Canine labyrinthitis refers to inflammation in a dog's inner ear, which can cause dizziness and loss of balance and coordination. There are several possible underlying causes, some of which can be potentially life-threatening. If you suspect your dog is suffering from labyrinthitis, get her checked out right away to determine both the cause and the proper course of treatment, and speed your girl toward recovery.
The labyrinth is the complex system of canals in a dog's inner ear that includes the cochlea, semicircular canals and vestibule. This system is responsible for balance, synchronous eye movements, posture and coordination. The cochlea also makes it possible for your dog to hear. Inflammation in this system can disrupt any or all of these functions, making things very difficult for Fluffy.
Signs to look for in a dog with labyrinthitis include abnormal posture, leaning or tilting the head toward the affected side, walking in circles, loss of balance and coordination, dizziness and vomiting. It might also include nystagmus, or rapid eyeball movement. Your dog may also show signs of an ear infection that include ear pain, ear discharge and hearing loss. Symptoms could become severe enough to incapacitate your dog, but most should clear up with proper treatment.
The two most common causes of labyrinthitis in dogs are an inner ear infection and idiopathic vestibular syndrome. The latter has no known cause and usually occurs in middle-aged and older dogs. This condition comes on suddenly and usually peaks within the first 24 hours, although labyrinthitis symptoms can persist for as long as six weeks. Other things that can cause labyrinthitis include poison, head trauma, brain tumors and drug intoxication, so it's important to get your dog checked as soon as you notice symptoms to rule these things out. Prolonged use of the antibiotics aminoglycoside and neomycin can also cause labyrinthitis symptoms, and even deafness. Ear medications and solutions can also cause damage that results in labyrinthitis if not administered properly.
Treatment will involve determining the underlying cause and treating that. For an ear infection, your vet may prescribe a course of antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory medication to reduce inflammation. The vet will also determine the condition of the eardrum. In cases where it has ruptured or needs medication administered, your dog may need to go under general anesthesia. It might also be necessary to perform a myringotomy, which involves perforating the tympanum to relieve pressure and to obtain fluid for a bacteria culture. Your dog's condition will most likely improve with treatment, although Fluffy might be left with hearing loss or a permanent head tilt.
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