Vestibular Disease In Dogs & The Recovery Process

Vestibular disease in dogs is a sudden condition that often startles pet parents when it occurs.

With this disease causing our pets to become wobbly on their feet and disoriented, many owners become confused on how to best help their dog during their recovery.

In this article we will go into the details of vestibular disease, what you can expect during their recovery, and what this can mean for your dog’s future.

Vestibular Disease In Dogs

What Is Vestibular Disease In Dogs?

Vestibular disease in dogs is basically just a sudden disturbance in balance.

Since the vestibular system’s main components are located in the ear and in the brain, any sudden change or trauma in these areas can result in vestibular disease in your dog.

This disease is most common in old dogs, but can occur in a dog of any age. 

What Causes Vestibular Disease In Dogs?

Since the vestibular system’s main components are in the ear and in the brain, truly any shift or change in these areas can result in vestibular disease.

Some of the most common causes include:

  • Ear infections
  • Trauma to the eardrum
  • Toxicity to ear medications
  • Head trauma
  • Tumors in the brain
  • Hypothyroidism (cases with neurological manifestations)
  • Idiopathic (unknown reason)

In cases that involve ear infections, trauma, or other treatable conditions, the outlook for vestibular disease is generally promising.

However, if your dog’s vestibular disease is due to the presence of a tumor, the prognosis is often poor.

Most veterinarians will hospitalize or treat for the symptoms a dog is presenting with, and will base their prognosis on how quickly they recover with medical care.

If a dog does not respond to the standard treatment, you may begin to assume that their symptoms are the result of something in the brain.

What Are The Symptoms Of Vestibular Disease In Dogs?

The symptoms of vestibular disease can range in severity, but always cause great concern in dog owners.

Vestibular often comes on suddenly, causing owners to wonder why their dog is acting so differently from one moment to the next.

The most common symptoms that you will see in a dog with vestibular disease include:

  • Loss of balance
  • Falling to one side
  • Nystagmus (fast and erratic movement of the eyes)
  • Head tilt
  • Reluctant to stand or walk
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling

Some dogs will just experience minor disorientation or be slightly unsteady on their feet, while others will experience symptoms so severe that they are unable to walk.

Vestibular disease symptoms can vary, and can in turn affect their recovery time.

The Vestibular Disease Recovery Process

The most common question that owners have when their dog is diagnosed with vestibular disease is “how long will it take for them to recover?

The recovery time will vary from dog to dog, but there is a general guideline of what to expect.

In most dogs with vestibular disease, you can expect their symptoms to be the worst for the first 48 hours of their condition.

The 72 hour mark often brings slight improvement, and you may finally start to see their symptoms subside.

Though the intense disorientation should begin to decrease around the 72 hour mark, you can usually expect your pup to be unsteady on their feet for the next week.

Though they are not usually themselves for the week following the diagnosis, you will likely see the head tilt and stumbling improve greatly by day 7 to 10.

Most dogs with vestibular disease will have significant improvement by week 2, and may even be back to their normal selves by this point.

Some dogs take longer than others to recover, so it’s important to be patient throughout this time and offer your companion the support they need to stay safe.

Helping Your Dog With Their Recovery

Since vestibular disease can cause your dog to be so unsteady and prone to falling, your dog is going to need quite a bit of help.

The first few days of their diagnosis can be rough on your furry friend, so it’s up to dog owners to make their recovery as smooth as possible.

Some of the best ways to help your dog through their vestibular diagnosis includes:

  • Setting up a comfy and padded area for them to rest. This can be a cage or a small blocked off area. You don’t want to give them too much room, or they may thrash and fall when trying to stand.
  • If your dog is unable to stand and walk outside to the bathroom, there are two options that you can consider. The first option is offering them the support of a sling when they walk outside to go potty. You can do this by rolling up a blanket and wrapping it under their belly, holding the ends like straps as you support them with each step. The next option involves keeping disposable potty pads under their back end for when they go potty, making sure to change out the pads each time they soil them.
  • Bringing their food and water bowl to them, as they may be too dizzy to walk to them on their own. 
  • Keeping up with any medications that your veterinarian prescribed. This will often include a medication for nausea and a medication for motion sickness.
  • If your dog seems more comfortable with lying on one side, try your best to prop them up with blankets to make this position more comfortable. Dogs with vestibular disease often lean or fall to one side, and this is often the most comfortable lying position while they recover.
  • Do not leave them unattended in open spaces until they are fully recovered. This can lead to serious injury if they are left to roam the house freely.

Why Is My Dog Not Recovering From Vestibular Disease?

Though vestibular disease often has a good prognosis, there are some situations in which a dog does not improve.

While each dog’s recovery timeline may differ, there is a point in which you can assume that your dog is dealing with a more serious issue.

Like we mentioned above, some cases of vestibular disease are due to tumors in the brain.

In these cases, many dogs will either continue to get worse, or will not recover at the rate you would expect them to.

If your dog’s vestibular symptoms remain severe for up to 7 days without any improvement, it may be time to speak with your vet about what this may mean for your furry friend.

Summary

Though vestibular disease can be a scary diagnosis for dog owners, it’s usually easily treated with the right tools on your side.

Be sure to review the tips we have mentioned above, and you can make your dog’s recovery as smooth as possible.

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