The vestibular system is a sensory system that enables the dog to coordinate and maintain its balance and stabilize its eyes during movement of its head. It is located in the vestibulum, an area of the inner ear. A vestibular episode can be caused by an underlying disease of the ear, or – more commonly in older Cavaliers – it can just happen for no apparent reason (idiopathic vestibular disease).
The symptoms of an idiopathic vestibular episode are:
- A staggering gait
- Uncontrolled eye movements
- Inability to focus the eyes
- Head tilt
- Falling down
Not all dogs will show all these symptoms, and symptoms usually improve within a few days or weeks, led by the eyes returning to normal. There is no effective medication but most dogs make a full recovery, though some may continue to have a slight head tilt. Your vet will be able to judge whether your dog has this simple form of vestibular disease or something more serious. Initially, a vestibular episode can be really worrying for the owner, since it happens suddenly and can look like a stroke; but if your vet reassures you that it is no more than a normal idiopathic episode, it will only be a matter of time before your Cavalier recovers. A few extra treats always help, of course.