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What does it mean if your dog has a Dizzy Spell?

By June 11, 2014 No Comments

Seattle veterinarians discuss Vestibular Syndrome in older dogs.

Vestibular Syndrome is a condition commonly seen in our older patients. The symptoms can occur without warning and to pet owners it may look like the patient is having a seizure or stroke. Chance, our Pet of the Month for June, is a Dalmatian Mix and he experienced a sudden onset of vestibular symptoms a few months ago. Chance had been out for a walk earlier in the day and he seemed normal. Later the owners found him struggling to stand up and brought him immediately to see Dr. Robin Riedinger at Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital. As is to be expected, they were very concerned about what Chance was experiencing, and they were worried about the outcome.

The vestibular system involves the inner ear (peripheral) and the brain (central) and along with input to the eyes, the entire system functions to help the body maintain balance and coordination.

Anyone who has been seasick, or experienced vertigo (dizziness) after getting off of a children’s playground carousel or a carnival ride, is familiar with changes in the vestibular system. When vestibular changes are associated with specific activities, it is temporary and generally resolves within a few minutes or few hours of being back on solid ground. When the problem starts in the vestibular system then the changes can be more severe and last longer. There are three main causes of Vestibular Syndrome in dogs:

  • Idiopathic (which means we don’t know the cause)
  • Middle ear infections
  • Brain Lesions – fortunately this is quite rare in our dogs and cats

Chance was ataxic (wobbly on his feet), had a head tilt to the right, and he had nystagmus (a rapid side to side or vertical movement of the eyes) which can make the patient feel nauseous and agitated. Chance was anxious yet his heart and lungs sounded normal, he had a normal body temperature, no evidence of an ear infection and there were not any signs of other neurologic changes that might suggest this was associated with a seizure.

Dogs with Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome don’t always need hospitalization, but that can help especially if it is difficult to provide supportive care for them at home. Most often the signs start to abate within the first 48 hours, but it can take some patients several weeks to return to normal. They generally need help standing and getting in/out to eliminate. Medications to control any nausea, and minimize the effects of the nystagmus are helpful.

Laboratory testing, blood work and urine, can be beneficial to ensure that there are no underlying metabolic changes such as kidney or liver disease that could contribute to changes in brain function. It is also important to ensure that there is no evidence of outer ear infection; middle ear infections are harder to diagnose. For patients who have continued symptoms, more advanced diagnostics such as an MRI or CT scan are helpful, especially if there is a strong suspicion of a CNS/Brain lesion.

Veterinarians in Seattle Discuss Vestibular SyndromeFortunately for Chance and his family, this episode was dramatic and scary, but we are happy to say that Chance has continued to improve and just celebrated his 14th birthday.

For more information about Vestibular Syndrome click here: or call our Seattle veterinarians today at 206-528-1980.

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