit of striking out of the blue. The dog appears perfectly well and happy, eating its meals and taking its usual exercise when for no apparent reason it falls over. When it tries to regain its feet, it staggers in drunken circles, bangs into objects and tumbles down steps.

This alarming site is often made more dramatic by the dog vomiting, which once it has emptied its stomach, tends to be a frothy yellow colour. If you take a closer look you will notice that the eyes shoot rapidly from side to side, the head is cocked to one side and these, together with the drunken staggers and vomiting lead many owners to the fearful conclusion that their pet has been poisoned. Alternatively, when no evidence of any toxic substance can be found, they consider the possibility of stroke.

Neither poisoning or stroke is the cause of this condition, but the inner ear. Examination by a vet may reveal some kind of infection, but usually there is nothing to see within the ear itself and the cause of the onset of the disease usually remains unknown.

What is thought to happen is that the nerves of the inner ear connecting to the cerebellum, which controls balance and spatial orientation become inflamed causing the distressing symptoms previously described, but why this should happen is as yet unclear. There seems to be a link to age as the disease is much more common in old dogs, though younger animals that are around the middle age mark can be affected too.



Symptoms vary in their severity, not all dogs experiencing the same degree of vomiting and unbalanced co-ordination and this seems to correspond to the duration of the illness. Symptoms usually last between three days and three weeks, but the good news is, almost all dogs make a good recovery, although some my be left with a slight tilt of the head.

Relapses can occur, but are not common. Dogs of a more advanced age that were previously fit and healthy tend to suddenly show their age by refusing to take as much exercise as they used to and sometimes there will be a noticeable decline in eye sight and hearing. Whether this is due to the vestibular disease or is just part of the aging process is difficult to say, but many owners do comment on the decline of their pets senses after recovering from the disease.

There is no medical treatment for the condition, although some vets may prescribe antibiotics if they suspect the possibility of infection. What the owner needs to do is provide good nursing and plenty of tender loving care, since the dog is usually very confused and sorry for itself.

Alarming as the symptoms are for the owner, they are terrifying for the dog who doesn't understand why the world has suddenly started spinning in such a crazy fashion. Usually it seeks the sanctity of its bed and refuses all food and drink. Any attempt to stand or walk precipitates vomiting.

Hand feeding with water and easily nibbled food is the order of the day, although don't be surprised, if your dog is severely effected, it doesn't eat for a week. It is also appreciated by the invalid if you offer some support when it does begin to venture back on its feet.

The few dogs that do not quite make a full recovery quickly learn to cope with the head tilt and any unsteadiness and are able to enjoy a quality life which should last to its allotted span.

These five tips should help you to spot vestibular disease, but always get your pet checked by a qualified vet at the onset as there can be other more serious reasons for the symptoms.

1. Dog is perfectly well then begins to stagger and fall about.

2. Dog vomits.

3. Eyes shoot from side to side in a rhythmic action.

4. Head is tilted to one side.

5. Refuses food and or water

If any of these symptoms persist beyond the three week mark then the chances are that this is not Canine Vestibular Syndrome. Other afflictions such as cancer, brain tumors, and inner ear infections can all produce similar symptoms but do not fade with time.

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