Vestibular disease in dogs is a treatable condition, with most dogs making a full recovery within 2-3 weeks. Assuming that the cause of vestibular disease is relatively benign (for example in the case of idiopathic vestibular disease or middle/internal ear infection), clinical signs such as a head tilt and incoordination will often disappear in the first 7-14 days. In these cases, dogs can make a full recovery and their life expectancy will not be affected significantly. Despite experiencing vestibular disease, these dogs will go on to live long and happy lives.
However, recurrence of vestibular disease remains frequent, with clinical signs persisting in the first 12 months after diagnosis. As many as 1 out of 3 dogs will experience long-term clinical signs (See our article “What to do if your dog is not recovering from vestibular disease“). If the cause of vestibular disease is more serious, life expectancy will vary significantly.
Can Vestibular Disease Be Fatal to Dogs?
Vestibular Disease in dogs can be the result of a variety of medical conditions, such as:
- an inner ear problem,
- a brain tumor or lesion,
- a collar-related injury, or
- nervous system dysfunction.
However, there is often no clear underlying issue: 70% of dogs are diagnosed with vestibular disease without a clear specific cause according to this study (the most prevalent cause was ear problems for about 26% of dogs with vestibular disease).
Although it isn’t the vestibular disease itself that can kill a dog, the other effects of these causes could result in a dog’s death. When the cause of vestibular disease might be something more sinister, a dog’s prognosis and life expectancy might be significantly worse. Dogs that suffer from vestibular disease as a result of a tumor, trauma or poisoning may be in a more critical condition. These conditions can, unfortunately, be fatal to your dog.
How Long Can Dogs Live with Vestibular Disease?
This will depend on the cause of the vestibular disease. Vestibular disease is simply a result of a more serious condition that could be fatal to your dog:
- Dogs with idiopathic vestibular disease or an ear infection may make a full recovery within 2-3 weeks and continue to live a normal healthy life.
- Dogs that develop vestibular disease due to a trauma or a brain tumor might have a shortened lifespan because of this; exactly how long dogs will live with vestibular disease will depend on the severity of the trauma or tumor. For example, The median survival time for dog with a brain tumor treated with steroids alone is 2-4 months (this survival time can be increased through the implementation of chemotherapy and radiotherapy).
A dog that shows no improvement several weeks or months after diagnosis may have a more serious underlying medical condition that needs to be investigated: advanced imaging with CT / MRI scans will likely be used by your veterinarian to determine next steps and identify the cause.
These more serious causes of vestibular disease in dogs are often grouped together under the term ‘central vestibular disease’. Learn more in our article “What to Do if Your Dog is Not Recovering from Vestibular Disease.”
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