Vestibular Disease in Dogs Treatment, and Vestibular Disease in Dogs Symptoms
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As you may recall, Dexter is an almost 10-year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia. His disease affects his mobility and balance. Researching his condition and symptoms also led me down the path to learning more about canine idiopathic vestibular disease, sometimes called “old dog disease.” I spoke with one of Dexter’s holistic veterinarians, Dr. Mary L. Cardeccia. Dr. Cardeccia focuses on animal rehabilitation and natural healing methods including acupuncture, food therapy, chiropractic, Reiki, and herbology.
What is Vestibular Disease in Dogs?
A dog’s (any mammal’s) vestibular system controls the body’s balance and eye movement. The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that control your dog’s balance and eye coordination¹. Dr. Cardeccia stated that some of the symptoms a dog may exhibit include one or more of the following: “sudden or acute onset of loss of balance or general coordination, disorientation, inability to assess speed of movement, staggering walk, stumbling or falling, walking in circles, head tilt, rapid eye movements (called nystagmus), drooling, loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting.”
This can be very scary for both the dog parent and the dog. It’s important to not panic and to try not to stress out your dog during an episode. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms for the first time, speak calmly to him and ensure his safety by preventing a slip, fall, or head injury. I would suggest getting into your dog’s vet office right away, or the emergency clinic. Although vestibular disease is not life-threatening, your dog may be having a stroke.
How to Diagnose Vestibular Disease in Pets
Obtaining a proper diagnosis is always the first step with any successful treatment plan. Dr. Cardeccia explained to me the typical diagnosis protocol. “Diagnosis is made with a thorough physical and neurological examination to determine if the symptoms are due to central or peripheral vestibular disease, or to another process affecting the balance center, such as a stroke or a tumor. In the case of peripheral disease (which is the much more common type) an otoscopic examination would also be performed, to assess the health of the ear canal, eardrum, etc. Radiographs (x-rays) or blood tests may also be indicated to rule out certain specific causes of symptoms. Biopsy of a tumor or polyp may be indicated. For central vestibular disease, an MRI or CT scan, and/or a spinal fluid tap may be recommended.”
Treatment Options for Vestibular Disease
After your dog’s diagnosis, what can you do to treat vestibular disease and help make your dog’s life as enjoyable as possible? Dr. Cardeccia has been treating Dexter’s Chiari Malformation since 2012, and he has had great improvement over the years. I was really looking forward to hearing what she had to say about treating dogs with vestibular disease.
Dr. Cardeccia explains some common therapies and treatment options. “In geriatric dogs, ‘Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome’ the condition usually resolves in one to two weeks, though the tendency to tilt the head can remain for a lifetime. If a middle or inner ear infection is present, sometimes antibiotics will be needed to improve the condition. If an underactive thyroid is the cause, the vestibular disease will often resolve when the metabolic condition is managed correctly. Dizziness can prevent dogs from walking at all, or from walking properly, so keeping food and water nearby or assisting with eating and drinking may initially be necessary. Nausea and vomiting can be managed with anti-emetic (anti-nausea) medications, and there are medications that will help with the vertigo (dizziness) also, which are the same medications that are used to treat motion sickness.”
She continued by saying, “If there is an underlying infection, it should obviously be addressed with the appropriate antibiotic. If the symptoms were caused by a medication, removal of the medication should result in improvement, but often there may be a little residual hearing loss. Removal of polyps or tumors may be indicated, and must be assessed on an individual basis.”
“Central vestibular disease usually has a much poorer prognosis, as it may be a result of a stroke (cerebrovascular disease), tumor, infection, inflammatory disease, or medication reaction. Treatment would be very specific based on the underlying cause. Fortunately, the most common form of canine vestibular disease – the peripheral form – in most cases improves quickly, once the underlying cause is addressed and symptoms of vertigo are managed with supportive care.”
Support Devices for Dogs with Vestibular Disease
If your dog has vestibular disease or any other mobility issue that makes it hard for your dog to get up, down, or walk, GingerLead Dog Support and Rehabilitation Harness is a great option. GingerLead is a padded support sling and a great aid for older dogs with vestibular disease that struggle with their balance and mobility. Using it provides your dog with much needed support and stability while cradling their belly in comfort, making it significantly easier for them to walk and increasing confidence by keeping them from falling down. With vestibular disease, attach the GingerLead’s leash to a chest harness to provide additional support of their front end.
Quote from Fina’s mom, “With the GINGERLEAD Harness, Fina’s life got much easier. She’s a 16-year-old Golden Retriever lady. Her spirit is invincible. Her body, sadly not. The last few years, she had to deal with several epileptic seizures and the vestibular disease, but she’s still standing. And now stronger than ever.”
Dexter and I reviewed GingerLead in 2017, and I still stand behind the product. Dexter hasn’t had to use it yet, but I have it when the time comes. Unfortunately, with his neurological condition, that time will likely come. Knowing we have the GingerLead brings me peace of mind.
Reasons for Vestibular Disease in Dogs
I’m always a why kind of gal. I want to know why something happens so that I can hopefully prevent it from happening in the future. Is vestibular disease preventable? Are there things that a dog parent might accidentally be doing to increase a dog’s chance of getting vestibular disease?
Dr. Cardeccia tackles my questions. “There is a peripheral form of the disease arising from outside the central nervous system which is caused by disorders affecting the inner ear. Peripheral vestibular disease occurs when there is irritation to the nerves connecting the inner ear with the brain. The result is a loss of balance and other symptoms resulting from vertigo and dizziness. This may be a result of chronic and recurrent inner and middle ear infections, overzealous cleaning of the ears resulting in a perforated eardrum, trauma from head injury, tumors, polyps, meningoencephalitis, or hypothyroidism, as well as certain drugs.”
Already, from her response, I know there are a few things that a dog owner can do to help decrease the chance of their dog getting peripheral vestibular disease. If a dog is on a healthy, fresh-food diet, they are more likely to have clean ears and not need their ears cleaned. If a dog does need an ear cleaning, be gentle and don’t go down to the eardrum. Second, watch those drugs and chemicals you are giving or putting on your dog. Try to stay as natural as you can and use medications sparingly when possible.
Dr. Cardeccia continued by saying, “There are also many cases which we call ‘idiopathic,’ meaning that we can’t identify an underlying cause for the symptoms, although we can localize them to the inner ear/vestibular system. This is what is usually meant when we use the term “Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome.” Central vestibular disease, which is a much less common and more serious form of the condition, originates inside the central nervous system. Central disease may be the result of stroke, tumors, polyps, infection/inflammatory disease, or medication reaction.”
I was curious to know if certain breeds were more prone to vestibular disease. Here is what she had to say. “There is also a congenital form of the disease which is usually seen between birth and three months of age. Breeds of dog predisposed to this condition include the German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, English Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, and possibly Akita, Smooth Fox Terrier, and the Tibetan Terrier. Breeds of cat predisposed include Siamese, Burmese, and Tonkinese.”
Of course, I had to look up the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, since that is Dexter’s breed. Obviously, any breed can have vestibular disease, and the Cavalier is prone to a few other diseases that may present similarly to vestibular disease. Primary secretory otitis media (PSOM), cerebellar infarcts, or strokes and, of course, Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia are three other diseases that may look like vestibular disease. This is why, a good veterinarian team is crucial.
If your dog develops vestibular disease or any other condition, try not to let his diagnosis get you down. It’s important to LIVE each day to the fullest and look for ways to help your dog have a good quality of life. Luckily, there are a lot of natural treatments, physical therapy options, and products such as the GingerLead that can greatly improve your dog’s quality of life. Be your dog’s voice and find answers; he deserves it.
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