Do You Know What Canine Nystagmus Is? Find Out Here!

Do You Know What Canine Nystagmus Is? Find Out Here!

Last update: 15 May, 2018

Not knowing the significance of certain gestures your pet makes, or not being sure how to act, could do great damage. Therefore, it’s important to be well-informed about the various anomalies that your dog might have and act quickly. Today, we’re talking about Nystagmus.

What is Nystagmus and what causes it?

Nystagmus is a repetitive and involuntary eye movement. It doesn’t matter if it’s slow or fast. Normally, it affects both eyes, but it can just affect one. Sometimes it can cause vision problems, but not always.

It can be congenital due to the malformation of the eyeball in embryonic development. This could then cause cataracts, intraocular hemorrhages, or retinal detachment.

It can also happen to cats, especially Siamese or Albinos, as a result of decussation of the optic nerve.

Symptoms of Nystagmus

The only and easily recognised symptom is the involuntary movement of the eye which can happen in different ways:

  • Side to side
  • Up and down
  • Circular

Each of these has its own name, in respective order: horizontal, vertical, or torsional nystagmus.


If you’ve noticed that your dog has repetitive involuntary eye movements and you want to find out if they really have Nystagmus, the vet can carry out the following tests:

  • A slit lamp exam
  • Assess reflexes
  • Tonometry
  • Indirect ophthalmoscopy
  • Electroretinography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (if necessary)


Nystagmus is not something that you need to treat, since the cause always precedes something external. For example, if your dog has nystagmus and it causes cataracts, once they’ve had an operation to remove the cataracts, the nystagmus will go too.

However, there are cases where it’s impossible to get rid of it because a strange congenital reason or some other factor.

To prevent this disease it’s important to keep your dog away from lead and toxic materials. These can cause the problem or make it more severe.

What to do if my dog has nystagmus

To find out if your dog has nystagmus, you need to pay close attention to their movements, especially the eyes. Sometimes the intensity of the movements will be much less than you think and less predictable.

holding dog's head

However, as a general rule, nystagmus is something that you’ll easily spot. Although it doesn’t seem to carry importance, it’s not normal so you should get to the vet as soon as you can.

Nystagmus can sometimes be a sign of a vestibular disease where the animal loses balance, moves in circles obsessively, can’t sleep, etc. Therefore, for any small sign that something isn’t quite right, take your pet to the vet.

Sometimes, we don’t see these little gestures as being important. We think they are nothing. This especially happens when we read on the internet that it’s nothing serious, or if a friend tells us so.

Well, now you know that here at My Animals we always advise that when something isn’t normal in an animal, it’s because something isn’t quite right. The best solution is without doubt to go to the vet. If they examine your dog and find that there’s nothing important to worry about, brilliant! But it’s always best to be cautious, so remember that your dog depends on you. Their life is in your hands and you’ll have them as long as you look after them.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.