Vestibular syndrome in dogs

The vestibular system includes the inner ear and associated nerves and a centralised location in the lower brain. A healthy vestibular system keeps a dog balanced and coordinates their head and eye movement. On the other hand, vestibular syndrome interferes with a dog’s balance and coordination. 

The majority of vestibular syndrome cases in dogs have an unknown cause or result from a middle or inner ear infection. Other possible underlying causes include medication reactions, trauma, hypothyroidism, polyps or tumours, infectious or inflammatory disease, vascular accident, or a brain tumour.   

What are vestibular syndrome signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Head tilt
  • Difficulty standing
  • Gait ataxia (walking incoordination)
  • Abnormal eye movements

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Circling
  • Falling over
  • Agitation
  • Facial drooping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Inability to rise

Vestibular syndrome interferes with a dog’s balance and coordination. 


How is vestibular syndrome managed in dogs?  

Vestibular syndrome management in dogs depends on the identification and treatment of any underlying cause. Idiopathic vestibular syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion. Treatment focuses on supportive care, including hydration and nutrition, and medications to reduce motion sickness, nausea and anxiety. 

For an ear infection, appropriate antibiotic or antifungal medications are needed and surgery may be recommended to flush out the infection. The less common causes of vestibular syndrome require specific treatments. 

Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian is important for the best outcome for your dog.

What is the prognosis for dogs with vestibular syndrome?

The prognosis in dogs depends on the cause of vestibular syndrome. Idiopathic disease can show improvement in a few days and complete resolution in three weeks, but a head tilt may persist. 

A middle ear infection can require eight weeks of treatment to fully resolve. Brain lesions or tumours have a poorer prognosis.

Management tips for dogs with vestibular syndrome

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food and water, and a quiet sleeping area
  • Consistency with prescribed medications or supplements
  • Ramps, modified surfaces for increased traction, or mobility aids, if needed
  • Confining your dog to a safe space to prevent injury
  • Avoiding abrupt changes that may startle your dog
  • Monitoring appetite, drinking, urination, defecation and ambulation

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog stops eating, has uncontrollable vomiting, is overly agitated, collapses, or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.