Dogs with symptoms of neurological deficits should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Definitive diagnosis of idiopathic vestibular disease (IVD) is usually based on ruling out other conditions that mimic its symptoms. This is called diagnosis by exclusion.
Dogs with IVD often have normal blood work and urinalysis results. The veterinarian will obviously conduct a complete physical and neurological examination and take a thorough history from the dog’s owner. She will likely examine the ears carefully with an otoscope to assess the integrity of the eardrums (tympanic membranes). Other diagnostic tests include skull/head radiographs (X-rays), computed tomography (CT/CAT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These imaging techniques are useful to rule out otitis media or interna (middle or inner ear infection). Samples of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF; a “spinal tap”) may be taken and assessed for evidence of encephalitis, distemper or central nervous system lymphoma, among other things. Samples of brain tissue can be taken surgically and either cultured or examined microscopically, or both.
Other advanced ways to assess neurological disorders, including IVD, can be discussed by the dog’s owner with its veterinarian. Fortunately, this scary condition is usually self-limiting, meaning that with time it typically resolves on its own without significant permanent effects.