dazed and confused

Do you remember that woozy feeling you had as a kid after you just stepped off of a fast merry-go-round, or how dizzy you felt when you spun around with your forehead on a baseball bat and then tried to run a race? Well, that was your vestibular system hard at work.

The vestibular system is part of the inner ear, and its purpose is to tell the brain about the body’s orientation in space (whether it is standing up, riding on an elevator or falling, for instance). Older dogs (and sometimes cats) are prone to a dizzying condition called vestibular disease, and when it occurs, our poor furry friends feel like the room is spinning!

Vestibular disease can occur secondary to inner ear infections or a lesion in the brain, but older pets are more commonly affected by what veterinarians call “idiopathic vestibular disease,” or vestibular disease with no known underlying cause.

Dogs and cats with vestibular disease suffer incoordination, dizziness and nausea. Owners often think that their pet has had a stroke. Nystagmus, or eyes that flicker wildly back and forth, can be a tell-tale sign in pets with vestibular disease — look for it if your pet is suddenly unable to keep her balance. Most pets will also have a head tilt.

Fortunately, in most cases, symptoms resolve on their own within a few days. Nursing care to assist with meals may be needed while your pet recovers, and anti-nausea medications can help with the worst of the motion sickness. Plenty of TLC goes a long way here, and will help your disoriented patient find her way back to health!