Should You Put Down a Dog with Vestibular Disease?

Is your dog suddenly wobbly, off balance, or struggling to do the things they normally do? Your pup could be experiencing canine vestibular disease. A non-progressive, non-lethal diagnosis, canine vestibular disease can look very dramatic, but most cases can be resolved in 72 hours to a few weeks. 

So, let’s answer the question you came here for answers to: Should you put a dog down with vestibular disease? No. Most dogs will make a full recovery from vestibular disease. Cases that continue to worsen or do not respond to treatment are often due to another underlying health issue, but vestibular disease specifically is not a terminal diagnosis

Vestibular Disease in dogs

In some rare cases, vestibular disease can be a progression of already worsening health and may signal that your dog’s life is coming to a close. This said vestibular disease alone is not enough to warrant euthanasia.  

What is Vestibular Disease in Dogs? What Causes It?

Vestibular disease is a “sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance” according to VCA veterinary hospitals. The vestibular system is located both in the brain and inner ear and helps to maintain balance and proper physical orientation. When the vestibular system is disturbed, injured, or otherwise compromised, it can cause serious dizziness and disorientation among a host of related issues. 

Vestibular disease in dogs is most commonly caused by middle and inner ear infections. Other causes may include:

  • Physical trauma to the ear
  • Tumors or growths pressing against the inner ear
  • Adverse drug interactions
  • Hypothyroidism 

Vestibular disease is most common in senior dogs, but it is possible for dogs of all ages to develop this condition. 

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Canine Vestibular Disease Symptoms

Canine vestibular disease may come on suddenly without other symptoms or warning. One day your dog may present as completely healthy, and the next they could be losing their balance, holding their head in a strange position, or stumbling around your home. The most common and noticeable symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs include:

  • Loss of balance (stumbling, swaying, leaning severely to one side, etc.)
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • A tilted head/holding the head at an abnormal angle
  • Nystagmus (uncontrolled rapid eye movements)
  • Refusing or struggling to stand or walk

The good news is that canine vestibular disease is not painful, and symptoms only last for a few days to several weeks. Most dogs begin to improve within a few days with proper treatment, but other dogs may need upwards of a month to fully recover. 

Vestibular Disease in dogs

How To Treat Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Before you can begin treating your vestibular disease, your dog will need a formal diagnosis from a veterinarian. The diagnostic process may include observation of behavior, blood and urine tests, x-rays, and blood pressure checks. In some cases, if the vet believes your dog could have a growth or tumor causing vestibular disease, a CT scan or MRI may be necessary. 

Once an underlying cause has been detected, a course of treatment can be developed. In most cases, no treatment is needed and the vestibular disease will clear on its own within a few weeks. Most cases of vestibular disease don’t occur independently, so if treatment is necessary, it will focus on the underlying condition causing the balance disturbance. The most common treatment for vestibular disease in dogs is antibiotics for middle and inner ear infections. In extreme cases, hospitalization may be recommended. 

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While canine vestibular disease isn’t painful, it can be uncomfortable, stressful, and anxiety provoking for your dog. In more severe cases, veterinarians may prescribe a course of treatment specifically to manage side effects. 

  • Anti-nausea and motion sickness medication
  • Sedatives to help keep your pup relaxed
  • Intravenous fluids in severe cases where dehydration may be a concern

Often with vestibular disease in dogs, home treatments and symptom management play an important role. You may need to assist your dog with basic day-to-day activities, gently carry them up and down stairs, and keep them contained in an area where they aren’t likely to be injured if they trip or stumble. 

Vestibular Disease in dogs

Canine Vestibular Disease FAQ

Learning as much as you can about conditions like canine vestibular disease can help you be prepared should your pup ever begin exhibiting symptoms of this or other health issues. If you know what to expect, the symptoms to look for, and approximately what your veterinarian might recommend as a course of treatment, you can cut down on your own stress, and get your dog the help they need more quickly.

Can a dog die from vestibular disease? 

No vestibular disease is not fatal. Vestibular disease is often caused by an underlying condition—while the vestibular disease itself is not fatal, the underlying condition could put your dog’s overall health at risk and should be treated as soon as possible. 

Should you put a dog down with vestibular disease? 

NO! Vestibular disease is not a fatal diagnosis, and there is no reason to euthanize a dog purely on the basis of a vestibular disease diagnosis. 

Is vestibular disease in dogs recurring? 

Often, yes. Older dogs that experience vestibular disease are more likely to have multiple episodes, but dogs of all ages become more likely to experience future vestibular disease episodes after their first. 

Have you noticed your dog sleeping with eyes open? Learn more about this behavior and whether you should be concerned. 

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