Dear VetBabble: Why Is My Dog Tilting His Head and Losing Balance?
My dog is 3 to 4 years old and was a rescue. He recently started tilting his head to the side and has little to no balance. I’m wondering if it could be something serious. Poor Rex! What could be causing his head tilt and loss of balance, and should I be concerned?
As a warmhearted, friendly, and informative veterinarian, I understand how concerning it can be when your beloved fur-baby suddenly exhibits unusual behavior or loses their balance. Let’s break down some of the possible reasons behind your dog’s head tilt and loss of balance, and discuss when you should consult your veterinarian.
Potential Causes of Head Tilt and Loss of Balance in Dogs
There are several potential causes for your dog’s head tilt and loss of balance, ranging from simple infections to more serious problems. Some common causes include:
- Middle or inner ear infections
- Vestibular disease (also known as old dog syndrome)
- Brain tumors
- Hip dysplasia
I’ll provide more information on each of these possible causes, and discuss how you can differentiate between them and seek appropriate treatment for your pet.
1. Ear Infections in Dogs
Ear infections can cause your dog to tilt their head and lose their balance. Infections in the outer ear typically cause pain and inflammation, while infections in the middle or inner ear can affect your dog’s balance and coordination. Signs of an ear infection include head shaking, head tilt, and scratching at the ears. If you suspect an ear infection, you should consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
2. Vestibular Disease in Dogs
Vestibular disease, sometimes referred to as “old dog syndrome,” can cause sudden onset balance issues in dogs. This condition affects the vestibular system, which helps dogs maintain their balance. Symptoms of vestibular disease include sudden head tilt, loss of balance, and rapid eye movement. While this condition can be alarming, it is typically not life-threatening and can often be managed with supportive care and time.
3. Seizures in Dogs
Seizures are another potential cause of head tilt and loss of balance in dogs. Seizures can result from various underlying health issues, such as epilepsy, brain tumors, or exposure to toxins. Dogs experiencing seizures may exhibit symptoms such as head tilt, loss of balance, muscle tremors, or uncontrolled paddling movements. If you suspect your dog is having seizures, contact your veterinarian immediately.
4. Brain Tumors in Dogs
Brain tumors can cause head tilt and balance issues in dogs, along with various other neurological symptoms. While brain tumors are a more serious cause of these symptoms, they are less common than ear infections or vestibular disease. Signs of a brain tumor can include sudden onset of head tilt, loss of balance, seizures, and changes in behavior. If your veterinarian suspects a brain tumor, they may recommend further diagnostic testing such as an MRI or CT scan.
5. Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
While less likely to cause a head tilt, hip dysplasia can lead to balance issues in dogs. Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition where the hip joint does not form correctly, leading to arthritis and discomfort. Dogs with hip dysplasia may develop a limp, lose balance, or display difficulty sitting and standing. Your veterinarian can diagnose hip dysplasia through physical examination and x-rays.
Consulting Your Veterinarian
Regardless of the suspected cause, I recommend taking Rex to the vet for a thorough ear and neurologic exam to determine the root of the problem. A timely and accurate diagnosis is essential for proper treatment and the best possible outcome for your beloved pet. I hope all goes well for Rex!