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Vestibular syndrome in dogs – the most important facts about the disease!

Vestibularsyndrom beim Hund Diese Fakten zur Erkrankung solltest du kennen!

As many of you know Snowy has recently suffered from vestibular syndrome. As a dog physiologist, I too am simply “just” a dog owner at this moment and it took me completely by surprise. Even if I knew what to do and easier to deal with a handicap dog because of my experience.

Still, I was completely shocked when Snowy didn’t get up in the morning as usual to rummage for leftover cat food and take a quick stroll around the garden.

It hit us overnight

By the way, this is quite classic. It often occurs virtually overnight. Snowy was also in a great mood the days before and it hit us absolutely by surprise. Snowy could no longer stand up. At that moment, all sorts of thoughts flash through your mind. Who knows Snowy knows that she already suffers from back problems. At first I feared a slipped disc. However, based on her signs, vestibular syndrome quickly came to mind. I carried them to the garden to see how movements look, where the problems are. Then I checked her reflexes, which were clearly delayed. Snowy staggered like a drunk and could only keep on his feet with support. She looked restless and scared and didn’t know what happened to her. Immediately we registered with the vet.

Snowy at the vet

By means of a neurological examination my suspicion of vestibular syndrome was confirmed. For example, Snowy also suffered from nystagmus, which is classic for the symptom complex. Back home, I first put Snowy to bed so that she could rest. Then I had to gather myself and figure out the best way to support her and get her back on her feet.

It occurred to me that I have never written about vestibular syndrome on Doggy Fitness. Thereby it is a very common symptom complex and just as often misdiagnosis occurs. Reason enough to compile the most important information about vestibular syndrome.

What is the vestibular organ?

The vestibular organ is the organ of balance. It is a very complex organ that allows orientation in three-dimensional space to coordinate the movements of the body according to its position. It is located right next to the ear and is in constant exchange with the brain.

What happens when the organ of balance is disturbed?

When the organ of equilibrium is disturbed, the dog gets off balance and can no longer stay on its feet.

The dog has a feeling as if it were sitting in a merry-go-round. He no longer knows where up and down are and where he is in space. Vestibular syndrome can occur in dogs and cats, but also in rabbits and guinea pigs. The disruption can last a few days, but also several weeks.

How exactly a disturbance of the organ of equilibrium occurs is still not fully understood. Basically, it can affect any dog. However, older dogs are often affected.

Vestibular syndrome, by the way, is not related to stroke, even though it is often called that in the vernacular. These are two completely different clinical pictures. Stroke in dogs is very rare and it is a circulatory disorder in the brain. However, vestibular syndrome refers purely to the organ of balance.

How can you recognize vestibular syndrome? – The signs

The signs of vestibular syndrome are very typical.

  • The dogs often hold their head crooked, partly also the body.
  • You always hold it towards the side that is affected.
  • Affected dogs appear as if they are drunk.
  • Extreme movement disorders occur.
  • The dogs run in circles. This is called maneuvering behavior.
  • Squinting is another sign.
  • Rhythmic horizontal eye movements – called nystagmus – are a distinctive symptom.
  • The positional reflexes of the affected dog are delayed.
  • In vestibular syndrome, dogs suffer from severe nausea. They refuse to eat and suffer from vomiting.

What are the consequences of a disorder of the organ of equilibrium?

Time and time again I hear of dogs that have been euthanized because of vestibular syndrome. Completely unnecessary! It takes a little patience. However, initial improvements usually occur within the first 48 hours. The vomiting and dizziness subside as does the nystagmus. The dog can make a full recovery from vestibular syndrome. In a few patients, a slight head tilt remains, and slight disturbances in movement or coordination are also possible.

Diagnostic options

  • neurological examination course
  • CT for differential diagnosis
  • Clinical examinations such as blood examination and classical examination course (check ears, mouth, temperature, etc.) also specifically for the differential diagnosis

Differential diagnosis

There are several other conditions that show similar or overlapping signs of vestibular syndrome. These include:

  • Ear infection
  • Trauma in the head area
  • Foreign body in ear
  • Infectious diseases such as distemper or FIP in cats.
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Tumor

How can vestibular syndrome be treated?

First and foremost, your dog needs rest. A lot of rest. Supportive medication against nausea and vomiting as well as medication to promote blood circulation is useful. Infusion therapy can also be supportive. Additionally, you should mobilize your dog with targeted movement prompts. The goal is, since older dogs are particularly affected, that they do not become immobile. In another article, I will put together simple and effective vestibular syndrome exercises for you, as well as behavioral tips if your dog develops vestibular syndrome. In this acute situation, one is very overwhelmed and naturally also excited. If you know how to react properly and how to support your dog well, then it makes many things easier. Especially that’s what I took away from the situation. Like first aid, I knew exactly what to do. It is close to my heart that you too feel confident in dealing with illness.

PS: Of course I will keep you updated on Snowy’s recovery!


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