Can you imagine constantly being dizzy and not knowing which way is up? This commonly happens to older dogs and cats and is known as vestibular disease. The symptoms of vestibular syndrome are similar to the symptoms of a stroke. However, a stroke is caused by a vascular accident (blood clot) in the brain and vascular accidents are very rare in dogs and cats.
The vestibular apparatus is located inside the inner ear and is responsible for helping to orient the body relative to the earth. This information is then processed in the brain and it tells the eyes and extremities how to move. There are two types of receptors involved in this process. One receptor detects rotational acceleration (tumbling and turning) and one receptor that detects linear acceleration and gravity (falling and letting us know which way is up and down). In vestibular disease, these receptors are not working properly and causes the animal to fall over and circle to one side.
Symptoms of vestibular disease include head tilt, twitching of the eyes, stumbling and staggering around, circling, falling to one side, and nausea due to motion sickness.
Diagnosis is based on clinical signs, age of the animal and physical exam findings. The most common causes of vestibular disease are inner ear infection, brain lesion and idiopathic (unknown cause). It is important to determine where the lesion is located for prognosis and treatment.
Idiopathic vestibular disease is the most common cause of vestibular disease in dogs and cats. This form of vestibular disease happens all of a sudden with mild improvement occurring within 72 hours, and the pet is usually normal in 7-14 days. There is no treatment for idiopathic vestibular disease except for controlling nausea.