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Vestibular Syndrome

Vestibular syndrome refers to a group of diseases that affect the balance system also known as vestibular system.

Common signs of vestibular syndrome include loss of balance, falling, rolling over, abnormal flickering of the eyes and general wobbliness.

Signs of Vestibular Syndrome

Common signs of vestibular syndrome include falling, head tilt (rotation of the head with one ear held lower than the other), flickering of the eyeball from side-to-side or up and down (nystagmus), general wobbliness (often with the animal drifting to one side as he moves around) and/or circling.

The balance centre is very close to the area of the brain that controls vomiting and so animals with disturbances to the vestibular system may feel nauseous or be sick.

Causes of Vestibular Syndrome

Vestibular syndrome can be caused by a disease affecting any part of the system (sensors within the ear, the nerve connecting the ear and brain, or the control centre in the brain).
Diseases affecting the ear include deep ear infections (otitis), ear tumours or polyps, damage to the skull such as caused by a road traffic accident or a bad fall.

Diseases affecting the vestibular nerve include nerve tumours, nerve inflammation (neuritis) or an under-active thyroid gland.

The brain can be affected by a tumour, inflammation or infection (encephalitis), stroke, head trauma, some vitamin deficiencies (thiamine deficiency) or a malformation of the brain such as a cyst.

Some antibiotic treatments can also cause vestibular syndrome in a small number of "sensitive" dogs.

Some animals (particularly aged dogs or cats) develop vestibular syndrome and yet no cause can be detected, despite extensive investigations. This is called idiopathic vestibular disease.

Your vet may suspect that your pet has vestibular syndrome from your description of the signs.

However, there are several other diseases that can cause similar signs so it is important to try to confirm the presence of a vestibular syndrome and then to identify its cause in individual patients.


If an underlying cause can be identified and treated the signs of vestibular disease should get better.

If irreversible damage to the balance sensors had occurred head tilt and/or an intermittent loss of balance may persist despite adequate treatment.

The outlook for dogs in which a cause of the vestibular syndrome is identified depends on what the underlying cause is.

Some infections can be controlled quite easily whilst others are more serious, the outlook is worse for animals in which a tumour is discovered.

In most cases where no underlying cause is found animals will recover without any treatment. This recovery may take months and in some cases the animal may be left with a permanent head tilt.