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A beautiful, yellow-eyed cat receiving treatment. Doug Hall feeding a well-loved client.

Paws For Thought Article 5

11th April 2019

Vestibular syndrome.


Last week we had one of our lovely patients Brownie in with suspected vestibular syndrome. Due to the severity of the symptoms associated with this issue, I wanted to write an article to raise awareness as it can be very distressing for the both the affected pet and the owners. Affected dogs commonly present as very wobbly and 'off balance', with flickering eyes and nausea. It is often described to us by the owner as their pet having had a stroke. Understandably, it is very scary to see, but quite often with supportive treatment, they can make a spontaneous recovery.


What can be the symptoms of vestibular syndrome?


    Ataxia (disorientated or 'drunken' gait)

    Nystagmus (flicking of the eyes from side-to-side)

    Head tilt

    Vomiting- the 'off balance' feeling can make them feel very nauseated



What causes vestibular syndrome?


The vestibular system is involved in balance and is comprised of the inner ear, vestibular nerve and parts of the cerebellum and brain stem.


In order to understand the cause of the symptoms, we have to try and determine whether this has started because of a peripheral problem (involving the ear or vestibular nerve) or a central issue (involving the brain).


The most common cause of vestibular syndrome is 'idiopathic' meaning that these is no known cause. Other causes include severe ear disease or a brain lesion, but these are less common.


How do we investigate and treat this syndrome?


A clinical examination revealing the symptoms above is enough to suspect that we have vestibular syndrome, but further imaging (ie. an MRI) is the only way that we can rule out a central lesion.


We will rule out ear disease and treat this as necessary. If there is no obvious cause, then we start supportive treatment with the view that there is idiopathic vestibular syndrome. This involves anti-sickness medication and sometimes a drip if they are unable to eat.


Bringing the food and water to your pet helps them to eat/drink, as when they stand up they feel very dizzy and disorientated. Also supporting them when they walk prevents them from having a fall and causing further injury. We always pad out their beds and keep them restricted.


In most cases, the symptoms will spontaneously resolve, but if there is deterioration of their condition, we may consider referral.


If you are concerned that your pet is displaying any of these symptoms, we recommend that you phone us at Cape Vets on 01483 538990 to book an appointment to be seen. If you require any further information, please do contact us.


Catherine Hannah BVSc MRCVS.

Ref: Fitzpatricks referrals, DVM 360.