If you've ever known a person with vertigo, you'll know that the terrible dizziness and nausea has nothing to do with heights. Your dog can develop the same condition, so if you see him staggering, tilting his head oddly and possibly vomiting as well, it could be canine vertigo.
Canine Vestibular Syndrome
It's commonly called vertigo, but the proper name for it is canine vestibular syndrome. The vestibular system processes information about your pooch's movement. When he gets up to walk around, a message travels via a network of nerves to his brain and the balance mechanism comes into play. If the pathway is damaged, then your pet will start to show a range of symptoms associated with being off-balance. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear, and that is where the problem usually starts. The most common cause of the problem is a middle ear infection, but there are others, such as a perforated eardrum and even an allergy to certain antibiotics. Less commonly, canine vertigo starts in the central nervous system. It's unusual to see vertigo problems in young dogs or puppies, although your pup can be born with it, in which case it might appear before he's 3 months old. Primarily, vets see the condition in older and middle-aged dogs.
A lack of balance causes your pet some serious confusion. You may notice him staggering, circling and tilting his head to one side. He may suddenly develop jerky eye movements, and the dizziness from lack of balance is likely to make him drool more and possibly vomit. In older dogs the symptoms are sometimes mistaken for a stroke. Vertigo is particularly difficult for older dogs to cope with and you might find that your old friend can't get outside to toilet so easily, and he also finds eating and drinking more of a challenge.
Your vet will need to do a full physical assessment of your pooch. This will probably include an ear examination and neurological tests to discover if the ear or the central nervous system is the cause of the problem. The vet needs to eliminate other possible causes of your dog's symptoms, so he could perform quite a battery of tests. Once he knows the cause, your vet will prescribe the right treatment. Motion sickness drugs help relieve your pet's nausea and if the vertigo stems from an ear infection, then he'll probably prescribe antibiotics for that. The treatment really depends on the cause, so there isn't one universal treatment for the condition. The good news is that vertigo usually only lasts for a couple of weeks at most, and you can play an important part in your pet's convalescence.
While your furry friend is receiving treatment and recovering, he really needs you to provide a calm, supportive environment for him. Chaos will only make his feelings of confusion worse. You might need to carry him outside to potty. Also, you may have to bring him breakfast in bed and feed him by hand until he regains his sense of balance. Veterinarian Karen Becker suggests giving your pet calming herbal essences, such as chamomile, passionflower or valerian to alleviate the stress your pet feels during his illness.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.