Vestibular Disease After Head Trauma in Dogs

Dogs with vestibular disease may experience extreme dizziness on standing up or walking.
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If your dog has suffered a blow to the head, he could be at risk of developing vestibular disease -- a temporary or sudden non-progressive condition affecting his balance. Though it is possible your dog's condition will resolve itself in time, some cases of vestibular disturbance can be debilitating, so it is important to seek the advice of a veterinarian in treating your dog's illness.

About the Vestibular System

Your dog's vestibular system is responsible for maintaining her balance and orientation in space. Components of this complex system are responsible for carrying messages back and forth from your dog's brain to her middle or inner ears. When working properly, your pet's vestibular system allows her to know if she is upright or upside down, tilting left or right and moving or standing still. Disturbances in this system can confuse your dog's spatial sense and send conflicting messages to her brain about her body's relation to gravity.

Signs of Vestibular Disturbance

Common symptoms of vestibular illness after head trauma include head tilting, persistent running or walking in circles, falling down upon standing, staggering, a reluctance to walk and nystagmus -- a back and forth jerking motion in the eyes. Your dog may also lose his appetite, drool excessively or refuse food entirely if he suffers from vertigo or dizziness and nausea. If left untreated, his vestibular disease can contribute to rapid weight loss, which can lead to further illness or malnutrition.


If your vet suspects your dog may have suffered a blow to the head that caused damage to her vestibular system, he will perform a physical examination to determine the location of your dog's vestibular illness. Most cases of vestibular damage occur peripherally, in the inner or outer ear canal. Rarely, the damage exists centrally, in the brain. Your dog's vet will use an otoscope to examine your pet's ears. He may also wish to perform blood or urine analysis or an X-ray, CT scan or MRI of your dog's brain to rule out other types of illness or trauma.

Treating Trauma-Induced Vestibulitis

Your veterinarian may prescribe drugs to help treat your dog's motion sickness. You may need to feed your pet with a syringe for a few days, until she is able to stand at her bowl to eat. If your dog's vestibular disease is causing such extreme nausea that she is unable to eat, she may require intravenous nutrition. Depending on the severity of your dog's head injury, your vet may wish to observe her for a few days and monitor her condition. If hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) is suspected, she may require a shunt inserted surgically to drain the fluids and relieve the pressure on her brain.