Central Vestibular Disease in Dogs: Causes

There are many possible causes of central vestibular disease in dogs.Central Vestibular Disease in Dogs: Causes

Hypothyroidim – The most common metabolic disturbance that leads to central vestibular disease in dogs is low thyroid hormone levels, called hypothyroidism.  There are numerous mechanisms by which hypothyroidism can cause vestibular disease, though research is ongoing to assess their significance.  Hypothyroid dogs may have vascular events (called transient ischemic [low oxygen] attacks) that cause temporary, or rarely permanent, brain dysfunction.  This may manifest as vestibular signs.  These TIAs are believed to be caused by increases in circulating cholesterol or decreased ability of blood vessels to dilate properly.  Both are recognized syndromes in canine hypothyroidism.  Another mechanism may be changes in the brain’s ability to send messages to nerves.

Nutritional – Though uncommon with the advent of well-balanced commercial diets, low thiamine (vitamin B1) is a known cause of seizures.  Home cooked diets have many benefits, but most cases of low thiamine seizures are caused by poorly constituted diets.  If you decide to feed a home cooked diet, consult your veterinarian first to make sure that it is balanced for your dog and his or her life stage.

Primary CNS Disease – Disease in the brain and spinal cord are challenging because they can present in a many different forms including seizures, Alzheimer’s signs, and paralysis.  These diseases can be infections caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or other organisms.  The type of infection varies greatly pending your geographic location.  They can also be inflammatory lesions where the immune system is inappropriately activated in the CNS.  There are a number of different tumors that affect the nervous system.  If any of these lesions are located where the nerves that control balance (the vestibulo-cochlear nerve), vestibular signs may ensue.

There are birth defects that will result in clinical signs of vestibular disease.  The most notable one is where the coordination center of the brain does not develop properly (called cerebellar hypoplasia).  This may simply be a birth defect, or caused by infection while in-utero.

Click here to read about tests available to diagnose vestibular disease in dogs, and here to learn about treatment options.

Vestibular disease can also be peripheral in origin. Click here to learn about the causes of peripheral vestibular disease in dogs.

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Dr Roger Johnson and Dr Kyle Marano

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy. Kyle Marano, DVM is a small animal veterinarian practicing out of Northern Colorado. He has written pieces ranging from sports commentary and analysis to quips on the every day life of veterinary medicine. His furry family includes a chocolate lab mix and an overly nosy cat.

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