Geriatric Vestibular Disease In Dogs

Geriatric Vestibular Disease In Dogs

Geriatric vestibular disease in dogs, also known as old dog syndrome and canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome, has an average onset age of 12.5 years. Before delving deeper into dog geriatric vestibular disease, we must first understand the classification of dog vestibular disease:

Classification of dog vestibular disease

Vestibular diseases in dogs are divided into the following two types:
  • Central vestibular disease

  • Peripheral vestibular disease

Dog geriatric vestibular disease is one of the causes of peripheral vestibular disease, and it can be also classified as peripheral vestibular disease. Peripheral vestibular disease and central vestibular disease have similar symptoms but different etiologies. Peripheral vestibular disease is simply a benign, reversible vestibular disease, whereas central vestibular disease is a severe, irreversible vestibular disease.

Symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs

Whatever the cause, vestibular disease, as the name implies, is a disease caused by abnormal and interrupted function of the vestibular system in dogs, most notably as a sudden loss of balance. The following are the most common symptoms:

1. Common symptoms of central vestibular disease and peripheral vestibular disease in dogs

  • Ataxia

    A lack of coordination. Including wobbling, swaying gait, head tilting, and more).

  • Head tilt

    Head tilt to the side of the lesion.

  • Falls or rolls

    Body falls or rolls to the side of the lesion.

  • Strabismus

    The eye looks off to the side, unable to focus in the same direction as the other eye.

  • Vomiting & salivation

    Vomiting and salivation is observed in some dogs

  • Nystagmus

    The involuntary and rhythmic flickering of the eyeball

2. Symptoms specific to central vestibular disease in dogs

  • Nystagmus in vertical or rotational direction.

  • Nystagmus direction changes with head position.

3. Symptoms specific to peripheral vestibular disease in dogs

  • Nystagmus direction is horizontal or rotational.

  • Nystagmus direction does not change with head position.

You can roughly determine which type of vestibular disease your dog has based on the symptoms listed above. (If your dog exhibits symptoms of suspected vestibular disease, please consult a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible.)

What is vestibular system?

Before we can understand the causes and treatment of old dog vestibular syndrome, we must first understand what the vestibular system is and how it works.

The vestibular system of dogs is a sensory system that contributes significantly to balance and spatial orientation. To coordinate movement and balance, it primarily detects motion, head position and spatial orientation. The vestibular system is divided into two parts:

  • The peripheral part in the ear, including:

    - The vestibular labyrinth: to detect rotational motion
    - The otolith organs: to detect forward and reverse movement as well as gravitational forces.

  • The central part in the brain, including

    - Vestibular nucleus in the cerebellum
    - Brainstem
    - Nerve conduction pathway

Peripheral vestibular disease can result from peripheral vestibule damage. There is a set of vestibular labyrinth and otoliths in each ear of the dog. When one ear’s vestibular system is damaged but the other is not, the dog will tilt its head or fall to the damaged side. More specifically, the impaired peripheral vestibular system reported that the dog was moving, whereas the eyes reported that the dog was not moving; the two reports converged in the brain, resulting in a cognitive conflict. This erratic cognition can result in loss of balance, disorientation, rotation, and fall. The dog’s symptoms will go away once the consistency between the vestibule and the visual system is restored.

When the central vestibule is damaged, the symptoms are similar to those seen with peripheral vestibular damage.

Vestibular disease in dogs causes

1. Causes of dog geriatric vestibular disease

The cause of the geriatric vestibular disease we discuss in this blog post is not yet known, although some studies suggest that it may be related to specific immune damage.

2. Causes of peripheral vestibular disease in dogs

  • Geriatric vestibular disease

    Idiopathic acute peripheral vestibular symptoms of unknown cause.

  • Otitis media/ otitis interna

    The most common cause is peripheral vestibular lesions caused by bacterial infection of the middle and inner ear.

  • Ear canal tumor

    Oppresses and erodes peripheral vestibule.

  • Aminoglycoside poisoning

    High dose or long-term administration may cause peripheral vestibular system lesions.

  • Inflammatory polyps

    Oppresses and erodes peripheral vestibule.

  • Hypothyroidism

    Peripheral vestibular disease may be caused, but not all dogs with hypothyroidism will experience symptoms of vestibular disease.

3. Causes of central vestibular disease in dogs

  • Trauma or bleeding

  • Infectious inflammatory disease

    Diseases caused by bacterial, viral, protozoal, rickettsial, fungal, parasitic, and algal agents.

  • Granulomatous meningoencephalitis

    An inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS) of dogs.

  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)

    A bacterial disease spread through the bite of an infected tick.

  • Tumor

  • Vascular infarction

    Result from arterial obstruction or venous thrombosis or blood vessel abnormalities such as vasculitis.

  • Thiamine deficiency

    Dog food deficient in thiamine or inability to absorb/process thiamine due to gastro-intestinal disease/liver disease

Old dog vestibular disease treatment

A notable feature of old dog vestibular disease is that the level of symptoms of loss of balance decreases rather than increases over time. Symptoms of nystagmus typically resolve within a few days, while symptoms of head tilt and loss of balance typically resolve within 1-2 weeks. As a result, this is an acute idiopathic disease that can be cured on its own, and no effective treatment plan is recommended.

Only in dogs with severe vomiting can diphenhydramine be administered subcutaneously at a dose of 2-4 mg/kg body weight every 8 hours to relieve vomiting.

While the dog is healing, the owner can make the following changes to the dog’s living environment to improve the dog’s comfort:

  • Bring water and food bowls closer to the kennel so the dog can drink and eat more easily.

  • Provide soft fabrics for the dog's pillow and resting area.

  • When the dog needs to urinate or defecate, assist the dog's movements with equipment such as a lifting harness.

Wrap up

Geriatric vestibular disease in dogs, with an average onset age of 12.5 years, is a disease that affects the peripheral vestibular system (inner ear) rather than the central vestibular system (brain stem).

The disease’s cause is undefined, but some research suggests that it may be linked to specific immune damage.

The symptom usually improves within 72 hours, but it may take up to 2-3 weeks to completely heal on its own. If the dog is vomiting excessively, the veterinarian may recommend diphenhydramine injections to control the symptoms. The dog owner’s only option is to improve the dog’s living conditions and make the dog more comfortable during the dog’s self-healing period.

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