Nystagmus (Unintentional Eye Movement) In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Nystagmus is a condition where dogs’ eyes move rapidly and involuntarily. Sometimes it may look as though the dogs’ eyes are moving up and down quickly, or they may move back and forth from side to side without stopping to focus on anything.

It can be caused by several medical conditions, result from birth defects, or develop with old age. Sometimes pet parents mistakenly believe nystagmus and the symptoms that come with it are signs of a stroke, but this is unlikely.

If you see the signs of nystagmus in your dog, you must consult your veterinarian so they can find the underlying cause and prescribe treatment. Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for nystagmus in dogs.

Symptoms Of Nystagmus In Dogs

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The uncontrollable eye movements of nystagmus often appear with other symptoms in dogs. These symptoms add to the misconception that a dog with nystagmus might be having a stroke.

It can be unnerving to witness, but if your dog shows any of the following symptoms along with unintentional eye movements, stay calm and get to a vet as soon as you can:

  • Head tilting
  • Walking in circles
  • Loss of coordination
  • Clumsiness, falling, disorientation
  • Rolling
  • Motion sickness or nausea

Causes Of Nystagmus In Dogs

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There are several possible causes of nystagmus in dogs.

Infections of the middle or inner ear can cause irregular eye movements and loss of balance or coordination. Head shaking, discharge from the ears, or signs of discomfort such as scratching at the ear or rubbing against furniture or the ground can all be signs of ear infection.

Vestibular disease is another possible cause. It comes in many types, and it can be congenital, meaning present at birth. Vestibular disease can be idiopathic, which can come with age and may have no distinct cause.

Peripheral vestibular disease, which affects the inner and middle ear, can result from hypothyroidism, injuries, certain tumors, or side effects of medications.

Central vestibular disease, which affects the base of the brain stem, can be caused by tumors, thiamine deficiency, infections, heart attacks, or exposure to toxins.

Most of these vestibular diseases can be treated or resolve themselves without treatment, though central vestibular disease can be catastrophic. All of these affect balance and coordination.

Encephalitis, an inflammatory condition in the brain, may be another cause. It also results in headaches, drowsiness, fever, and confusion. Though it’s rare, it requires immediate vet care, as it can be caused by infections in the brain.

Head injuries can also cause nystagmus. Head trauma can throw dogs’ coordination and balance into chaos and cause a number of symptoms. Dogs who’ve suffered from a head injury recently and have uncontrollable eye movements should get treatment right away, as there may be severe damage.

Epilepsy, seizures, and strokes are other possible causes, though they are not the most likely.

Treatments For Nystagmus In Dogs

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Treatment for nystagmus in dogs depends on the underlying cause of the condition.

If it results from a medication side effect, a vet might take an affected dog off the drug to see if the condition improves.

If there’s an infection, a vet may prescribe antibiotics, and if the dog suffers from hypothyroidism, medications and dietary changes may improve symptoms. In the case of tumors or growths, surgery might be an option.

If your dog is suffering from nystagmus, it is important to consult your vet, even if it doesn’t seem to bother your dog much. It can be a sign of serious conditions that need immediate care.

Has your dog ever suffered from nystagmus? What was the cause? Let us know in the comments below!

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