Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

What Is Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease?

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease is a sudden, non-progressive disease of the vestibular system that is most often seen in older dogs and causes issues with balance. It is common for pet parents of a dog with canine idiopathic vestibular disease to think their pet has had a stroke, as the signs often occur suddenly and are alarming. A once normally acting dog will present with many unexpected neurological symptoms.

What Is The Vestibular System?

The vestibular system is the body’s balance control system. It is comprised of components located in the inner and middle ear (peripheral components) and the brain (central components) that relay messages to maintain balance.

What Are The Signs Of Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease?

Dogs present with the following signs:

  • Head tilt
  • Loss of balance, stumbling, trouble standing/walking (known as ataxia)
  • Circling
  • Jerky eye movements (known as nystagmus)
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty eating or drinking

How Is Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease Treated?

Once it is determined that the cause of the vestibular disease is not related to an ear infection or injury, hypothyroidism or drug toxicity, the disease may be treated in hospital with supportive care, including:

  • Intravenous fluids (if dog is unable to eat)
  • Anti-nausea and sedative medications
  • Cage rest (if dog is unable to stand/walk)

Once your dog is well enough to manage at home, the following supportive care may be continued until the signs resolve:

  • Anti-nausea and sedative medications
  • Assistance with walking
  • Supervision outside and near stairs
  • Monitoring the intake of food and water

What Is The Prognosis For Canine Vestibular Disease?

In many cases of canine idiopathic vestibular disease the first 24 to 48 hours is the worst symptomatically for the affected pet. Many dogs with canine idiopathic vestibular disease see the signs of disease resolve over a few weeks. Although it is possible for the head tilt and mild unsteadiness to remain long term, it is not common for the disease to re-occur.

If your dog is experiencing signs of canine idiopathic vestibular disease it is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. This will enable you to rule out any other potential causes of the signs they are experiencing as well as initiate supportive treatment quickly.


Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at

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