Diseases of the inner ear are characterized by labyrinthitis, or dizziness. The labyrinth is part of a complex organ of balance composed of the semi-circular canals, the utricle, and saccule. The labyrinth is like a gyroscope.
A dog with labyrinthitis will often assume an abnormal posture, with her head tilted down on the affected side. Dizziness, lack of coordination, and loss of balance are evident. The dog circles and leans toward the affected side and may exhibit rapid jerking movements of the eyeballs, a condition called nystagmus. Some dogs may vomit.
Idiopathic vestibular syndrome is a disease of unknown cause that affects middle-aged and older dogs. It is the second most common cause of labyrinthitis. The onset is sudden. The dizziness, staggering, and vomiting can be incapacitating. Vomiting may last for several days, in which case the dog may require intravenous fluids. Signs peak in 24 hours, but some degree of imbalance persists for 3 - 6 weeks. Recovery occurs in almost all cases. After recovery, some dogs experience a slight but permanent head tilt.
The most common cause of labyrinthitis is inner ear infection.
The prolonged administration of aminoglycoside and neomycin antibiotics can produce labyrinthitis, as well as deafness. Most ear preparations are capable of causing labyrinthitis and ear damage if they make contact with the sensitive structures of the inner ear. This is why ears should never be flushed or medicated without first making sure that the eardrumbs are intact.
Other causes of labyrinthitis include head trauma, brain tumor, poisoning, and drug intoxication. Suspect one of these if your dog develops labyrinthitis without having had a prior ear infection.
Diagnosis is made by veterinary ear exam.
The underlying cause must be diagnosed and treated. Supportive care and medications to relieve the symptoms assist in recovery.
Most cases of labyrinthitis can be prevented by treating ear canal infections at an early stage. This is why it is so important to take your dog to a vet as soon as you suspect an ear problem.
Please contact your veterinarian with questions regarding this condition.
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