Shea Cox
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Idiopathic or “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease

A fairly common reason for a veterinary visit is the concern that an older dog has had a stroke, when he suddenly starts walking like a drunken sailor with his head tilted. I know of other cases, where these sorts of symptoms are assumed to be a brain tumor and the dog is euthanized—maybe unnecessarily. (The condition plays a role in the new Hallmark movie, Duke.)

Well, I want to shed some light on a much more common and less concerning cause of these and other disturbing signs, something known as idiopathic vestibular disease, in case it is something you ever experience with your own geriatric dog.

Idiopathic (meaning unknown cause, think: idiot) vestibular disease is a syndrome that looks really, really bad, but usually gets better all on its own with little or no treatment.

The vestibular system
The vestibular system is composed of portions of the brain and ear and is responsible for maintaining a sense of balance. When something goes wrong with this system, it’s like being drunk on a rocky boat. Dogs with idiopathic vestibular disease have some combination of the following signs:

These videos show a dog with mild, but very typical, vestibular signs and another dog with more severe signs.

Now for the caveat: These clinical signs are unfortunately not unique, or diagnostic for, idiopathic vestibular disease and other things can cause this same presentation. These can include (yes) a brain tumor, an inner ear infection, inflammatory disease or sudden bleeds into the brain—to name a few. But with that being said, when the symptoms seemingly appear out of nowhere in an older dog, I always recommend a “wait-and-see approach,” treating symptomatically and supportively, as there is a good chance of improvement.

Wait-and-see approach
For a dog showing the above signs, I first discuss the possible causes. Next, I recommend blood work and a blood pressure check to make sure there is no “obvious” disease. I discuss the availability of an MRI to evaluate the inner ear and brain. Although an MRI allows for the best evaluation of disease, it is often not pursued due to cost (about $1,500 here in the Bay Area).

I examine both ear canals, and if an infection is suspected, I discuss antibiotic therapy, as inner ear disease is one of the possible causes of vestibular signs. The inner ear (pictured below) is something you cannot see during an exam because the eardrum obscures the view to the inner ear. The eardrum is like a closed door that sits in front of the middle and inner ear. However, if there is a nasty looking outer ear and an inflamed eardrum, there is a chance that inner ear disease could be present as well.

If the dog’s clinical signs are so severe that they cannot walk, I then recommend supportive care with IV fluids and injectable anti-nausea medications. Urinary catheters are sometimes placed for hygienic reasons. If clinical signs are mild, pets can often be managed at home with over-the-counter meclizine (for the feelings of “motion sickness” they experience). We also provide instructions for general nursing care as well as how to protect from falls.

The conversation ends with discussing a very loose rule of thumb: If there is gradual or complete improvement within 72 hours, it is likely idiopathic vestibular disease and additional diagnostic testing is not necessary. If there is no improvement or progression of signs, it is likely something much more serious, such as a tumor, and an MRI would be recommended to reach a definitive diagnosis. With idiopathic vestibular disease, marked improvement is usually evident in this time frame, with the pet returning to normal in 7 to 14 days (although in some dogs, a head tilt will still persist).

It should also be noted that this is not a painful condition, and my recommendations stem from the fact that euthanasia is a permanent decision, so why not wait and see, giving time a chance? There is a high likelihood that improvement will be seen and the difficult decision of euthanasia can always be made at a later date if there is no improvement or if there is a change in your pet’s quality of life. I feel there is reason to hold out hope and be cautiously optimistic, as idiopathic vestibular disease is the most common form of vestibular disease in dogs. It is the direction I would take if it were my own boy experiencing this.

Please note: There are times, however, when a physical exam points undeniably to a brain tumor, but these neurological exam findings are beyond the scope of discussion, so feel free to ask me any questions.


Veterinarian Shea Cox has enjoyed an indirect path through her professional life, initially obtaining degrees in fine arts and nursing. She later obtained her veterinary medical degree from Michigan State University in 2001 and has been practicing emergency and critical care medicine solely since that time. In 2006, she joined the ER staff at PETS Referral Center in Berkeley and cannot imagine a more rewarding and fulfilling place to spend her working hours. In her spare time, she loves to paint, wield her green thumb, cook up a storm and sail. Her days are shared with the three loves of her life: her husband Scott and their two Doberman children that curiously occupy opposite ends of the personality spectrum.

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by retired in nyc | October 5 2012 |

i hope this helps future folks that visit here. our 16 year old "baby" got this last week, after a night at the animal hospital and one night at our vets office, 5 doctors agreed it was idiotpathic vestibular, we came home with him. we bought a playpen at target . he is 34 pounds. it said it can hold 30 . but is looks like it could go up to 50 pounds. this way it restricts his movements. we couldnt get him to eat , but he is drinking from his bowl if we lift it up to him. after trying everything to get him to eat including baby food via a syringe , we had sucess with slices of baloney and american cheese( ripped into small pieces) and putting/shoving into his mouth. he looks like he is on thmend. everytime he got up or fussed in the playpen we carried him outside ASAP and he was urinating every few hours. as a safe guard we bought huge wee wee pads and put them on top of the comforter which is on top of the play pen matteress. i hope this helps. needless to say we thought when he sudeenly got this we thought he was a goner and we were hysterical. lots of kisses seems to help too !

Submitted by Debbie | October 6 2012 |

My dog is 14 yrs old and has signs of vestibular she has the head tilt,leans to the left and is having a hard time holding her pee.Her 1st bout was back in Dec.and she got better over a couple of months. Now she has had another episode in Sept.and is having a hard time. She also has cushings which is making her pee alot. She is eating again after a week of hardly eating anything. Now she eats soft food and noodles and some cheese.Some days are better than others but I think she has more than vestibular.From what I have read vestibular gets better over time.I think she might have a small tumor. She is still able to walk and go out on her own. But it's hard to watch her wobble around and go in circles. She does not seem to be in pain she does not whine or make any noises.I'm not going to put her down until she tells me or shows me she can't function with a quality of life. Anyone else have the same issues with an elderly dog? Thanks

Submitted by Anonymous | October 9 2012 |

My 13 yr old Shepherd/Boxer mix started the head tilt thing a few days ago. Yesterday she peed either when sleeping or because she got startled when the phone rang. Tonight she got herself downstairs by pretty much falling down. She does not have barking episodes and she seems to be eating, no vomiting. She is 70 lbs. She has always been a nibbler, not a gobbler, and she usually eats when we eat. We put a baby gate to keep her from coming upstairs tonight. She is walking in circles and stumbling, and I've noticed nystagmus. I'm so worried. But she does not seem to be in any pain. What can I do for her?

Submitted by Anonymous | October 10 2012 |

I had a 14 yr old Lab who all the sudden last week could not steady herself on her left hind leg. The following day, both hind legs were so weak she could not stand or walk on her own. I took her to the vet immediately and she was put on steroids to treat a possible disk issue. We discussed that there could be other causes, but we'd have to run costly MRI scans , so we opted to try steroids first. Two days later, she could not use her front left leg either. We had to completely support her if she needed to move or go outside. She also did not appear to be able to walk straight when guided, on her harnesses ) and would run into things. The following day ( we were heading into vet later that day) she had a seizure. Vets said it was most likely brain tumor or strokes. We put her to sleep after the seizure (she had two smaller seizures within the hour of the first big one.) It seemed whatever was happening to her was progressing, which seems different than the other posts I've read on this topic. I hope we made the right decision. It absolseutly broke my heart. She was my first baby before my children and brought joy to my heart each day.

Submitted by Karen | October 30 2012 |

I understand where you are coming from. I just put my 14 year old Lab down, my heart is breaking. I am now wondering if I did the right thing. His back legs collapsed, and was having that back and forth motion with his eyes. I wish I would of know about this disease ahead of time. The doctor mentioned it, but said if it was her dog she would put him down. Sometimes I don't think the vet. knows everything. I am just sick about it. Feeling like I made the wrong decision. Now there is nothing I can do about it. I had him cremated. I just feel sick all day long after reading deeper into this disease. So please everyone, don't make the mistake I did. I just didn't want him to suffer.

Submitted by BeareKucyGabby | December 6 2012 |

Our prayers are with you, you made the right choice at the time,so sorry to hear about your lost..your story is making me tear.Up this is a horrific time to watch. Each pet reacts differently some cases are very servere, they can also have a brain tumor or irrversable
symptoms..You did what was best at the time,we
came very close..Treatment can be expensive..Please do not beat yoursel up.. 14 years, just remember what you did to have the 14 years. Now go out to the SPCA and get another friend when you are ready.. Again my heart goes out to you nothing compares to the love you received.. memories are treasures for the heart. Hang in there.. hugs zx

Submitted by Sandra | October 14 2012 |

My 12 year old Springer Spaniel has developed a head tilt. At first his head just twisted to the left and he was walking squint. Then recently he has been very unsteady on his legs an then randomly collapses. He lies on his side looking really confused about why he keeps falling down. It's as though his brains wanting to do something but his legs just don't want to. We have the vets on Wesnesday. He walks around a lot unsettled and takes a while to lie himself down. At night he wanders around slightly whining then settles for a while then gets back up it's really heart breaking to see him in this way and the cost of MRI scans is just so out of reach. This page has been very helpful though I hope we can fix him

Submitted by Anonymous | November 10 2012 |

we are on day 19 of our vestibular syndrome for our 12 year old springer spaniel. We were there when the onset occurred.. watching tv in the living room. He threw up 3 times (very forthy) and eyes darting back and forth.. and shaking.

He is slowly getting back to normal. I did not take him to the emergency vet..I called them and they said it usually resolves it self. My vet said.. lots of TLC and PATIENCE!!

hope yours gets better also..

Submitted by Aida D | October 19 2012 |

Hello....I have a 17 yr old Lhasa Apso.She has had her second stroke this week. The first was 2-3 mo ago. I took her to the vet the first time around and he said because she issue such an old.dog its probally a tumor in her brain to just make her as comfortable as possible. She seems to be recovering from this second stoke but what she is doing now that is different from the first time is heavy panting as she walks around anxiously. Why is that? Is there anything I.should do? All her symptoms are exactly what is listed. Except for the vomiting. She is blind, partially deaf, and her Are legs are very bad. I pick her up and bring her outside to. HOWEVER she is still alive and kicking. At what point should it be determined that her quality of life is gone and I should put her down? Is she suffering mentally? Please help! God bless...thank-you!

Submitted by Nick Abbott | November 6 2013 |

AidaD my heart bleeds for you, My dearest friend a 14 year ol Staffy, has been going downhill for over a year now, swellings on both hocks, kept falling over at regular intervals, 7 to 14 days, unsteady on his legs, but he was coping. In the last few months he has started to drink a lot more water than usual, I think, and he , whilst always being very vocal, has started to bark loudly for minutes at a time. This morning he staggered whilst trying to get down stairs to go out for his morning ablutions. I had to carry him downstairs. He was not right, eyes rapidly moving left to right , all the symptoms mentioned apart from the vomiting unless I did not see him. His appetite is not there anymore, UNHEARD OF, he usually could eat for England. I am not very good with emotional pain and was certain that this was it, and I was certainly going to loose him , BUT I just felt that whilst frightened and confused, he was not in any pain. I then found this thread, I am so glad I did as if I have to nurse him 24/7 for weeks, I will as long as I feel that he is not suffering unduly, in no pain, and reassurable with love and attention and encouragement. I am sure I am not being selfish, I love my boy more than you could know, but I am sure that letting time take it's course is the right thing for him at this moment. I think I will know, and i'm sure that you will also, when the time comes to say good bye, your heart knows, you just have to trust your heart, so sad, it's a bitch, I've got it coming very soon but thanks to reading the information here, I truly believe I have had a short reprieve.
Love,compassion and my very best to you and your Lhasa hope she is still ok

Submitted by Francis | October 19 2012 |

My dog Tiny just passed away yesteday she was almost 14 and she was a chihuahua. The vet said she had Vestibular Disease. She jumped off the couch 8 days ago and didnt move i thought she broke her leg when i picked her up her body just went limp and her head turned to the side. I rushed her to the vet and they diagnosed her. They put her on medications but nothing changed. She never walked again or could even sit up. you had to do everything for her even hold her over the bowl to drink water and hold her up to pee and sometimes she would pee on you or in her bed and only ate a very small portion the first couple days after that she would not eat anything.Then you had to try and use a syringe and queeze it in her mouth. She started to act like she was not swallowing so i was scared that she would get choaked. Even though she could not do anything she really did not make any noise except a couple times during the week she yelped out.She would pee but never had a bowel movement the whole eight days, and the last day and a half she stopped urinating. Did not act like she was in pain. Yesterday my mom tried to feed her and about an hour after she tried she was dead. I am wondering if trying to feed her with the syringe could have caused her to dye sooner. I asked my mom how much did she feed here and she said hardly nothing because she wouldnt swallow. My question is that normal for a dog of her age with Vest Dis to have those symptoms? Could it have been because she had been with out food for so long. The last two days she would not even drink any water had to use a syringe for that. I know it had to be her time but just wished I could have done more for her. I am so heartbroken.I wished i knew exactly what caused her to dye.She didnt bounce back like they said she would and so I was not sure if it was Actually Vest Dis. Thanks

Submitted by Rich | October 22 2012 |

This doesn't sound like IVD. Our dog or 14 years just went through it 3 weeks ago, and she's back to 100%. She couldn't stand on her own or eat from a bowl. She had to be carried outside (and she's 70 lbs), and had to be hand fed. We even had to cup water in our hands to make her drink, but she wanted to drink quite a bit. Dogs can live without food for a while, but can't live without water very long. Dehydration can cause greater weakness and account for the lack of urination toward the end. Syringes of water probably isn't enough to live on. I'm very sorry for your loss.

Submitted by Cath | January 3 2013 |

Hello, I am so sorry for your loss. It is possible that there was an underlying cause to the vest disease. Sadly I lost my gorgeous girl to this too. Have a look at my post in early June. Cath

Submitted by sandra | October 21 2012 |

our boy is 11yrs old am staff and has a history of sezing, he takes 1 every 6 months, usually one in summer and one around christmas, but last night was diff. he was fine ,he went out to pee ran around ,was fine, came in ,after a good while my daughter hallerd for me he was sezing, but idont think so. hes quivering,left side isnt worken well and holding head low,dosent want water,hes the same this morn,i know it could be a stroke or v diesease, but is ther any thing i can do right now, its sunday his doc is closed and the emergancy hosp. is far, scary,and expensive which i dont care about money but i have not a dime right now, i have payed over 10,000 in the last yr for his docs.never nothen serious,so they said.im so scared for him.

Submitted by jemom | October 22 2012 |

Our 15 and half year old pointer mix got vestibular 3 weeks ago. For those of you out there whose dogs just got it, hang in there. Confine, hand feed, take out outside a lot, give them light at night, all of these things I learned from others online and they worked. It is an up and down process and I lost hope a lot but was not willing to give up on my sweet pup. 3 weeks later, she is pretty much back to normal. I am grateful to my vet who said to give it time.

Submitted by Marcia | June 24 2014 |

Thank you jemom. You give me hope. Our 13 yr. old schnauzer has geriatric vestibular and it was very scary. She could not Stand up and we had to carry her outside, hand feed her etc. she is still off balance with head to the side but she is eating well and drinking lots of water. She is on prendisone and meclazine. She has not barked since this happened over a week ago. The vet said it would take some time.

Submitted by Andrea Llewellyn | October 28 2012 |

My 13 year old German Shepherd Dog had an episode of Vestibular on Wednesday, Oct 24th. I was sure it time time to make that decision that we all dread. However my vet said to give him some time. I am happy to say that today he is once again eating and has taken two short walks I. The woods. He seemed to enjoy them very much. He is still far from normal, but I am seeing little glimpses of him more and more. :)

Submitted by Simon | November 9 2012 |

Hi, i'm not too sure if this has happened to my dog this morning. I was upstairs and heard him bark then the kids shouted for help saying he had slid over on the floor. I came down to find him laying on his side, he didn't seem in any pain so i just held him close and got him onto a cushion. I did notice he was tilting his head but once he had lay for a few minuets he seemed ok. Still a little wobbly on his right front leg but he did manage to go out for a very short walk about an hour later.
He is 14 years old, a Jack Russel Cross and very prone to ear problems (i think he is pretty much deaf, only hearing high pitch sounds).
I haven't spoken to the vet yet as i'm sort of hoping it was a one off thing.
4 hours later and having slept most of the day (pretty normal for him) he has eaten but just seems a bit slowed down.
Any feedback on if I should worry would be very welcome.

Submitted by Munya | November 11 2012 |

hey doc i have an 8 month old pitbull puppy n has recently been diagnosed of tick bone disease but three dayz latter after treatment its now showing symptoms of the v-disease but it been 24 hrs n no improvement what should i do please help am freking out.thanx in advance

Submitted by Bonnie | November 12 2012 |

Our 17 1/2 year old collie golden mix has had three vestibular episodes, and has had some 'leftover' symptoms after each episode. He is generally healthy otherwise, but still walks like a drunken sailor at times when he gets tired. My vet prescribed Meclizine (otherwise known as Bonine for seasickness) and it helped a LOT! He also took steroids and antibiotics for a couple days immediately following the last episode, and those seemed to help as well. When he has his first episode a couple years ago, it scared us so much thinking that he had a stroke, but now we know how to deal with them and they are not so scary. Hopefully folks will learn more about this disease and not react with euthanasia thinking that their dog has had a heart attack or stroke instantly.

Submitted by Bonnie | November 12 2012 |

Our 17 1/2 year old collie-golden mix has had 3 vestibular episodes and after each one, has had some leftover symptoms, but after his first one 2 years ago, he is still pretty healthy and only occasionally 'walks like a drunken sailor' when he gets really tired. Following his last episode, my vet prescribed Meclizine (otherwise known as Bonine for seasickness) along with a short stint of antibiotics and steroids, which all seemed to help immensely. We were so scared when he had his first episode thinking that it was a stroke, and that we would have to have him euthanized. Thank God our vet saw what it really was.

Submitted by Ellen | November 15 2012 |

My dog too! 13 years old, some kind of mutt mix. I took her for a walk. She was having a slow day, but nothing too unusual. She ate her breakfast around 9:30, and then went back outside to lie in the sun. When she came back inside around 10, she was stumbling all over the place. This scared me, so I took her right away to the nearest animal hospital. We wound up treating her for poisoning using charcoal, which I regret (This was before I found this article). I'm sure the stress of the charcoal is what made her worse again.

On day 2 she is able to get up and walk around and do her business independently and she eats! She is still VERY wobbly, tilting to her right side, but I think we have reason to believe she'll improve. We'll be trying the meclazine treatment too.

Thank you for this article and for all the informative comments!

Submitted by Quigsis | November 16 2012 |

My almost 14 year old Samoyed/Sheltie mix started staggering yesterday evening and vomitted all night. This morning she couldn't take a step without falling. I was at the vet when they opened at 7:30. I'm not a "run to the vet" for every small thing kind of person but this really scared me. I thought she had suffered a stroke and thought for sure that I was taking that dreaded trip to have her put down. I even prepared my 3 grown kids via text messages for this outcome. Well...I have to say...I totally LOVE my vet office. They knew right away what was going on and explained it all to me. Put her on antibiotics in case there was any inner ear infection and steroids. I had never heard of this before and am so thankful that my vet recognized it right off and didn't require lots of tests first. She's old and I won't put her through lots of tests...she's been the best dog ever and deserves to move on when she can no longer have a quality of life. But after researching the disease and how great the recovery usually is I am so happy for the extra time we will have with her.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 16 2012 |

My old girl is on her way home from the vet now. I too thought she had a stroke & was going to put her to sleep. I wish I had seen this before the long trip to the vet, but I am thankful to have another day. My hugs & prayers go out to all of you.

Submitted by Isabella | November 16 2012 |

our 12 year old german shepherd was diagnosed 2 days ago with vestibular syndrome...while she is lookignbetter, no more twitching or nystagmus..her head is still tilted. She can get up better on her fromt legs and move her back legs in place but cannot stand on them. My concern is I was expecting and prepared for incontinence but after 48 hrs she still has not urinated or moved her bowels..please advise. I must add that she has had a difficult personality all her life..cannot get near her to examine her without sedation..I cannot even try to check her bladder for distention without her snapping..any ideas?

Submitted by Anonymous | November 24 2012 |

My 6 yr old Brittany had signs of VS...Sudden onset. Pred/antibiotics helped 90% fast but took away pup's personality. 1 wk after Rx, acute relapse. It was terrible. Vet/I believe it was polyneuropathy effects. All other tests came back normal...He was healthy!

My fur child Seth was put down -- yesterday. Having a tough time coming to terms. It was dramatic...so quick. One minute he was almost OK and then BAM! He barely could walk, eyes glazed, shut them...it was worse than a seizure. Devastated.

Submitted by Brandon | November 27 2012 |

Hi there,

My 7 year old German Shepherd/Queensland Heeler mix is currently having these symptoms. On 11/12/12 we noticed he started sneezing which lasted for several days. Finally on 11/15/12, I took him to the vet as half his face was paralyzed. He was given antibiotics. Later on 11/21/12, we awoke to him having ataxia and unbalanced walk, took him in to the vet and they prescribed predisone. After 24 hours, he was completely cured of ataxia and unbalanced walk. It's been about 2 weeks and his right eye still doesn't blink, right ear droops, and right side of mouth droops. Last night I was playing ball with him and I noticed his right eyebrow starting to move slightly. We've discussed an MRI, but the cost is $2800. He is no pain, responds the same and seems happy as ever. I am in the process of switching his food to Blue Buffalo Basics Salmon dry and wet. I'm wondering if this is idiopathic or inflammation? He goes for a check-up tomorrow night. My fear is that once we begin to taper him off the steroid, the ataxia and unbalanced walk will return. Also I did have our grass overseeded by professionals on 11/7/12 and they used a starter fertilizer and herbicide. The dog has seasonal allergies (not tested) and may have walked on the grass while still wet and licked the paws.

Thanks for any information you can give me!

Submitted by Nick Abbott | November 6 2013 |

brandon you may have connected with a cause mate . hope your boy gets better

Submitted by Anonymous Sacramento | November 28 2012 |

My heart goes out to everyone who sees their beloved pet going through these episodes. Many thanks to the Dr. for writing this article.

My G Shepherd/Lab or Husky mix was 13 when she had her first vestibular disease episode. She recovered over about 2 weeks with no lingering signs but the head tilt. When I researched the diagnosis online, I was scared she would only last 6-9 more months. Happily, we were able to share 2 more high quality years together before organ failure set in at 15 years. She did have additional episodes over that period when encountering situations of high stress, but they lasted only half a day at most, and she always showed significant improvement within days.

I hope this helps someone see past the episodes in front of them to the better days ahead.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 5 2013 |

Thank you for your post. Our 11yr old Lab experienced his first episode about 6 weeks ago and recovered in about 5 days. He is now having another episode. I was thankful to hear that this can happen again, since all the research I've been doing hasn't said anything about recurring episodes. We are hoping that this is the peripheral vestibular type, but I'm a little concerned that it might be something more serious since they have happened so close together. Going for a second opinion on Monday.

Submitted by Jacquie | November 30 2012 |

My 7 year old pitbull has just been diagonsed with v. She has puked and now wont eat!!!She cant walk without falling so i have to carry her downstairs to go out(shes 53lbs)...He head is tilt and i freaked out until i went to vet...I really hope she gets better but i have seem and read that everyone elses dog has gotten better over time..So i sure hope she does!!!

Submitted by DoxieMom5 | November 30 2012 |

Thank you, Dr Cox, for the informative article. My 14yo Mini Doxie suffered a possible stroke (or ivd) ~ Oct 2, 2012. Our vet was great and allowed me to give her days of sub q fluids and antibiotics injections at home- (she had an enlarged kidney). Lots of care and she is almost back to her normal self, Thank God. But her tail still doesn't wag. I thought she was just feeling bad or depressed, but sometimes, now, she seems very happy and her tail just hangs. I can move it, and she shows no sign of it being painful. I'm grateful for all she has regained. Is there anything I can do to help her tail improve. I hate that it took me so long to realize and fear it has been too long. Thank you.

Submitted by R. E. Bradshaw | December 6 2012 |

Just got home from the vet with my 12 year old Chow/Golden mix. Glad this article was here and the comments as well. I feel better now. If she improves in the next 48 hours, we'll know we got the diagnosis right. If not, it's off for an MRI on Monday. She's resting now, and I think I'm more stressed out than she is.

Submitted by Spuffy | December 12 2012 |

I'm going through this with my 13 year old shepherd mix. We are at 48 hours and he is still in bad shape but its looking like he has an ear infection as the source, high white count and slightly irritated ear on the affected side. I was terrified when this started that this was the end. It's very comforting to know that something that looks so severe can resolve relatively quickly. He just ate for the first time since the night before this started. I had offered everything I thought might tempt him, even brisket, and he had no interest. A friend mentioned that when her elderly dog had this the only thing he would eat was McDonalds. I bought a cheeseburger and broke it into pieces for him. He had a little trouble coordinating the chewing but he got it down. I think its the first McDonalds of his life. They must put something in that food to make it appealing to innocents like dogs and children. Thanks for having this information available. I'm sure it will save many dogs from being euthanized before their time.

Submitted by chris | December 17 2012 |

Thanks I am going to try McDonalds tonight. My Kassie will eat cheese, but nothing else. I have even tried the wet cat food she loves to steal from the cats when I am not looking.

Submitted by Mike and Jen | December 13 2012 |

This just happened to our terrier mix Boo (14 years old), on 12/12... She started walking around at 4am and my wife woke up to her not being able to walk steadily. We rushed her to the vet and he told us almost word for word the advice in this article. It's day 2 and my wife is home with Boo today and she seems to be walking a little better today, but not much improvement with the head tilt. Her eyes seem to be rolling a little less. We are just praying this gets better. She is eating "steamed" chicken, but we do have to feed it to her. But I'm happy to say my wife reported that Boo did go to her bowl and eat some treats on her own.

Submitted by Jen | December 16 2012 |

Hi Dr. My 12 year old pitbull about 6 days ago had an episode. After reading your article she pretty much had the symptons of the vestibular disease except the vomiting. i took her to the vet and he took xrays of her body and blood tests. All her tests came back fine and the vet has no idea what was wrong with her. He suggested I give her a low fat low protein food? She got better pretty quickly but a week later woke up to the same thing again. Should I take her to the vet again and should I mention this disease to him or should I just wait to see if it gets better? Also the past 2 times that this has happened she woke up like this?

Submitted by angela | December 18 2012 |

Great post! I think when this happens its so scary and heartbreaking to see and the symptoms seem so severe that euthanasia is often considered. When this happened to my chihuahua in '07, I also discovered that the ER vets and even her own vet were not knowledgeable about the ivd. That surprises me now that ive read so much about it and how its common. Well when we went through it I thought she was dying and $800 of testing and 24 hours later we're leaving the ER vet....who never once mentioned ivd but tested for all kinds of stuff which was all "inconclusive" no closer to an answer and no improvement..a very expensive night!
We took her home for the rest of the weekend hoping to see her normal vet on monday (of course these things always seem to happen on a friday night! She was on iv fluid at the ER overnight. I kept her in a soft-sided kennel and had someone with her at all times. She would not eat...very uncommon for her. ShewShewould take water from a syringe (sans needle). And about 3 days later she was walking....wobbly, but walking.
She still has a slight head-tilt and will usually prance around in circles...she favors one side, and her balance is definitely a bit off...but we're now about 5 years later and she's doing great otherwise! She's since seen a neurologist ...last year she had what seemed like a repeat incident (minus the nystagmus) and she recovered faster, annd they agreed it was from the ivd. Her regular vet still thinks it was a stroke and never mentioned the ivd, so if they're not in pain, even if your vet doesn't mention ivd, if they have the ivd symptoms its totally worth giving it a few days at home to see if it'll resolve on its own.

Submitted by DARPAN | December 18 2012 |

I have a Male German Shepherd of 13 years. His name is RAMBO. He is having severe problems since 3 months. This mainly includes vomiting. This problem has increased from past 1 month. Along with this he is having difficulty in having bowels and the color of stool is dark brown or black. His diet has also become less and he seems to be very much weak. Vet Doc has given him some antibiotics but that are not working efficiently. Kindly help me.


Submitted by emma | December 25 2012 |


Submitted by Karrie & Gina | December 28 2012 |

Thank you so much for your post! We have a diabetic dog that issuffering from (what we think is ) IVD. However, the doctor says it's and chronic "inner ear infection". However, our problem is she is diabetic and isn't eating. She hasn't thrown up (due to using giving her meds for vomiting). Her sugar level is higher than it should be. We are blending up her food and giving it to her with a turkey baster (she is not happy). I just don't understand why she won't eat; or better yet why aren't the vets concerned with her not eating! She must eat in order to give her her insulin! The thought of ... well you know .. is not an option! She seems to want to eat, she licks her treats, but just will not eat it. If things do not change; we will be taking her to specialist before something really bad occurs. Maybe it isn't IVD and it is only a chronic ear infection; if so - why isn't she eating! Day 3 and praying! K&G, Greenville, SC

Submitted by AAF | January 1 2013 |

I can sympathize since we are just going through pretty much the same. Our diabetic dog was diagnosed with vestibular disease two days before Christmas, and while she would eat ANYTHING prior to this event, now would not eat. She is on prescription diet which was keeping her regulated, now her BG just keeps elevating. My concern was the relationship of food to insulin which the ER vets just didn't seem to get or want to help me with. I gave up on the prescription food and gave her anything she would eat. Scrambled eggs, turkey, roast beef and then slowly worked some fiber and carbs back in. She is slowly coming around, still refuses the prescription food, but BG better and mobility improved aside from some rear leg issues. We were also given an antibiotic for suspected inner ear which may have exacerbated the nausea - perhaps that may be the problem - best of luck to you and your dog - AAF

Submitted by Lynn Ley | December 29 2012 |

Last night at 6am (Malaysian time, Sat, Dec 29) I was putting my 12-year-old mini pin at the wet kitchen to pee when he suddenly fell. Noticed that he was a little strained on his upper body and his head tilted to the left but he was ok after few secs. I thought nothing of it and put him on the bed to sleep but he vomitted the water he had drank just minutes before.

This evening I had just noticed that his eyes were moving from side to side and his head was still tilting when I carried him. When I put him down, he doesn't have balance to walk.

It is comforting to read your comments. Can u guys give me more advice on this? I am really worried. He is still able to call me ( by barking) when he wants to pee. And I have been feeding him water.He had breakfast + papaya in the afternoon. He doesnt want dinner.

Appreciate comments. Thanks!

Submitted by cindy | December 31 2012 |

This is very helpful, my 12 year old German Shephard was diagnosed with this on Friday (12/28/12). She had the very rapid eye movement, and she can't use her back legs at all. The vet gave her a shot for teh nausia, and some medicene to take home for the nausea. my question is can it hit them so hard, that they cannot walk at all? I have to wrap a towel around her hind end to pick her up to take her outside so that she can go to the bathroom.

I did notice that after the shot, the rapid eye movement stopped, and she is drinking water again, but not eating much, barely ate a Wendy's cheeseburger. He said she should snap out of it in 3-7 days, but it just kills me to see her like this....

Submitted by Steve UK | January 4 2013 |

Hi Guys, stay with it and support your dog with towels or whatever is practical. My old black Labrador suffered from this almost two years ago and she made a full recovery! It is very upsetting but they just get over it. Only wish people were so brave!
She's a very old arthritic Lab now..... but still has a very strong tail muscle! Don't despair.

Submitted by Jackie's Mommy | December 31 2012 |

Thank you so much for such an informative article. This will help us sleep at night. Jackie is about 24 hours into recovery after collapsing and a scary car ride to the ER. We thought we were losing her on the way to the ER. This helps me understand what's happening for her as well as a promising recovery. At 13 it's hard not to expect the worst, but we are hopeful now and look forward to her return to her "old self" and glad she will be with us to share in the arrival of our first born.

Submitted by Jackie's Mommy | December 31 2012 |

Thank you so much for such an informative article. This will help us sleep at night. Jackie is about 24 hours into recovery after collapsing and a scary car ride to the ER. We thought we were losing her on the way to the ER. This helps me understand what's happening for her as well as a promising recovery. At 13 it's hard not to expect the worst, but we are hopeful now and look forward to her return to her "old self" and glad she will be with us to share in the arrival of our first born.

Submitted by Jackie's Mommy | December 31 2012 |

Thank you so much for such an informative article. This will help us sleep at night. Jackie is about 24 hours into recovery after collapsing and a scary car ride to the ER. We thought we were losing her on the way to the ER. This helps me understand what's happening for her as well as a promising recovery. At 13 it's hard not to expect the worst, but we are hopeful now and look forward to her return to her "old self" and glad she will be with us to share in the arrival of our first born.

Submitted by dogparkwalker | January 3 2013 |

I second the deep gratitude expressed here for the information given. Our 13 year old lab/border collie had a fairly severe episode last March and has just had another today at the dog park.

She is very active for an old girl,so when she did not only return with the ball,but laid down-well,it was immediately clear something had occurred. After checking her over for any possible muscle pull/strain or god forbid another cruciate damage incident,I realized this was the same distracted behavior we saw last year,along with extreme weakness,difficulty breathing and unsteadiness. Her eyes are not jittering around, but do appear "not normal",like last year. Needless to say,when this dog does not want food or water,or to play-something is afoot.

I got her home and convinced her to drink a bit before letting her collapse in her bed. She is still,3 hours later,unmoving,& completely uninterested in food or water. This is very atypical.

With an old dog, you may be dealing with other life-threatening things. All the information is such a help,because of this and our previous experience,we are taking a wait and see attitude.

I just want to tell others that our dog DID recover almost fully from last year,to her usual happy,active and hungry self. I am hoping for the same this year.

Submitted by Tracy | January 7 2013 |

Hello, I have a 7 month old German Shepherd rescue pup who has been diagnosed with Vestibular syndrome, either she was born with it or someone bashed her head in before being left in a cardboard box. I pray she was born with it! Anyway, until about a month ago, her head used to be tilted but moved side to side before she could focus, her eyes are clear but she is partially sighted and she is totally deaf. She walks like she is drunk and when she runs she normally runs in large circles. She is a nightmare when on her lead/harness but is so good when not on the lead. She loves her food, has no problem with swallowing and is never sick. She does drink quite a lot as well. She is very clever, she sits, lays down, sits at heal (at an angle so she can see) and she will shake your hand. We have taught her hand signals. She also uses a dog flap and is now toilet trained (at last!) She is very clumsy and bumps into most things with her back end as it seems to flip out when she is on the move. She has so much energy I call her a "dog on speed" and she is like a bull in a china shop. About a month ago, after a walk she had some sort of "turn", fell to the floor, cried and could not get up, I had to carry her home. The vet gave her a steroid injection the next day and she rested for 5 days. Since then she seems to have a phobia about going for a walk. I take her out locally and all she does is cower on the floor and wont move off our drive - its like she is totally disorintated. However, she will get into the car and walk very well at our local country park. I have noticed that although her head is still tilted, it does not wobble anymore. she also barks at nothing and it is hard to stop her, its like she is just focused on "something and has got to bark at it, or if she has a bone/treat or if we are eating our dinner she will bark to protect it even though our other dogs are not bothered about what she or we have. She will climb up and down stairs but uses the walls/banistairs to guide her up and down and she will jump on the settees and beds (although she will normally fall off the side of the beds!). We have been taking her to obedience classes and she passed her first class with 17.5 out of 20, but since her "turn" a month ago, she has really played up in class, barking at other dogs (although she interacts with many dogs) being a nightmare on the lead and totally disrupting the class etc, to the point she was asked to leave the room! I have read many things on vestibular syndrome and although she has many of the symptons she does not have all - can this happen?


More in Shea Cox:
Arthritis in Senior Dogs
Legislative Alert
Bromethalin: not all blue-green rodenticides are the same
Hops Can Be Lethal to Dogs
Moist Dermatitis in Dogs—Hot Spots
Cracked, Broken or Torn Nails
Hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing's Disease in Dogs:
ASPCA Poison Control Center