Can Pets Have Vertigo?
Cats and Dogs
Author, Darlene Wagner for Professional Pet Sitting Etc.
Vestibular disorders, such as Meniere’s disease and vertigo, are not unique to humans. Even our dogs and cats can be afflicted when there is irritation to the nerves that connect the vestibular (inner ear) organs to the brain. The organs provide the brain with important information about body position with respect to gravity. Sensory information from your pet’s vestibular system tells him if he is upside down, right-side up, turning, falling, accelerating, slowing down, etc. This information also coordinates with sensory information from vision and proprioception (touch sensors in the paws and other parts of your pet’s body) to help your pet maintain balance and keep a clear field of vision when moving.
There are two forms of vestibular disorder – peripheral and central. Most cats and dogs are stricken with the peripheral form (inner ear), with the central form being less common but much more serious, originating inside the central nervous system (brain).
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Vestibular Disorder?
Signs of vestibular disease include stumbling or staggering, head tilting or shaking, falling or rolling to one side, spinning or walking in circles, or sudden motion sickness, as well as involuntary, rhythmic and jerky eye movements. Secondary signs can include nausea, vomiting and excessive drooling. Perhaps one day you notice your cat’s usual streamlined and graceful movements have become awkward and uncertain, or your dog’s love for a good game of fetch has been hampered by disorientation and lack of coordination – these can be signs of vestibular disorder.
In older animals, vestibular disorder is often mistaken for a stroke, as the vertigo caused by the disorder can be especially intense, mimicking some signs of a stroke. It can also make simple activities like eating, drinking and eliminating quite difficult. In cases like this, supportive therapy in the form of IV fluids or nutritional supplements may be necessary. A pet-friendly calming agent such as chamomile or passionflower may also prove helpful, as the symptoms of vestibular disorder can be very stressful to senior pets.
What Causes Vestibular Disorder?
The cause of peripheral vestibular disorder in pets may include a middle ear infection, genetic sources, head trauma, an underactive thyroid gland, or a central nervous system issue, like a brain lesion. Often times, however, the exact cause can remain undetermined.
How is Vestibular Disorder Diagnosed and Treated?
Schedule an appointment for you and your furry friend to visit a veterinarian if you suspect vestibular disorder. Your vet will conduct proper testing, including a physical examination and a neurological assessment, which will determine if the disorder is peripheral or central. If the peripheral form is diagnosed, an otoscope will be used to view the depths of your pet’s ear. Your vet may also conduct additional tests such as x-rays and blood tests to rule out any other possible causes of your pet’s symptoms.
Treatment depends on the diagnosis. For example, if an ear infection results in the inflammation of tissues and nerves of the vestibular system, an important part of treatment will be to eliminate the infection. If your pet is diagnosed with the more common peripheral vestibular disorder, your vet will likely prescribe motion sickness medications to alleviate your pet’s nausea and vomiting. Fortunately, this form improves quickly in most cases, once the underlying cause is addressed and symptoms of vertigo are managed with supportive care.
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