Home
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.

Print|Email

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 Grace | July 28 2013 |

My rescued poodle-schnauzer (we think) is going through this. Head tilt, cannot get up, cries when she tries to stand. From observing her I think the crying is more from disorientation than from pain. We aren't sure how old she is, but I know she is, as the vet said, old enough to collect social security. Sudden onset of symptoms, doesn't want to eat or drink much at all. No nystagmus, but she has cataracts and has had them for the last two years that we have had her. She also has hearing loss, also has always had that. We have just adapted our home to her needs. It seems like now her "sniffer" isn't working well. I've been doing research on this disorder, and she seems to fit the hallmarks. We are feeding and watering with a syringe, hoping to keep her hydrated. She still has good urinary out put, and when she needs to pee is when she attempts to stand and gets frustrated. I know it's good that she hasn't given up attempting to go out to pee. I am a paramedic, and have done the things I would do for a bedfast human; linens changed, positions changed, massage to help with soreness. Hydration, food as tolerated... I am looking for any other advice to help my Sophie. We love her ridiculously, even though we have only had her for two years. I knew when I rescued her that she would be with us for a relatively short time, but we have tried to care for her needs as best we could. Would ginger tea help with the nausea? She's breathing normally for the most part, heart rate steady, no tenting of the skin that would lead me to suspect severe dehydration. She does "shiver" at times, cries when she attempts to get up (but truly, it doesn't sound like her "mom, this hurts" cry), and isn't interested in much other than being loved on when we are down on the floor with her. Euthanasia is a LAST resort. With a human patient I can ask what hurts, or feels bad, and I know how to help. I am completely at a loss. Any advice is appreciated. Thank you in advance!

Submitted by Amanda | July 29 2013 |

My 8-year-old boxer developed these symptoms on Thursday, took anti-nausea meds and we took her home to hand water and wait-and-see. On Friday she had fluid draining from her ear (vet had checked for infections and seen none). She seemed to brighten over the weekend, still staggering, but going outside to pee. On Monday I took her back to the vet because she was still not drinking unaided and to check the ear. The vet kept her in to flush out and start anti-biotics for her ear, and to give her 24-hours of intravenous fluids. She passed away on Monday evening, apparently after a seizure. 2nd guessing whether I missed something. She had her annual exam and vaccinations a week prior to this and was taking other meds for a leaky bladder and swollen gums. So sad right now.

Submitted by Bill | August 2 2013 |

My 13 year old german shepard mix has exhibited most of the symptoms you describe for vestibular problems but the episodes have been very short, lasting about 5 minutes or less, and I have only observed about four total episodes during the past year. During the episodes, she seems very disoriented and seems to turn or fall in one direction when she tries to stand up or walk. I usually just make her lie on the ground so she doesn't move around until the episode passes. After a few minutes, she is totally normal again and it may be two or three months until the next episode. She is in overall excellent health otherwise although she is showing signs of arthritis. Does this sound like old dog disease?

Submitted by Vicson | August 14 2013 |

Our 13 yr old pit bull is experiencing this disease now, symptoms started on Monday 8/12, we brought him into Emergency Vet office. He got IV fluids, anti nausea and predinose and the doc told us we would see improvement within a few days. It's now Wed, and he is not any better. I am really worried. All the info I read says, it will just go away. I am doubtful. But I do tend to worry more than others. It is so hard to see your animal out of control. Any and all info is appreciated. Anxious Atlas

Submitted by shannonb | August 14 2013 |

My dog has had 3 episodes in the past 4 weeks. Head tilt, nystagmus, unsteady gate. Her symptoms are lasting less then 24 hours though. The vet said everythong points to vestibular disease except the frequency. Between episodes she is a perfectly normal 13 year old. She is still quite active with minimal arthritis. Has anyone ever seen this kindof frequency before? He did say it may be a tumor but didn't seem to be presenting that way. Also he did not do blood work, should I get some done? If so what? Please help, I am feeling very helpless right now.

Submitted by Laraine | August 16 2013 |

My thirteen year old Shih Tzu is just recovering from vestibular syndrome. He's drinking but hasn't eaten if four days. I've tried hand feeding him but he's not interested. He does go to his bowl so I know he's hungry. His eyes have stopped twitching and his stance and gait are improving. How long can he go without eating?

Submitted by Jean S | August 16 2013 |

My 15 year old Cocker Spaniel developed Vestibular Disease. I came home from work one weekend and my boyfriend was in the yard with her. When I went to check on her, her head was tilted to the left, she tried to stand but would fall. I thought for sure that she had a stroke. I was devastated watching my baby struggle to walk. I took her to the vet the next day, by then she was able to stand and walk a few steps with out falling. Today is the 6th day, she is walking almost normal, shes goes up steps but is afraid to go down them and she is still experiencing the head tilt. She eats and drinks normally. She didnt have any problem eating or drinking on the 1st day it happened. In the process of the doctor diagnosing her, we found out that she might have Cushing's Disease and the dr is running blood work to confirm. I just wanted to share my story because when I first saw Sparkie in her condition, I was very upset. Hopefully, this puts some parents at ease. If your dog is experiencing Vestibular Disease they can still live a normal functional life =)

Submitted by Katie | September 1 2013 |

My dog was a german shepherd/border collie. I got her when she was 8 weeks old. She lived until she was 17 1/2 years old. I first experienced this was she was 12 yrs. old. My Vet said she had a TIA, which is similar to a mini stroke. He gave her a shot consisting of corticosteroid, thiamine and B-6. By the next day she was fine. I went on-line constantly to get more info about TIA's. It was probably 1 1/2 years later, when I stumbled across the "old dog syndrome". There was very little info available about this syndrome at that time.
Thank you so much for this article. I hate thinking of all the poor dogs that were put to sleep only because their owners did not know that if given just a few days their dogs would come out of it and be back to normal.... Very heart-breaking.
As I mentioned earlier, my (smart, wonderful, loving, happy) dog lived until last month. She was 17 1/2 years old. She did have a couple more episodes of this syndrome. During her last year of life, her balance was a bit unsteady at times. Maybe it was just old age catching up to her. I sure do miss her. My little shadow.....Forever in my heart...
To those that have medium to larger dogs. The best thing you can do to help them live a long healthy life is to: WALK/RUN everyday. 15-30 minutes is NOT enough. Repeat. 15-30 min is NOT enough exercise.
Also, ask vet for blood test every couple years when their young. Every 1-2 years when they're older. At my request, my vet would do a CBC (complete blood count), heartworm test and thyroid test every year after age 12. Luckily I had a healthy dog. I hope all of you do too...

Submitted by Mike | September 4 2013 |

My wife and I have a 13 year old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever that we have had since shortly after we got together. About a month ago he had an episode of vestibular disease, the symptoms were as outlined above. Our vet treated with prednisone and Dramamine. But he had already showed signs of recovery within about 30 minutes of the episode. By late that night he was fine. Well, the other night he was laying next to us on the floor and started crying. I got him up and sure enough he was having another episode. It only lasted about 30 minutes and later that night he was fine again. I took him to the vet and she recommended blood work and x-rays. This will likely run $500 plus. At this point, I am inclined to wait and see if he continues to have them. My questions are: Does the fact that he has had more than one of these episodes indicate anything? and secondly, am I making the right call to wait a bit longer? Could it be that he will just keep having them, recover quickly, and be fine? It's obviously concerning not knowing what is causing this.

Submitted by Diane Kerner | September 9 2013 |

My 13 year old lab-shepherd mix recently had this. It is amazing to me that we had never heard of it, given how horrifying an experience it is to watch you pet and think they're dying. At times, Reese looked possessed: upside down, her back arched, head upside down, legs flailing in the air. OMG it is so heart wrenching. That was a setback around day five. The original attack was the head tilt, eye movement, stumbling, circling, whining, and she was so panicked, as were we. Thankfully, we learned she wasn't dying and had something curable. whew! It's a long road, though. It takes a tag team of at least two because you really can't be out of reach in case she tries to stand up and walk (she will fall) - and that's around the clock. If you're lone with her, you can't go take a shower or be in another room. I was awakened by her panting a couple times each night and got up to give her water. She would only eat baby food from a spoon around day two. it was a week before she was able to reach around to clean herself and took her first normally beloved biscuit - her first hard food, fed by hand in small pieces. It's so nice to see her do ordinary things like lick her feet. We have stairs coming in and out of the house, and that is a problem, as she must be carried into the yard to relieve herself and take a little walk (using a sling, of course, but gradually just needed spotting). Anyway, carrying her can send her back into a spin, as can repositioning her if she lands half in/out of her bed. We learned to give her fair warning, verbally and tactilely before moving her. We learned she'd take almond butter, masticated baguette, organic broth, soft ginger cookies (good for nausea)... we just kept trying everything. I also had a bowl of water with a slice of fresh ginger and a couple of mint leaves in it. both good for nausea. I'd add a syringe-full to her water and she liked it fine. I also sprayed chamomile mixed with distilled water around her beds for calmness. just breathing the steam from chamomile tea can be calming. And she would eagerly take the Bach Rescue Remedy in pastille form (kinda like a gummi bear), which is for anxiety. Since she is on antibiotics for ear infection, I got her to take a little coconut yogurt, though I don't know that dogs stomachs need the same bacterial help that humans do. Still, it was more food she would eat. I'd say it will be around two weeks before we'll be able to leave her alone in the house again. I really feel like starting a support group or awareness campaign about this disease. reading all these posts, it is such a scary thing for all involved and it seems none of us had a clue this could happen to our pets. Good luck to all of you!

Submitted by Kathleen Barker | September 10 2013 |

I took my 11 year old Maltese/Dashund mix, Ralphie to the emergency vet on Sunday night & they diagnosed with nystamus. I've been giving him anti-nausea medication (they gave him a shot for nausea & iv fluids) but 3 days later, he has started to vomit again & hasn't eaten in 4 days...we have limited funds but make too much to qualify for a grant. Is there anything you can recommend? I want to stop the meds but haven't yet. I'm just so worried about him. It's my hubby & I & our two four legged children. I helped Ralphie's mother birth him. After reading your article, I have more hope. Thank you for writing it.

Submitted by Chris Massey | September 11 2013 |

I am so glad I found this forum/blog. We too are going through this - our 13 yr old Malamute presented with severe symptoms out of nowhere 72 hours ago. She seemed to get worse over the next 12 hours. 24 hours later the nystagmus stopped so i guess that's the progress you want to see as a sign that she might recover. We are now at 72 hours and she still can't stand, even refuses to try but is eating and drinking fine when hand fed. It is beyond heartbreaking to see her in so much distress- any forced movement sees her flailing around as she doesn't know which way is up. I can only assume any movement causes such a head spin. We are naturally starting to question our wisdom of keeping her going but reading this site gives me hope and the will to carry on. I spend every minute by her side and it's so exhausting. I am sure she is not in pain but must be so stressed out.

Submitted by jane | September 11 2013 |

5 days ago, the 8 yrs old pomeranian suddenly tilt her head to the left and panting heavily. Bought her to the vet, but was not told that it might be a vestibular disease. However she does have a mild ear infection on the left ear. What bother me is the X ray result shown her neck bone had curve shape.

Can someone tell me is it normal?

Also my dog tends to pant more anxiously at night only, usually after she wake up from her sleep.

Need some advise please. Thanks

Btw she only treated with antibiotics and ear drop for ear infection.

Submitted by Rcahel Bishop | September 12 2013 |

Very reassuring to read, BEFORE an expensive vet visit! Thank you! Hoping my 'Old Pup' will be with me for a while yet!

Submitted by Marcia | September 18 2013 |

We are having our second episode of this in our now 18.5 year old poodle/spitz mix...Gritz, the Mighty Boo Bear. Last time - 3 years ago - it took a very determined vet and 12 days to start to recover. This time, neither our trusted and tenacious vet, nor we are convinced there will be recovery. We are giving it some time - but not as much as 3 years ago. He has been a valiant little warrior - and a delight for all these years. We hope our 21yr marriage will survive not having him as part of it. Sad but ready.

Submitted by anonymous | September 19 2013 |

This also happened to my 14 year old American Eskimo last month. She used to have seizures but had not had one in over 5 years and this was definetly different. I took her to the vet the follwoing morning because I thought she had a stroke. My vet said she thought she did too but to take a wait and see approach without alot of tests considering her age. I started doing research on the internet and came across idiopathic vestibular disease. She had another episode last week which was worse than the first. She was acting like herself when all of a sudden she vomited, all four of her legs collapsed and she rolled over 7 times. After about 10 minutes she was much better. She now walks with a slight head tilt and sometimes falls when she's walking but that is improving. One thing I want to mention to anyone that has a dog dealing with this is to get baby gates to block stairways. That way you'll have peace of mind knowing they won't get hurt falling down the stairs if you aren't home.

Submitted by kristin | September 19 2013 |

My nearly 13 year old American Pitbull terrier recently had surgery to address Laryngeal paralysis - prior to this surgery he was showing minimal signs of weakness in his back end - and increased sensitivity to the "spot" on his neck that causes most dogs to crescent themselves or involuntarily move their back leg as if to scratch. Other than that - none of the signs of vestibular disease were present. Post surgery - he was treated with Cerenia to avoid nasueousnes which could cause him to aspirate - and there was evidence of a slight lean to the right. on day 11 (post op) the lean became severe - he is leaning all his weight to the right, tilting his head to the right - but there is no sign of the eye movement noted in all the descriptions ive read about the condition. My vet determined that he likely has either the central or idiopathic vestibular disease - we put him back on the cerenia and predensone to treat any potential immflamation that may be in the brain. He has been on these meds for 2 days now and i am not seeing any improvement. the thought is that if this condition was present pre-surgery - that the anesthesia could have exacerbated it - ear infection was ruled out. Based on my description - what would you recommend ? He is eating well, drinking is difficult but we are managing to assist him by bringing his water dish to him - but walking is becoming increasingly difficult as he seems unable to stay on his feet for very long- he is putting all his weight on the right side. He has a harness and we are helping him get around by supporting him - and i am going to purchase a "sling support" as well - I do not want to give up on him and reading your notes about how this disease can correct itself has given me hope - but i am unsure if the meds he is on will actually help him recover. there is always the possibility of a tumor - but at this time (after a very expensive surgery) the $2000 MRI is just not in budget - especially if it would only tell me that the end is eminent. I want to give this as much time as is reasonable given his current quality of life. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
thank you

Submitted by dee | September 24 2013 |

my four year old dog started with the head tilt. the vet found nothing wrong treated with antiobodics and she had gotten better. The head tilt was gone and she was back to herself. I came home from work on friday and she is now blind in both eyes. we see a neuroligist today and very afraid. I was told about vestibular but she is young. I guess i am hoping for answers. I tried to tell my vet I think something is wrong. Her ears were always clean but was told ear infection, or vestibuler, I read on that and usually happens in older dogs. On her check up I told vet her pupils looked big but was told her eys were fine. two days later she was blind.

Submitted by Brianne | September 25 2013 |

Thank you for this article. Our dog started showing symptoms this morning and I freaked right out; he's a geriatric dog with arthritis, recently started on cuprofen. I thought that he was either having a reaction to the new drug or a stroke. I called our vet and she let us come over for a walk in. She diagnosed vestibular syndrome within three minutes (she pulled down her pathology book and read through the information with me, and I was finally able to relax when I saw "often reported as stroke by owners" and that it usually resolves without treatment within 72 hours ). I went home feeling worlds better.

Submitted by Catherine | September 30 2013 |

My mini wirehair doxie developed vestibular disease, after treatment he returned to normal except that he has become deaf. He's thirteen and basically healthy. He used to be able to hear jelly fall on a cracker and now we have to shout to get his attention.

Submitted by pb | October 7 2013 |

my old buddy is now experiencing his third incident this year (first one - full recovery same day with steroids 1/13 second one took 4 days 5/13 This event- worst- cannot bear weight at all. At what point do I say enough is enough?
He's 15 and was a champion out door warrior. Tracking moose in Wyoming wilderness; backcountry ski trip partner, marathon runner etc.

Submitted by Rachelle | October 7 2013 |

My older CAT had this. My vet told me to euthenize him. Thankfully I didn't. I put him in a cage and started him on heavy antibiotics. He is doing great and that was several years ago. His eyes still dart back and forth though.

Submitted by Millie Brown | October 7 2013 |

Millie is a sixteen and a half year old Lhasa Apsos and just recovering from Vestibular Syndrome. She had all the symtoms and after the bloods came back OK the Vet said it was probably the VS. As we had never heard
of it before such a relief to find something that appeared like the worst case scenario, ie stroke, tumour
was only temporary.

Submitted by jlaass | October 14 2013 |

Dr. Cox,

Popper was 10 years old when she experienced a seizure just after Christmas of 2012. Since it was the holiday break from school, two of our daughters were able to sit with her, petting and comforting her. She recovered (eyes stopped moving rapidly side to side, balance improved, appetite returned, head tilt went away) to resume normal functions though she still has a loss of balance in her hind legs, circles often, and lost her bark. She had a minor episode a few months later, but now nearly 1 year later she is still full of a positive spirit and life. I've noticed that taking her to the park to run on grass vs the asphalt jungle of Tucson, AZ is great for her to exercise without experiencing the jarring effects of a hard surface. The jaunts in the park are very therapeutic for her as she runs past physical exhaustion and returns home with a big smile on her face to a very good night of rest.

Thank you for the very informative article.

Sincerely,

Jeff

Submitted by Connie Wilkinson | October 16 2013 |

our 12 yr old shepard /golden retriever mix Had a Spell two weeks ago On Oct 2 2013 we rushed him to the ER Vet and he was diagnosed with acute idiopathic canine geriatric vestibular syndrome , Buddy is 126 lbs and it has been a very Rough Two Weeks to recovery , but he is making progress everyday ,vet gave him antibiotics , pills for his dizziness, and tramadol for his pain because he could not walk or get up for the first week , the second week we were walking him around the house and out to do his business with lots of help and yesterday he got up by him self and this am he was walking around the yard still a little staggering so we will keep helping as long as we need too , but all in all so glad we waited it out because it was very scary to witness and we thought it was the end but he proved us wrong and I'm so glad we still have our Buddy he has been an amazing patient we hand fed him chicken and rice with chicken noodle soup poured over it had to hold his water bowl for him to drink , had to do daily and nitely baths if he had an accident , he was such a trooper through it all , LOve our Best Friend so don't lose hope !

Submitted by Lisa Jessop | October 17 2013 |

Our 6 yr old golden was diagnosed with vestibular disease. I thought for sure it was a stroke or a snakebite. Our vet was spot on but precautious.Thank goodness for the web. I was able to get information that kept us going. After 1 week of antibiotics and anti nausea medication he showed major tail wagging. I thought for sure we would have to put him down. Sharing is the key. Also YouTube videos

Submitted by Julie B | November 7 2013 |

Our 6 year old Golden started with these symptoms a couple of weeks ago. He was given antibiotics and since then his nystagmus has stopped, the slackness in his jaw has gone, he's smiling again and he's now back to his usual boisterous self. However, he's still got a lazy left eye and his head is still tilted. He goes back for his fourth visit to the vet tomorrow, but they're now recommending an MRI because he's still tilted. He's insured, so this isn't a problem at all but it's now got me worried in case it's something more serious, just after I'd calmed down a bit because he seemed to be responding so well to the treatment. Can anyone offer reassurance?

Submitted by Sharon Johnso | October 18 2013 |

Thank you so much for this information. My Chesapeake Bay Retriever is right in the middle of week two of this problem. For a while, I, too, thought she was tired of her 16 years and ready to call it quits, but she is progressing slowly. Scary presentation but it gets better and we are so lucky to still have her.

Submitted by linda miller | October 18 2013 |

this morning 10/18/2013 noticed my dog Chance 15/half year old dog, head hanging to the side eyes rolling like a drunk person, my first thought is omg he has had a stroke, called the vet. crying I told them I believe Im going to put him down..saying my goodbyes on the way to vet.after I got him there they soon after seeing him said he has the old dog vestibular disease.. he has inter ear infection.. waiting now for next few weeks..they think he will recovery just fine. but looking at him, makes me wonder if he will recover..feeding him by hand and holding drinking bowl to drink , carrying him to his potty pad to do his business..love my dog and do not want to see him suffer..but he is not crying.so praying for recovery!!

Submitted by linda miller | October 18 2013 |

this morning 10/18/2013 noticed my dog Chance 15/half year old dog, head hanging to the side eyes rolling like a drunk person, my first thought is omg he has had a stroke, called the vet. crying I told them I believe Im going to put him down..saying my goodbyes on the way to vet.after I got him there they soon after seeing him said he has the old dog vestibular disease.. he has inter ear infection.. waiting now for next few weeks..they think he will recovery just fine. but looking at him, makes me wonder if he will recover..feeding him by hand and holding drinking bowl to drink , carrying him to his potty pad to do his business..love my dog and do not want to see him suffer..but he is not crying.so praying for recovery!!

Submitted by Lisa Robinson | October 23 2013 |

I have a 16yr old papillon dog, otherwise healthy but just getting old she is now going blind with cataracts. I had her teeth cleaned 3 months ago in the past week I put her out for a wee in the morning and saw her take a couple of steps very wobbly and fall over sideways...this was sooo scary...this was last friday...now she is like she is drunk, wont eat or drink having to syringe food and water into her now, she is weak..standing with head down also going in circles. I am thinking vestibular maybe eyes are not twitching though...she cannot concentrate and is in a daze it is heartbreaking to watch has no appetite now...absolutely heartbreaking...all bloods were normal kidneys good and liver and no diabetes...looks like she has had a stroke.

Submitted by Becky | October 25 2013 |

BigDog is a kind, gentle, 13 year old rescue. He has been having significant arthritis issues and some imbalance. He has been going through his normal fall bout of allergies, only it seems worse this year. For the last 24 hours, it's like his hind end has "caved" in. Unable to walk for more than a couple of steps, and can't support himself in the rear. No bowel or urinary issues as far as incontinence. No rapid eye movement. He's on metacam and tramadol for the arthritis, and benedryl for the allergies (steroids have not worked well this time around). My husband is devastated...... but we've adopted a wait and see approach as I had another dog go through this same thing, recovered and lived for four years after........... however, I'm still not sure I'm doing the right thing by the dog despite the fact he seems in no pain... confused by his inabilities but not in pain........

Submitted by Elva Fig | October 25 2013 |

Yesterday, my pug Mimi on her 12th birthday suddenly woke up am hours with heavy breath and complete disorientation, eyes were darting all over, head/body tilted and inability to stand. ER vet visit revealed that they suspect Vestibular Disease. She has had a long history of ear infections and currently has a mild infection. Veterinarian suggested to wait and see if it clears up with treatment of the ear infection. She has drastically improved on her own within a few hours, I'm too concerned to just wait to see if it does not occur again. My sisters 13yr old pug recently and suddenly passed away with symptoms almost exactly the same. Going to see a specialist and possibility a neurologist as well.

This article has been tremendously helpful and so have the numerous posts of animal companions.

Submitted by Margie Thompson | October 26 2013 |

Our 8-yr-old Beagle, Dudley, experienced a stroke-like episode 2 wks ago. We suspected it was a resurfacing of degenerative disc -- a condition for which he was diagnosed and then underwent surgery for at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, MSU, in 2010. We were pretty sure it was his time to go, but then our vet suggested we hold off, as she suspected peripheral vestibular disease. She is currently treating him with dexameth., IM every other day, and also treated him with antibiotic ear drops, which seemed to do wonders for his ears. As of today, he has the same symptoms, but a dramatic decrease. There's always a chance, too, with his history that this is central vestibular disease. We're keeping our fingers crossed and saying our prayers that he improves and doesn't relapse. He's such a good dog, and we love him. Thanks for the informative article, Dr. Cox. It re-inforces what our vet (another MSU VTH Grad...we call her Dr. Sparty...)is telling us.

Submitted by Joanie Rogers | October 26 2013 |

I am currently going through this with my 12 yo Doodle (Dox/Poodle). She didn't start vomittiing right away but now she can't keep water down. Symptoms started about 18 hours ago, vomitting about 15 hours ago. She seems to be very thirsty. The emergency vet started her on meclazine. Any suggestions?

Submitted by Cleo | October 26 2013 |

Hi .. I'm not sure if you are still receiving comments on this. We just got back from the ER with our 12 year old dog tonight with this diagnosis, vestibular disease. We've had her since her rescue from an abandoned apartment at 3 months old. For the last 3 years she's been prone to ear infections but nothing this severe and the ER vet explained this was an inner ear thing. Her back legs bottomed out, she was shaking, vomiting and unable to stand. She's 60 pounds and a Chow mix so at times, a little hard to handle but I'm so glad she let me pick her up and get her in the car. It's something how adrenaline gives you that superpower strength when you need it! She's was given a shot of antibiotics and a shot for the nausea. She'll be on a 2 week course of Baytril, Cerenia for nausea and Meclizine for dizziness. She's sleeping now but favoring her right side, tilting her head. She drank a lot of water since coming home which I'm hoping is a good sign. It was suggested we wrap a towel underneath her as a hammock to help her get around which is actually what I needed to do to get her out of the car tonight.

She has an aggressive temperament and I had to muzzle her before going into the ER. It breaks my heart doing that but I know it's for everyone's best interest including hers. Thankfully though she let the ER vet and techs do what needed to be done and allowed the tech to carry her out to the car afterwards. It's hard taking her to the vet without sedating her and at her age, we're reluctant to do that and many a vet in the area is reluctant to take us on as clients. We've been through 4 I think. Sigh.

Any other advice as to what we should do aside from the meds and keeping her indoors and off steps would be greatly appreciated!

Submitted by Kristal F | October 28 2013 |

We have a 17 yr old Shiba Inu whose episode started at 9:30am yesterday morning. We were certain that this was the end until we read your article. We were dreading the trip to the vet as we were certain they would tell us to euthanize him due to his age. We are going to wait and see if his symptons get better as he will take water if you drip it into his mouth, but is unable to get up to eat, drink or go to the bathroom. We are keeping him calm and warm and making sure he knows we are with him. He is deaf, so we are stroking his side and neck. After doing some research, we realized that he is not in pain, he's not whining or yelping, which relieves us, but is there certain cases where they never recover?

Submitted by Laura | October 30 2013 |

Thank you for this great information, very informative! I am with a rescue that takes many older dogs. We have experienced this condition with several dogs over the years, the latest being an older cattle dog mix who just started showing symptoms last night which is how I found your post. She will be going to the vet this morning, but this information helped put my mind at ease, no matter how many times I see Vestibular Disease, it is always scary. I shared this post on our rescue's Facebook page, it is great information for all dog parents and I always hope it will help someone decide to give a dog the benefit of the doubt and some time before deciding to euthanize. Thank you!

Submitted by Ruby | November 12 2013 |

As a retired medical doctor who has fostered about 70 dogs in the last 25 years, about 1/3 of whom were seniors, I was surprised to not see a mention of vertical or rotary nystagmus as diagnostic signs. The first old dog of mine who developed Ideopathic Vestibular disease was a 15 year old 80 LB lab-golden mix named Sadie. Sadie suddenly fell over in the yard and looked like she was having seizures. I noticed her nystagmus but did not know at the time it was a diagnostic sign. I rushed Sadie to the vet and he diagnosed the vestibular disease. It took over a month to resolve. Anti-nausea meds and massage helped her maintain her composure and appetite long enough to recover.

Since Sadie developed it, I've had 4 other elderly dogs develop this. I've had 9 dogs live to be 15 or older. Most were fosters who never found homes. This is less of a problem now, but I started living with 4-8 dogs at a time in the late 1980's. Mandatory spay/neuter and rescue have made a huge positive benefit.

4 more old dogs living with me have developed this disease. About 1 out of 3 of the elderly dogs who have lived with me have developed this, usually only a mild case. The nystagmus can be hard to catch as it is sometimes quite transient. For two of my dogs, only I saw the nystgmus; it was never present when the VMD examined my pups.

One thing I have noticed in human medicine over the last 40 years is that doctors are becoming less proficient in physical examinations. There is so much more scientific information to learn and the time with each patient has been drastically reduced by through the monopoly practices of the for-profit insurance companies. (Insurance is the only industry specifically exempted from federal anti-trust laws. This occurred in 1946 with the McCarran Ferguson Act.)

I am wondering if the same thing is happening with veterinarians--do they have less time and are they becoming less proficient with physical exams?

Submitted by Scott | November 16 2013 |

Our 11 year Shar-pei has been experiencing some of the same issues. She has no balance, walks/leans to her left, and isnt really controlling her bathroom duties. We took her to the vet and he gave her a shot for nausea because she had vomitted some and wanted her to start eating. She did eat some but now two days later she is once again walking funny, running into stuff and acting very weird. We are going to take her back to the vet in a few hours, hopefully it is something like this and not a tumor but you never know.

Submitted by Colleen | November 16 2013 |

I have a 13 yr. old flat coated retriever, she was diagnosed 2 wks ago with vestibular disease, we were back a the vet's a couple of days ago & she is now on antibiotics, but they did a thorough ear cleaning & she has gotten much worse. She can barley walk & keeps looking at me with the saddest eyes & I can't seem to help her. We go back on Wednesday & the vet had said that this was the last resort with the antibiotics. This is breaking my heart, I don't think have any options left to help her.

Submitted by Jenna | November 23 2013 |

I have a cocker spaniel that I got in the year 2000 and have never really had any problems with her health until about two weeks ago when she got very sick throwing up badly and diarrhea.. She got better after two days but now tilts her head to right side and almost seems like she is wondering around... It breaks my heart to see her like this I got her when I was 10 and is the only dog I have had my whole life.. I don't really have the money to take her to the vet so here I am asking for your opinion.. If it is serious I will do or sell whatever I have to to take her to the vet and get the right treatment... please help :(

Submitted by Sunray | December 13 2013 |

My 16 years old pekingese had been diagnosed with peripheral vestibular disorder 4 days ago. At first we were devastated because we were sure that he had a stroke due to his old age. He was completely unable to move, his had tilted to his left extremly, his eyes kept moving up and down uncontrolablly, he vomited for several times. His vet kept him under IV, antibiotics, steroids and vitamins for 3 days and yesterday we were allowed to take him home. Appart from vestibular disorder he is perfectly healthy dog, all his organs are functioning perfectly, the vet did a full diagnostics and a blood work. He is still unable to walk or even stand and we have to feed him ang give him water with a syringe. He slleps most of the time, but when he is awake he gets very frustrated with his innability to move. It is extremly hard and stressfull to see your best friend in this condition but we hope for the best.
I want to thank everyone who posted their comments and shared their experience, just reading these has been really helpfull and comforting.

Submitted by amber | December 14 2013 |

 Hi. My dog was diagnosed 2 days ago with this. She's an 11 yr old corgi mix. The vet clinic sent her home on prednisone. She has about 7 days left with her meds. I saw major improvement the day I picked her up and was about the same yesterday. Late last night, I knew something wasn't right. Her eyes were all glossed over and she was staring off into space. She was having more trouble with her legs. After putting her in her bed about 10 mins later she had an episode. Just like the night i took her to the clinic.She laid there and went to sleep after she was able to relax, but she had 2 more episodes over night. 3am and 530am. She doesn't seem to want to lay down. I have to lay her down so she doesn't fall over sideways. Her head goes back and get stiff. One of her front legs gets drawn up towards her face and her back legs are really stiff. After about 5 mins or so she will start panting and she feels hot. Shell get right back up and try to walk around and immediately after an episode she does not walk well at all. Does anyone elses pet show these signs? Almost like a seizure? I was wondering if anyone else has tried using natural remedies and how they work. She needs something to help her relax. I was also wondering if anyone else has medication they give their pets to prevent such episodes? Or should I just give it time? Its so heartbreaking to watch her like this and I feel like there is absolutely nothing I can do for her.I'm not getting really good info from any other forum/sites.Thanks a Bunch!Reading everyones posts have given me a lot of hope :)

Submitted by jeanne | December 16 2013 |

Our dog was diagnosed with this disease on Saturday due to an episode that looked to us like a seizure. An antibiotic injection was given along with cortizone as well as a perscription for valium. After 72 hours there has been little progress. Mag is a 12 year old lab. She is still very alert and happy, but will not attempt to get up. She did raise the top half of her body to greet her dad and barked at the pup yesterday. Could a longer use of an antibiotic be of help?

Submitted by Kelli Kurtz | December 18 2013 |

My 5 yr old King Charles calvelier spaniel, Abbey, has been in good health. However approx 3 mos ago she had several, what I characterized as some type of seizure. She 1st looked like she had something wrong with her front paw and it proceeded to a clumsy collapse, medium shaking and then came out of it after a few minutes but then panted heavily. I couldn't find anything wrong with her after she recovered. Later that day or maybe the next, she was playing ball with us and she was having a great time. She went into the house for some water and then came back out looking for me with a scared look on her face and started with the paw and then started stumbling towards me. It was weird the way it starts with a paw and then other limbs become involved. I would try to comfort her and then she was ok. But she sat next to me the rest of the day. Then the next day, she was laying next to me while I was reading and she started to get up and the same type of process occurred. It is very scary. I try to remain calm and comfort her but I feel helpless.

I contacted the breeder and we reviewed genetic type problems common with the breed and decided none of them fit. We took her to the vet. The vet thought she looked fine but did a blood work up which all came back normal. The vet offered anti-seizure Meds but we decided to wait and see.

Then every thing seemed normal for a couple of months. My husband found some website which mentioned putting an ice pack on the upper vertebrae during a seizure to help minimize and shorten the duration.

A few days ago, she started with the same type symptoms. We tried the ice back with a towel and thought it helped. Last night she woke up while we were sleeping. I thought she might need to go potty. As I was sitting up, she was kind of stumbling on the bed and before I could reach her, she fell off the bed. I proceeded to take her out and sat her on the grass. She looked ok for a moment and then started stumbling and kind of sat/fell. I picked her up and brought her in the house and comforted her with the ice. The episode lasts for only a couple of minutes but then she pants heavily and wants to lick. She will lick me, furniture or comforter. Then she will go back to sleep. BUT, later last night I heard her nails taping the wood floor in the living room. I didn't hear her jump off the bed. I listened and noted it was not her normal gait. I jumped up and found her having another clumsy/drunken sailor episode. I again comforted her, but she didn't seem to want the ice on her back. We both slept in this morning.

Later today she had another episode.

It amazes me how she can seem so normal and the next minute she has this episode that only lasts a couple of minutes.

She doesn't appear to be in any pain during the episode, but she looks scared and wants me. She does her best to find me when she has one of these episodes.

I'm not sure what the problem is. All Meds have side affects so I have avoided them so far, but things have gotten bad the past few days. Again she is otherwise in good health, perfect weight, no people food with loving family. I'm sorry to ramble but haven't really found the info I need. This blog was the closest and i don't think this is it either.

I would greatly appreciate and input. Many thanks in advance!
Kelli :(

Submitted by Kelli Kurtz | December 18 2013 |

My 5 yr old King Charles calvelier spaniel, Abbey, has been in good health. However approx 3 mos ago she had several, what I characterized as some type of seizure. She 1st looked like she had something wrong with her front paw and it proceeded to a clumsy collapse, medium shaking and then came out of it after a few minutes but then panted heavily. I couldn't find anything wrong with her after she recovered. Later that day or maybe the next, she was playing ball with us and she was having a great time. She went into the house for some water and then came back out looking for me with a scared look on her face and started with the paw and then started stumbling towards me. It was weird the way it starts with a paw and then other limbs become involved. I would try to comfort her and then she was ok. But she sat next to me the rest of the day. Then the next day, she was laying next to me while I was reading and she started to get up and the same type of process occurred. It is very scary. I try to remain calm and comfort her but I feel helpless.

I contacted the breeder and we reviewed genetic type problems common with the breed and decided none of them fit. We took her to the vet. The vet thought she looked fine but did a blood work up which all came back normal. The vet offered anti-seizure Meds but we decided to wait and see.

Then every thing seemed normal for a couple of months. My husband found some website which mentioned putting an ice pack on the upper vertebrae during a seizure to help minimize and shorten the duration.

A few days ago, she started with the same type symptoms. We tried the ice back with a towel and thought it helped. Last night she woke up while we were sleeping. I thought she might need to go potty. As I was sitting up, she was kind of stumbling on the bed and before I could reach her, she fell off the bed. I proceeded to take her out and sat her on the grass. She looked ok for a moment and then started stumbling and kind of sat/fell. I picked her up and brought her in the house and comforted her with the ice. The episode lasts for only a couple of minutes but then she pants heavily and wants to lick. She will lick me, furniture or comforter. Then she will go back to sleep. BUT, later last night I heard her nails taping the wood floor in the living room. I didn't hear her jump off the bed. I listened and noted it was not her normal gait. I jumped up and found her having another clumsy/drunken sailor episode. I again comforted her, but she didn't seem to want the ice on her back. We both slept in this morning.

Later today she had another episode.

It amazes me how she can seem so normal and the next minute she has this episode that only lasts a couple of minutes.

She doesn't appear to be in any pain during the episode, but she looks scared and wants me. She does her best to find me when she has one of these episodes.

I'm not sure what the problem is. All Meds have side affects so I have avoided them so far, but things have gotten bad the past few days. Again she is otherwise in good health, perfect weight, no people food with loving family. I'm sorry to ramble but haven't really found the info I need. This blog was the closest and i don't think this is it either.

I would greatly appreciate and input. Many thanks in advance!
Kelli :(

Submitted by Caroline | December 19 2013 |

Thankyou so much for this article. Our boy Eddie suddenly got very sick with this illness.
We took him to our local vet, who pretty much took away any hope we had for his recovery. I was completely distraught until I read this article and realised all is not lost.
I am happy to say his condition pretty much was the same as everything you described in here and he made a complete and full recovery. He only head tilts ever so slightly if he is tired.
It helped knowing that he was not suffering, just extremely uncomfortable (I would rather know he wasn't suffering).
You truly helped! You restored my hope and educated us in what to expect.
There are not enough ways to say Thankyou.

Submitted by Eric Anderson | December 20 2013 |

Sounds a lot like Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo in humans. Basically "Rocks in your head". Restated: calcium deposits in the inner ear (vestibule) break loose and enter one of the semi-circular canals. It brushes against the cilia, causing the brain to think you're spinning in that direction. The rapid eye movement is an involuntary reflex to this perceived movement.

Treatment (in humans) involves determining which semi-circular canal has the rock. The direction of the eye movement tells which. The eye movement will be one of: Left to right, right to left, lower left to upper right, lower right to upper left, or down to up.

Treatment is: resting on a table with the head hanging back. Rotate left or right according to the canal established, and allowing the rock to exit the canal back into the vestibule, where it does not affect balance. This is temporary to permanent.

If you bend over too far, you could get the rocks back into the canals and have to re-treat.

Or, it could be a brain tumor.

Submitted by bryan | December 23 2013 |

we just had our dalmation collie dog age 9 go so severe she couldn't stand and was completely unware of us in the end we had to let her go... the cost of initial diagnosis blood work chem screens xrays... the wait 72 hours approach was to hard on us we were at 48 and while she had been able to start tracking us she couldnt eat much or drink much with lateral nystigmus it was sad day that we couldnt wait but 200 a night was to much

Pages

More From The Bark

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
Paraphimosis:
Cracked, Broken or Torn Nails
Hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing's Disease in Dogs:
ASPCA Poison Control Center
Leptospirosis