By Linda Cole
Vestibular disease can strike dogs and cats suddenly. Your pet is fine one minute and the next, he’s struggling to stand and walk. One of my older cats developed vestibular disease years ago. At the time, I had no idea what it was. Understanding vestibular disease is important because the symptoms mirror those of a stroke as well as other medical conditions, and it can be misdiagnosed.
My cat, Patches, was sitting upright when she suddenly fell over on her side and couldn’t get up. Her eyes were moving rapidly back and forth and her head was shaking. It was a scary moment and I was convinced she’d just had a stroke. I called my vet and he decided she could wait until the office was open the next morning. By then she seemed better and had regained her balance. Come to find out, it was idiopathic vestibular disease and not a stroke as I had feared.
The vestibular system is how animals, including us, know which way is up or down, if we’re spinning around, standing, moving, sitting or lying down. In general, it’s responsible for maintaining our sense of balance and controls head and eye movements. Without getting too technical, the vestibular system is made up of nerves in the brain that continue into the inner ear. The vestibular apparatus is located next to the cochlea that’s found deep in the inner ear, and another one is located in the medulla (the lower area of the brain) which is found at the top of the spinal cord.