Let’s know about Nystagmus in dogs. You are relaxing with your dog and suddenly notice his eyes rolling back and forth while his head is still. While this can be scary to watch as a dog caregiver, it is important to be aware that this is not normal and to contact your veterinarian. 9 Common Dog Eye Ailments And Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Them
What is Nystagmus?
Nystagmus is a medical term that describes when your dog’s eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably. They can move up and down in a circle but are most commonly seen. The movement can vary between slow and fast and occurs in both eyes. Eyes may move more when viewed in certain directions. Dogs with nystagmus may tilt or turn their head to see more clearly. Nystagmus, in itself, is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition. There are many reasons why your dog may display this symptom. One of the most common conditions that are seen is a vestibular disease. Vestibular disease refers to a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance, and nystagmus is commonly seen with it.
It is more common in older dogs. It is also known as an old canine vestibular syndrome and canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome. The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining normal balance, coordinating eye movements, and sensing the position of the head and body in space. The vestibular system consists of central components located in the brain and peripheral components located in the inner and middle ear. Other possible causes for nystagmus include the following:
- middle/internal transition
- head trauma
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- Neoplastic Tumors
- Inflammation and viral infections such as canine distemper
- exposure to toxins
- Stroke (loss of blood flow to the brain)
You may not notice any other symptoms, or you may notice different symptoms depending on the underlying cause. Dogs with nystagmus may also have other symptoms, including loss of balance. Head tilt, vomiting, walking in circles, falling/disorientation, standing with their feet together, and your dog may be less active than usual.
Diagnosing the Cause of Your Dog’s Nystagmus
If your dog suddenly shows any of the symptoms mentioned above, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will start by doing a thorough examination and getting the history of your dog. Your vet may want to get blood work, a urinalysis, take radiographs, run an EKG screen, or get a blood pressure reading to check for any concurrent diseases. Unfortunately, because some causes of nystagmus are due to injury/trauma to the brain, a definitive diagnosis can only be made by specialized imaging, such as an MRI or cat scan in these cases. Although these are available in veterinary medicine, an owner usually has to go to a referral hospital for them which can be cost-prohibitive.
If there are any underlying diseases open medicines will be prescribed to better control those diseases. Your vet may also want to rule out something called idiopathic vestibular disease, which presents similarly but is a different disease. Idiopathic refers to the exact cause of the disease unknown, but this disease, also known as chronic canine syndrome, affects the vestibular system in your dog’s inner ear. A dog suffering from the vestibular disease will develop a head tilt, a circling gait, And it can’t eat any more food. Symptoms are very similar to those of a stroke, but the idiopathic vestibular disease is far more common in elderly dogs than a true stroke.
Treating Your Dog’s Nystagmus
The best behavior to treat your dog’s nystagmus is completely what is causing your dog’s nystagmus. Specific treatment will be based on the specific disease. If your dog’s nystagmus is exposed to a chemical or toxin, removing the substance can stop the nystagmus. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics if there is an infection and if your dog is suffering from hypothyroidism medications, and dietary changes may improve symptoms. For other reasons, such as vestibular disease, hospitalization, and intravenous fluids may be required until the pet can eat and walk on its own.
Clinical signs of vestibular disease, including nystagmus, often improve over a period of one to two weeks. Most dogs make a full recovery within two to three weeks with supportive care, although some will have residual symptoms such as a head tilt or mild “wobbling” for life. If your dog fails to improve or worsen, your veterinarian will perform advanced diagnostic tests. Regardless of the cause of your dog’s nystagmus, seeking immediate veterinary attention is vital to your dog’s health. Whether you see an emergency veterinarian or your regular vet, they can help you figure out what is causing your dog’s troubled eye symptoms and how best to deal with the problem.