This story was updated August 2018.
We love to see the countless adorable pictures on the Internet of dogs quizzically tilting their heads, but did you know that head tilting can also be a sign of Vestibular Disease? The syndrome can hit both dogs and cats no matter if they are young or old.
What is vestibular disease?
The vestibular system is responsible for controlling equilibrium, eye movement so images stay steady and the ability to stand upright. The vestibular nerve begins in the inner ear and connects to the brain. Sensors in the inner ear tell the brain when a dog or cat is about to stand up, sit down, or spin around. It keeps them from falling over. If the nerve is irritated, injured or becomes diseased this sensitive connection is broken and wreaks havoc with your pet.
The causes of vestibular disease:
- Inner ear infections – especially chronic ear infections in young dogs
- Head trauma
- Ear cleaning that perforates the eardrum
- Tumors or cancer
- Meningoencephalitis – an infection that affects the central nervous system
- Medications such as certain antibiotics
In many cases the cause for vestibular disease is never diagnosed. The good news is the problem typically gets better in 72 hours or goes away when the cause is treated.
The first symptom an owner might see in their pet is a tilted head, just like the cute pictures on the Internet. Later symptoms include: circling, falling down, jerking eye movement from side to side, vomiting or the inability to walk. The symptoms can be frightening for you and your pet.
If you notice these symptoms, your pet should be seen immediately by a veterinarian for a workup of the inner ear. A CT scan might also be ordered to rule out other medical conditions.
Because pets with vestibular disease are dizzy and feel sick it is common for them to be anxious. Some of the best care you can give at this time is love and comfort. Your dog might also feel more secure in a crate or in their comfy bed.
Medications to stop nausea and natural calming agents like valerian and chamomile are helpful as well. Please talk with your veterinarian to see if one of these over-the-counter medications could benefit your dog.
If you like this story you might want to read: Take The Canine Acupuncture Quiz
Photo: Creative Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silver_Labrador_Puppy.jpg