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Canine Vestibular Syndrome (Idiopathic Vestibulitis):
Is It Serious?
By Judy Kody Paulsen, Founder
(Excerpt from Spring/Summer 2009 issue of GCNM News)
(This article was written with the help of Dr. Phil Ries of VCA Veterinary Care Referral Center at 9901 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM. Dr. Ries is a member of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. He has been practicing in Albuquerque since 1995.)
Suddenly you notice your greyhound’s head tilting to one side. When s/he tries to walk, there may be stumbling or falling. You may also notice a rapid movement of the eyes back and forth. Your dog has been healthy for the most part, and this has occurred suddenly and without warning at 1 o’clock in the morning. Is it time to head for the emergency animal clinic, or should you wait until morning to see if the symptoms subside?
Most people are going to head for an emergency veterinary clinic if it’s outside normal business hours. Others may be fortunate enough to speak with a veterinarian over the phone before heading to the clinic. In all likelihood, you will be asked to bring your pet in for an evaluation, but there may be some reassuring words to settle your nerves and keep you within the speed limit as you head for the veterinary clinic. You might even be told it can wait until morning, as it sounds like it could be “idiopathic vestibulitis.”
Idiopathic vestibulitis, also referred to as Vestibular Syndrome, is a fairly common malady in middle-aged to older dogs. A similar syndrome can affect people. The vestibular system, including the inner ear, allows the body to maintain a sense of balance. When not operating normally, it results in severe vertigo, or loss of balance. For most people, observing their pet becoming increasingly anxious from this disorientation is very troubling. Fortunately, this “syndrome” is usually benign in nature and resolves spontaneously. While in the vast majority of cases there is no identifiable cause (i.e. it’s idiopathic), it may be triggered by an infection of the inner ear, hypothyroidism, a brain tumor, or a stroke-like episode.
A thorough neurologic exam and evaluation for an ear infection, along with a blood test for hypothyroidism, will rule out treatable causes while assuring you that the signs are not due to a disorder of the brain. Since in most patients marked improvement is noted within 72 hours, home care is appropriate. However, in some pets, the degree of nausea that accompanies vestibulitis is so severe, that hospitalization and intravenous fluids are necessary to avoid dehydration. While the symptoms typically resolve 100% within weeks, a small percentage of affected pets will have a persistent, mild head tilt that does not affect their quality of life.
Euthanasia at the outset of symptoms should not be considered unless your veterinarian has determined by way of diagnostic tests that the condition is progressive and untreatable. Rest and stress avoidance are paramount for recovery.
Bottom line: Observation and TLC is often the best course of action after your pet has had a thorough exam by the veterinarian. Once the initial symptoms subside, it is unusual for your pet to have a relapse of this condition.
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