Eye Paralysis & Vestibulitis in Dogs

Idiopathic vestibular disturbances are not uncommon in older dogs.
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Your dog's balance and physical orientation are controlled by a complex neurological system that connects his brain to his body, head and extremities through a central nervous system. This vestibular apparatus, which may cause rapid eye movement or the appearance of brief eye or facial paralysis, can be temporarily or permanently affected by damage to the brain, a tumor or through idiopathic causes.

Vestibular Eye Disturbance

One early sign that your dog may be suffering from vestibular disease is an unusual and rapid side-to-side eye movement. The eyes may dart in one direction and then slowly shift their gaze in the opposite direction, traveling back and forth in a jerky motion or freezing in mid-gaze. Though it may appear as though your dog is having a seizure, a sudden onset of nystagmus may instead indicate the onset of vestibular disease.

Other Symptoms of Vestibulitis

Because the vestibular apparatus controls your dog's sense of balance and body orientation, a disturbance with her vestibular system can cause her to tilt her head when she walks, to walk in circles, to roll on the ground continuously or fall to one side when she stands up. She also may vomit from motion sickness, suffer from involuntary muscle spasms, exhibit partial facial paralysis or involuntary head or facial twitching.

Causes of Vestibulitis

Vestibular illness can be caused by a number of factors, including tumors or lesions on the brain, a severe middle ear infection, a vascular failure in the brain, or meningitis due to viral or bacterial illness. Older or middle-aged dogs can experience an idiopathic vestibular disorder that may last for only a few days to a week. In such cases, the veterinarian may find no specific cause for the disease but will simply treat the dog's symptoms until he recovers.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment for your dog's vestibulitis-induced eye paralysis will depend upon the diagnosis your veterinarian finds after examining your pet. If your dog is found to be suffering from a middle ear infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics and ointment to be administered for a number of days. If no outer or peripheral cause can be found for the vestibular dysfunction, your vet may wish to perform a CT scan or MRI on your dog to look for possible brain lesions, tumors, swelling or signs of vascular damage. A blood analysis or urine sample can help to diagnose bacterial infections or demonstrate evidence of swelling, which could indicate meningitis. Viral and bacterial infections can be treated with medication, while tumors may require radiation, chemotherapy or surgical excision. Cases of idiopathic vestibular disease usually will clear up on their own, but your dog may need to be hand or syringe-fed for several days until she is able to stand up at her bowl and eat on her own. Severe, progressive vestibular disease may be fatal. In such cases, speak to your veterinarian about humane treatment options.