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Shea Cox
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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.

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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.

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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

Submitted by Marissa | December 25 2013 |

My pug Sam is 10 yrs old and started showing symptoms of Idiopathic vestibular disease Dec. 23,2013. Both my dog sleep in my room and I woke up at 7 in the morning hearing my trashcan being shuffled around. I knew it was Sam because he is the only one that sleeps on the floor. When I saw him he was on his side, arms stretched out, entire body curved to the left, looking out into nowhere with his eyes twitching. He's a strange dog and sometimes I catch him barking at his own shadow for no reason and, so I didn't think much of it when I seen him like that. Later on he tried getting up but kept stumbling and fell back down and wouldn't eat or drink anything all day. The rest of the day he was sleeping and and didn't move until I had to take him outside to bath him because he had urinated himself. I was scared and told my mother when she got home from work and, she told my brother and my older sister called the emergency vet and we took him in. The vet, she examined him and said it could be vestibular disease, a tumor, or brain cancer. She also suggested putting him down and to me that wasn't an option when 10 years is still young to me. I felt that I couldn't put him down when the the problem could be medically treated. After discussing our options, we took him home with medication and the vet gave him a dose of anti-nausea medication. When we got home he wasn't moving and he couldn't even raise his head, we gave him his pill with water and he slept through the nght. Yesterday he was was doing better. He wasn't standing but he would pick up his tilted head, and his eyes stopped twitching and was more responsive to his surroundings. He also started eating and drinking, thankfully. We put him in the shower in case he had to urinate and bathed him after he did. Today he is doing better. He's still not standing or walking but he is responsive to everyone around. He's eating more and drinking more water and we're giving him his medication as recommended. What bothers me is he hasn't defecated and we're feeding him small portions because he hasn't defecated. How do I get him to do so? We're taking him to our regular vet tomorrow to get more help with him. I'm not ready to let go of him yet and I just want him to get better.

Submitted by Judy | December 29 2013 |

A couple of days before she turned 9, my Great Pyrenees mix was walking like a drunk out in the yard. I took her to the vet. They said she'd had a seizure. Within a few hours she was waking better, but exhausted. By three days later, she was fine. They said she could have thrown a blood clot or could have a brain or spinal cord tumor. Here we are almost a year later, and it happened again. Drunk walk, eyeballs jerking up and down a couple of millimeters...lasted for an hour. Within a few hours, she was fine...wanted to play! Does this sounds like old dog vestibular disease?

Submitted by Alma | December 30 2013 |

My 13.5 yr old kelpie/lab x was diagnosed yesterday with Vestibular Disease. I was so grateful it wasn't a stroke. it was a long night waiting for the vet service to open for emerg but now we begin the road to home support. I am happy to help her as she has given me more than I can ever do for her.

my question is: she is eating and drinking but has not voided in 24 hours. should I be concerned? we are supporting her with a sling made from a towell but wondering if we should just let her wobble around on the lawn. she falls over a lot.

Submitted by M.W | December 30 2013 |

This happened to my family dog on the 21st November, she is nearly 15 years old and a border collie. It was completely devastating at the time and similar to many people I thought this would be her time.

It started with a mini episode on the Thursday which she had completely recovered by the next day and the vet was amazed and she was not given any medication however on the way home she had, had a more severe one. This one left her with a severe head tilt, very rapid nystagmus, loss of balance to the point by saturday she was unable to walk and had to be carried to the toilet. At night she was less continent, she had to be hand fed, sometimes helping her to swallow by rubbing her throat as she had lost the ability to chew.

She was then prescribed vivotonin, by day 4 she was back on her feet, the eyes were visibly a lot slower, she was regaining her appetite slowly, her balance was still very poor and any sudden movement made her collapse on the floor, she also walked in a half circle as her head tilt remain quite severe, she couldn't shake and she did not bark. I massaged her neck regularly hoping that this would help in the long run.

As i do not live at home where she is, I came back 4 days later and she was a lot more alert, recognizing voices, wagging her tail and responding to commands such as "kiss", although still sad because she thought she could still do all the things she had done previous to the episode and desperately tried to run out with the other dogs to play ball, her balance was still poor and seemed to display some weakness in her back legs.

We weren't sure at this point to what extent she would regain all the things she use to do. I came back to visit two weeks later and was amazed at the progress she was doing daily short walks on a lead, her head tilt was much better and her balance was improving.

Fast forward to week 5 she is now almost back to her old self, her head tilt has completely gone, the vivotonin seems to have given her more energy, she recently went on a 2 and half mile walk no problem, she can now run for the ball again apart from the slight doggy dementia we think she has (which she had before), it is impossible to tell that she had this episode 5 weeks ago. The only thing is that she has lost her confidence around the other dogs in the house and will only go for a walk if she is on lead as we think she is worried they will knock her over.

I'm not saying all dogs will recover and I realise that dogs are now more susceptible to more episodes after having one however it is worth being patient if improvements are being made, however small they are. She's 15 now and I am just glad that she's had this extra time with us whether that will be for a few more months or another couple of years, I'm just glad we waited. I hope that anyone who is currently going through this that their dog too will recover. I found it helped to record our dog daily as it was easier to see the improvements. I have videos but I'm not sure how to post.

Submitted by Nancy Nardella | January 2 2014 |

Wow..I'm hoping this is what my 12 yr old golden has. Headed to the vet right now...he went from fair to worse in 3 days. His eye seems to have shifted..and when I try to pat him on the head he turns away...

Submitted by jim | January 5 2014 |

My 12 year old Lab suffered these symptoms on New Year's Day. On New Year's Eve, he was absolutely fine, playing ball in the snow. He is old and a little arthritic, but still loves a good game of fetch. On NYD I woke up to take him out and he was somewhat off. By 1030 a.m. he was reeling and unable to get to his feet. He stumbled around and fell down while trying to urinate outside. Walked in circles and up close to the house, like he was trying to hug the wall.
I took him to the 24hour emergency vet and she diagnosed him as either having a brain tumor, a stroke or the Old Dog Vestibular. She offered an MRI but told me it was unlikely to be worth the investment. I took him home and made him comfortable.
Next day I took him to the regular vet, mentally prepared for a one-way trip. Thank God she talked me down and spent some time examining him. She explained that he is effectively sea-sick and prescribed Prednisone (in case it is a tumor or brain issue) and Cerenia, an anti-nausea drug. I took him home and got him to eat some and hoped for the best.

Day 3 we woke up and went out and he was able to come in and out of the house with me lifting his back end up with a sling. He stumbled around a bit but was able to urinate without falling over. I had to hand feed him (he seemed afraid or confused by his big metal bowl) from a little dish and he ate some cat food, some scrambled eggs and some liverwurst. His sense of smell seems to be off, as only really stinky food is attractive to him. He will eat Salami, Liverwurst, cat food, but not his regular dog food.
Day 4 he is much more steady, although he lurches a little and is starting to cock his head to one side. He has slipped a couple times on the hardwood floors but is pretty good on the carpet. And he has only slipped once in the ice/snow that is left outside. We were able to walk down the block and back.
Day 5 I will return to the vet and let her review his progress, but so far I consider his recovery to be miraculous.

Submitted by Renea | January 7 2014 |

My 15 yr old shepherd mix was diagnosed with this about a month ago. She received fluids and anti nausea shots twice as well as pills for home. We took her out using towels as slings. I had to crush her pills and put them in a plunger with water because she was refusing water and food. Her balance did improve after the first week and she would drink a little although still refused to eat. She lost 4 lbs. Finally she started to eat. I just kept offering different things. Her first response was to a milk bone oddly enough although these are her normal treats. She is not back to 100 percent after a month and just had a minor setback with an eye infection but I am happy that we got to bring her home. I also thought it would be a one way trip to the vet for her.

Submitted by Kolene | January 17 2014 |

Our 14 year old lab mix woke up one day last month unable to make it down the hall without falling into the walls. Every few steps he'd lose his balance and end up on his back or splayed out. I bawled all the way through making necessary calls to take him in but just thought I'd check his symptoms online real quick. I was so relieved to find this article and I did give it time as he didn't appear to be in any pain. Within a day or two he was much better but he did have a head tilt and has been less steady every since. His appetite has been fine and he's had no accidents... but he died in his sleep last night. The last few nights he wandered a lot at night and he was panting before he passed but there were few signs (he never would complain.)
I'm just wondering... did he eventually die from his earlier episode?

Submitted by Maggie Springett | January 22 2014 |

Hi, Our 13 year old Border collie Scampi is having her second bout of this disease in 4 months. She recovered well and was enjoying her walks and food. Having read this site it has given me some hope after it was suggested this morning that a tumour may be present. She seems to have great difficulty eating and has really gone off her food, water by syringe. I would appreciate any comments. We lost our Border Collie Chip 8 weeks ago to a spleen tumour at 14 so this is once again proving to be an emotional journey. She is sleeping peacefully on the sofa at the moment. Thanks once again for all of the amazing heart felt comments.

Submitted by Andrea | January 22 2014 |

I am hoping someone can help me figure out if my 7-year old Weimaraner's diagnosis of idiopathic vestibular disease seems accurate or if there is possibly something else going on. Until Jan. 1st he was the picture of health. He started pacing in circles, drooling, and falling over suddenly. I rushed him to the emergency hospital within an hour and by the time we got there he could not stand at all. He was admitted to the hospital for a week and had an MRI to confirm there was nothing wrong with his brain. The neurologist on staff advised me he had VD and he would just 'need time' but would recover. She mentioned he might have some permanent damage but overall would be fine. She prescribed prednisone, meclizine, and eventually baytril (he had a urinary tract infection while at the hospital). I am now on day 22 and he still cannot stand or walk and is starting to bark, as if in frustration. He does try to stand when motivated with food but it doesn't last more than a few seconds. His appetite has always been fine and he will drink water too (I need to help him with both still). He pees lying down on the grass outside and I have to hold him by his harness to get him to poop (he won't even try to stand during this). I am extremely frustrated by the lack of improvement Smokey is experiencing and it is quite exhausting for my husband and I both. Has anyone heard of the symptoms still existing this long after the initial diagnosis? At what point do I have to accept the possibility that he might not walk again? I want to do the best thing for Smokey and don't want to euthanize but I feel like there might be a quality of life issue forming with him. Help please! Thank you.

Submitted by Sam | January 23 2014 |

My 14 year old German shepherd dog who lives with my nan was put to sleep yesterday. We were told about 3 months ago to have her put to sleep as she had nerve degeneration in her back legs and couldn't walk but she pulled through and got her mobility back. She did have arthritis in her front legs and was on loxicom for that. She had hip dysplasia but it was not effecting her. Last Thursday she was sick twice, then again on Friday twice along with constipation, eyebrow twitching, leaning to the left whilst walking and disorientation. After talking to the vet on the phone they told us to keep her off her medication as it could of been causing stomach lining damage or an ulcer. I was next informed Tuesday by my nan my dog had not moved from the same spot since Friday sadly. I wish I had been told sooner. She was constantly tilting her head to the left, her eyes kept rolling sideways, she was refusing food, wetting herself, nose was dripping, outer corner of the left eye was weeping due to her tilting head. I could tell she was very uncomfortable and unhappy. To move her three of us scooped her up in a blanket to get her in the car to get her to the vets. She was very distressed and crying and barking. She wet herself in the car and was very scared on the way. Although I had read into canine vestibular disease I was expecting the worst news from the vet as I sensed something more serious. When we arrived the staff took her straight to the private room on a stretcher as she was very disturbed. I explained what had been going on to a vet whilst my dog was looked over in the theatre room. A vet burst in and confirmed the worst that she should be put to sleep for quality of life as she is suffering. She said it's either a stroke or a brain tumour. I knew I had to do it as she was unhappy I owed it to her. I did ask about canine vestibular disease but the vet expressed her condition was basically the same but too bad and ongoing for this long was cruel and more than just the disease most likely a stroke. Although it is too late I am a little worried if tests were done maybe there could have been treatment but they are experienced professional and I could see she wasn't herself. She wasn't eating or moving and the look in her face was sadness. I do feel guilt but at the same time I would have felt more guilt to prolong it and have her suffer more. Il never know if she could have pulled through but I know looking in my dogs eyes she'd had enough.

Submitted by Josh | January 26 2014 |

My dog is a 15 year old black lab. And had all these symptoms for a day an a half. I noticed she doesn't want to eat. So my question for you is… how do I get her to eat?

Submitted by Claire | February 3 2014 |

I just wanted to thank everyone on this site for their insight on the disease because it gave me hope and saved my dog's life. My almost 15 year old weimaraner, Louie, had an odd progression of vestibular disease. My mom came and picked me up to come home for a weekend from college on a Friday at 8:30 AM, when we returned home at 5:30 PM we found Louie unable to use his hind legs with poop around him and one pile of vomit.

He hasn't had great balance/use of his hind legs for the last year so we thought maybe he had gotten hurt. However he seemed very disoriented as if he had a stroke. He kept doing swimming motions with his front paws like he was trying to find the floor. He was eating and drinking, and his eyes were not moving back and forth. He didn't seem to be in pain, and his legs didn't seem hurt.

We knew we wouldn't be able to get his 80 pound body into the car to take him to an emergency clinic to get him euthanized, so we decided to give him a sedative (acepromazine) to ease his anxiety till the morning when we could call our vet to come over.

While he fell asleep, I started researching dog stroke when I came across Old Dog Vestibular Disease, which seemed like a good match because of how sudden this was and how disoriented he seemed - while not in pain.

Louie has always reacted to sedatives weird, so he was very sedated and could barely open his eyes for about 24 hours. Our vet has had a lot of experience with ODVD, and came to our house to examine him. Louie could still not get up on his own (still heavily sedated), however, the vet made him stand up with us holding him, so that he would have to readjust and his eyes were slowly moving up and down. The vet told us to give him around 72 hours to show improvement, to give him meclazine (for dizziness), and to make him stand every now and then so he could adjust. We also placed his bed on an old rug so that when he did try to walk, he could get better traction (we have hardwood floors). Louie was still eating and drinking - he also enjoyed eating ice cubes.

All of Saturday, Louie was pretty sedated. Sunday morning he woke up and the meds wore off. We gave him a meclazine and a rimadyl (a pain medication which he's been taking for years). He tried getting up a lot, because he had to poop/pee, and he was seemed a little better. He could kind of balance with the help of two people and a towel to act as a harness for his rear legs. He could not walk on hardwood floors at all. However, he is was so anxious and kept trying to walk when he couldn't, we feared he would hurt himself, so the vet told us to sedate him again. He slept the rest of the day and enjoyed a popsicle.

Monday (today) was much better. He was not anxious and could bear more weight with some assistance. We only gave him a rimadyl this time. We were able to take him outside for the first time. Then he stood up on his own and was walking on his own (wobbly). He is even able to walk on our hardwood floors with the help of booties (for better traction) on his feet.

If I can give any owner advice, it is to give your animal time, food, and water. There were so many hard times during this process that my parents didn't think Louie would pull through. We didn't see any real progress until about 72 hours after. Also, have a vet with ODVD experience examine you animal. Keep your animal as comfortable as possible in a bed with a towel under him in case they can't make it to outdoors to go to the bathroom. Your animal just needs constant care until they adjust. Right now I am hopeful that Louie will continue to recover, and hopefully has one more summer left in him.

Submitted by Julie | July 13 2014 |

Thanks for your post Claire, same is happening to Taiga, 12 yrs old mix lab. She is at 36th hour now. Hopefully she will get better tomorrow. As permyour post, we decided to give her some Tramadol so shem could relax.

Submitted by Carl DeClemens | February 4 2014 |

Hi, I have a 14 yr old lab/chow and who knows what mix. 2 nights ago we went out for our nightly walk about 8pm and at 430 am the next day she had lost control in the house, stumbling, eye wiggling etc. By 8 am that day she could not even stumble and just falls to her right side. Vet diagnosed vestibular syndrome, and xrays reveal some clutter in the ear area. we are going in for ear exam today, maybe get some anti biotic and other meds today. I am hopeful she shows improvement as I have read soon, because it kills me to see her laying there, not able to focus or move. My problem is she has not made a BM or urinated since yesterday. She has eaten and drinks water with my help OK. I have to carry her out to the yard but she seems unable to let go or not able to go? Anyhow I cant afford CT scans or the other major tests to see if its a tumor. So we are left with wait and see. But for the inability for her to go potty do you have any suggestions? and last I just read about a super supplement that claims it can eliminate vestibular disease in dogs within weeks. Do you endorse such products or encourage their use? This one was from NuVet Labs.

Submitted by Morgan | February 14 2014 |

My dog was diagnosed with idopathic vestibular disease a few months ago. He recovered almost fully in weeks time, and only has minimal balance issues. Unfortunately, last night he was struck with another episode. It started out mild and today has gotten progressively worse. Is it typical for dogs to go through "episodes" of falling over, weaving, ect?

Submitted by Margaret | February 18 2014 |

A great article and comment section. I learned so much. Truly a godsend as I had no idea what was happening to my 9 year old. I thought she had a stroke. Thank you for all your support and suggestions. My girl just went through this and after two weeks is about 90% recovered. It was treated as an inner ear infection to begin to rule other issues out and was placed on antibiotics and anti nausea medication. She had all the symptoms listed and paralysis on the right side of her face. I didn't think she would recover as we all know how debilitating this disease appears to be, especially at first but I was hopeful. Thanks to all your suggestions and comments we have gotten through this!

Submitted by Bonnie Lockard | February 19 2014 |

Our 11yr old Wheaten has had a hoarse cough/gag for two years (only when at rest)that even specialists can't diagnose. Connection? On Nov 29 she began with sudden on-set vestibular symptoms. Research suggested it would pass; it has not after antibiotics and minimal improvement after 2 wks on Meclizine w/symptoms totally returning after stopping (wondering if we should keep her on it indefinitely?) We are very concerned as she is our dearly beloved "sun-shine". Tomorrow she will have yet another set of x-rays and blood work. We have spent a fortune tying to get her back to normal the last 2 yrs and will continue as long as there is any hope of a diagnosis and cure for either of these issues! We would truly appreciate any new insight!!!!

Submitted by Becky | February 20 2014 |

Thank goodness for all your comments !!! I had noticed a slight difference within the last couple of days but early this morning, I could hear my Boston Terrier, 14 yrs old - Bettina, and knew the walking wasn't normal. I kept watching her walk and could tell she didn't walk very steady. She also has the tilt to her head, but eyes are not twitching or going back and forth. I took her to the vet and other than the possibility of a tumor, she was diagnosed having Vestibular disease and the vet recommended Dramamine to try to take away some dizziness. She said this all could go away in a few days, if its Vestibular. She eats ok for a 14 yr old, but for the last month she'd rather be hand fed once in a while, which is fine as long as she eats. She still drinks plenty of water and no vomiting. My fingers are crossed and saying prayers that it goes away.

Submitted by cheri | February 21 2014 |

Hi My 15 year old G/S mix has ha Vestibular twice now and at this time we are in 3 weeks and 3 days. The last time was a couple years ago and only lasted 2-3 days. That was very scary not knowing anything about it.
I have not left her side since this 2 bout, it's more severe but she is recovering slowly. She was on antibiotics and I also give 1/2 tab of Ginkgo Biloba daily. I use homeopathic eye drops and ear drops. I definitely noticed an improvement when I first gave her the Ginkgo. Good for blood flow to the brain. She still can't stand by herself but sure is trying, she is a Service dog and Hostess at my Barber Shop. So it is fortunate that I can have her at work. This has taken longer than thought but every day shows a little more improvement and she has helped a lot of people with being a seizure alert Dog, so however long it takes,,,, so be it. I would do it regardless, Just give your babies time, it's work but aren't they worth it?? Also, don't blame yourselves
if they had to go on, this is a very scary disease, and a lot of people don't know anything about it. I guess I don't know what else to say except Go With Your Heart and God Bless.

Submitted by Sharon | February 24 2014 |

I came home from the gym this morning to find my 14 yr old American Fox Hound lying on her favorite blanket on the sofa with vomit and poop surrounding her and she was quivering. Her eyes were moving crazily. I immediately soothed her telling her no problem it looks like you had an accident. My other two dogs were anxiously awaiting their morning walk so I asked Stella if she wanted to go for a walk? She tried desperately to get up so I helped her. (mind you this dog is fit as a fiddle and frolicked at the beach yesterday like a puppy, got up this morning and ate and was all normal when I left the house). When I helped her off the sofa to the floor she collapsed...I was terrified. I called my husband to come home and we took her to emergency. She was diagnosed with Old Dog Vestibular Disease for now. Gave her a shot of Cerenia and some pills to take home. She cannot walk and will not drink. Mind you this just happened 5 hours ago. We were told the same as everyone on this site that it will take time. In the meantime she is comfortable in her crate surrounded by pillows. We tried to take her out to do her business but she just couldn't make it happen. So we decided to let her rest. Stella is already an anxious dog. We rescued her from an abusive situation 8 years ago and while she is happy at home and with people she is familiar with, anything unusual makes her very nervous. She is going to return to the vet to see a neurologist on Wednesday. We will take the wait and see but if not getting better we will have them test for a brain tumor. She's already survived a Gastrointestinal sarcoma tumor and had part of her intestines removed last year. She recovered admirably. Thanks for everyone's posts it makes the wait and see more optimistic.

Submitted by Susan | February 28 2014 |

Thank you for posting this information. I too have a 12.5 yr old collie/malamute in this condition. I too was sure it was a stroke. Maxx drinks water but eating food is a challenge...I am giving him watered-down canned food though a "cajun injector" syringe inserted just inside his jaws. The regular syringe was just too small. After reading this article, I am glad that I listened to my vet who has the "wait and see" attitude. I am so glad to know that he is not in pain and that there is hope..I have been so torn as to what to do for him and so concerned that he's not eating. All bloodwork came back as "good" which made me worry even more that by waiting to make the "decision" I was in someway hurting him. After reading this and the posted comments, I feel that I have some hope for Maxx's recovery. Thanks!

Submitted by Dale Piebes | March 13 2014 |

My older sheltie, Nash, (will be 15 in April) had all these symptoms last November 30. My vet diagnosed it over the phone and I had also thought it was this disease. He was mobile, had some nausea (not eating well first 4 days or so and some vomiting)but had a good attitude. Nash completely recovered within 2 -3 weeks with not even a head tilt left. Then around 2/27/14 he developed the same symptoms again gradually. He leans to the right with head down especially after getting up from a nap. I have been using a halter to walk him in the yard (as last time) because my yard is a gradual incline. No eye movement this time and he is eating, but leaves a little each time. No vomiting. So not as bad as last time. ***My question is: is it usual for this to come again so soon - like 3 months from the last onset? My vet said it could happen again. I'm giving him Bonine for the dizziness which helps. Nash has a great attitude and it doesn't seem to be bothering him that he is dizzy. ***Is thsre anything else I should be doing and can I prevent it from happening again?

Submitted by Rosalie | March 16 2014 |

i have a 19 year old chihuahua poodle mix who has had 2 spells where she loses sight , paces and runs into things. her legs get very stiff and she gets uncoordinated. she still eats and drinks. she'll be real bad for a few days then she comes out of it... last one took about 2 weeks to notice a big difference. during her states she seems to be hypersensitive to noise. is this a stroke?

Submitted by michelleandboo | March 20 2014 |

Just came across this on google.my 11 year old boxer greeted me yesterday as i came home from work.he had a head tilt that wasn't there when i left for work. Everything else normal eating etc.yet he did sleep lots last night but he is quite lazy.this morning he fell downstairs.hes slipped in the kitchen a few times so i've blocked the stairs off.keeping him confined to a few rooms.no eyes rolling no vomit but hes not been out to pee much.he just wants to sleep. Will try the 72 hour wait hope he gets better. Hes too old for all these brain tumor tests.i just hope it passes as he seems happy.i've checked both ears smelt them no swelling or discharge but heads tilted and is very wobbly.

Submitted by cheri penry | March 26 2014 |

My dog has vestibulars disease-we found out from our vet yesterday.She has all the symptons.The vet gave her a shot for throwing up and I am to give her antibiotics and dramamine.Plus medicine for her ears. The only bad thing I can't get her to drink water or eat. I tried putting her medicine in some cooked hamburger. No luck. We have to carry her outside and she weighs 86lbs. I'm worried because she won't eat or drink and I can't spend any more money for the vet. Should I wait 4 or 5 days even if I can't get her to eat or drink. She is now on day 2 and doing no better.

Submitted by Carmen | March 30 2014 |

Just providing our experience... A little over 3 months ago, our 13yr old lab had a vestibular episode much like the ones mentioned here - it was a bad one and she stayed one night at emerg. vet. She couldn't stand the first 24 hrs even with a harness and assistance. I am sure it didn't help that she's almost blind.

Never vomited but really struggled to get her to eat anything for about 3-4 days (pressure cooked chicken and rice was a winner but had to switch dog food around for a 2-3 weeks before the appetite fully returned). Her fine motor skills for eating were really affected for at least a couple of weeks. She would not eat out of her metal bowls. We hand fed and/or she would eat out of one of our bowls if we held it up for her. 3 months later and she still eats better when we put a styrofoam plate on top of her bowl on her raised food platform. It's odd.

Anyway - it really took her a full 2 months before she really seemed as normal as she was going to get. 11 days after the first episode, she had a second. After both episodes, she was "manageable" in helping her get around, outside to potty, and feeling we could leave her to go to work after about 5-7 days. Oddly after the 2nd one, her head tilt evened out. By "as normal as she's going to get after 2 months", I mean she seems happy and back to eating like a lab but she still has a very uncoordinated gait when she gets to moving a little faster (like a slow trot). Our neighbors say she looks like she is drunk. Around the house, she gets around great and we don't notice much un-coordination, but outside she seems more unsteady. Not sure how much her not seeing well is taking its toll either. Tried acupuncture (mostly for arthritis and laryngeal paralysis) - not sure if it helped but it didn't hurt either. Did head x-rays, blood work and full check up with no obvious signs of anything. Opted NOT to do anything like an MRI/CT scan. The vet felt that since she improved after each episode that hopefully it was the "idiopathic/old dog vestibular". Just hoping that is all it is but at this age, who knows. We are just glad that night on Dec 20th wasn't her last! Oh yeah, she did better at night with night lights. We had 2 in bedroom and 1 on hallway when she was still recovering. Now we only have 1. Again, not sure how much the cataracts played into this.

Submitted by Pat | March 30 2014 |

Our Buster is 14 years old and has been in greater spirits like he was a pup again. Then suddenly he developed this IVDG is what our vet called it. He has had numerous ex-ray's and blood test because he would stretch out in pain often as he was in pain. He started him on Tramdol25 mg every 8 hours, gabapentin 100mg every 8 to 12hrs, and rimadyl 75 mg 1/40tab every 12 hrs. Can any of these have caused this?

Submitted by Laurie Thompson | April 5 2014 |

Thank you so much for putting this on the internet. My dog has had 3 episodes of this. Its how we found his cancer. I absolutely freaked out and thought it was a stroke. He is doing great today so thanks again!

Submitted by Rebecca | April 12 2014 |

We just lost our 13-year old Border Collie, Sioux, a few hours ago. She had been having trouble walking, and seemed old and frail, but had not seemed to be in pain. She had experienced tumors on a hind leg, which we'd had removed three times. We often felt as though she was living on borrowed time, but were glad we'd had another 16-months. When I came home from work at 1:00am, she had been vomiting, her eyes darted back and forth rapidly and she had this head tilt. Although the emergency vet explained what it could be, I fear we responded the way we thought was best as our finances do not allow a lot of tests and CTs and MRIs. Still, now I am questioning whether we should have been so quick to end her life. I really want to believe we did the right thing, but now I'm not so sure. I already miss her horribly.

Submitted by Rhonda Seigle | April 15 2014 |

My 14 year old black lab had her first episode of this on 3/20/2014 and was diagnosed with idiopathic vestibular disease. She's now had approximately 4 more episodes in the following 4 weeks, the latest 2 within 3 days of each other.

Will these continue to occur? What can I do to help my doggie?

Submitted by Carol Carter | April 15 2014 |

A week ago we found our old dog lying on the ground drooling and shivering. We feared the worst as he is beginning his 17th year and we had begun preparing ourselves for life without our old friend. We took him to the vet who drew blood for labs and ran a urinalysis. He staggered and had difficulty standing when we left him with the vet. When we returned a few hours later she told us it might be an ear infection or it could be a neurological problem. All his labs were negative and he had no temperature. She suggested we get Meclizine for him which we did. He vomited when we got home and would not eat, even special treats. He did not eat for two fill days but late Wed. he had a couple bites. When we saw the vet the next day he was down over two pounds from his Monday visit. We watched him gobble up critical care canned food in the vet's and bought several cans for him. It smells horrible going in and coming out. It he seems to love it and has regained energy. His head tilt persists and one side iseems weaker but he is back walking and waiting for his treats. He is not completely recovered but at this time a week ago we were devastated as we talked about euthanasia. Give your pet some time to recover if there is no pain. We are so grateful to have our furry buddy a while longer.

Submitted by Mitch | April 16 2014 |

We have a 7 year old German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) that was a rescue dog that had at some time been mistreated. He is partially deaf in the right ear and spins and circles at times always on the right side. He was beeing medicated for anxiety and was doped up to the eyebals when we got him. He had his first "episode" about 2 years ago and wasnt diagnosed by the vet as vestibular but after we did some research he had all of the classic symptons; nausea and vomitting, head tilt, ataxia, nystagmus (horizontal with the the slow phase to the right. He made a full recovery very quickly and had another about 6 months ago onec again recvering quickly. He has since had 3 in a matter of weeks. He recovers in a matter of hours or overnight which seems different from the weeks or months mentioned in the posts above. I was wondering if anyone else had had an experience where there dogd recovered so quickly? Im hoping its not a tumour (given the horzontal nystagmus and fact he recovers to normal).

Submitted by Rosalind Bane | April 21 2014 |

My dog is 6 and is epileptic , he is on medication and has been seizure free for 10 weeks. Last thursday he was vomiting and had rapid eye movement , he wouldnt eat or drink without encouragement. He has ataxia and head tilt . He is urinating but no bowel movement . He has eaten recently on his own has drunk, weeing ok but no bm , also still has tilt and ataxia but no rapid eye movement .

Submitted by Adele | April 22 2014 |

I have a 13 year old german shepherd female (Xena)who first exhibited symptoms last Wednesday. By Saturday she was doing much better and her appetite had returned. She is still a little wobbly and her head still tilts. Our vet told us exactly what you said which I am thankful for since she has improved. Thanks for this helpful information.

Submitted by D. Balausiak | April 23 2014 |

A few months ago my dog Tanner experienced head tilting and falling over, complete loss of balance to the point I would have to support him to go outside to relieve himself. I was preparing the kids for the worst case scenario, that Tanner would have to be put down. I know it is common in Shepherds to suffer from hip trouble and felt that that was the diagnosis but then I realized his head was tilted and thought what does that have to do with hip failure. So I decided to wait and see and Tanner did get better on his own, he is still a little wobbly at times and has a slight tilt of the head but he enjoys himself as before, sleeps on my couch and now has no trouble getting down, eats treats til he explodes if you let him, and wags his tail in the knowledge that he escaped "The big nap" and is still here to give and receive lots and lot of affection.

Submitted by Melanie | May 1 2014 |

My mother border collie suffered from this two years ago. She is now 15+ and doing fine, just weak in the rear legs when she gets bumped. Her daughter (now 13) just suffered from the same thing. Since she already had her yearly set for today ( 6 days after onset) and she is already improving, i will let the vet check her out for me and she will take another week at least until she is up on her Feet. Her twin brother suffered this two months ago also. all dogs were abotu 13. Guess my final boy is in the running next year since he will be 13 then.....Crossing fingers he bipasses it..but having old dogs, they are weaker and more suseptible to things.

Submitted by Sheree | May 6 2014 |

My 13 1/2 yr old lab just started on week 3. He was the most active dog & acted like he was 3yrs old & then 2wks & 1 day ago he couldn't hardly walk. The vet I took him to totally misdiagnosed him. Thought it could be lymes disease. Saw the video's & see my dog has ALL the symptoms of vestibular syndrome. His eyes were twitching, walking in circles, falling & running into walls. Never threw up but wouldn't eat or drink without hand feeding & making chicken and lots of boullion. He is better but I'm taking back to a new vet tomorrow. He seemed to be better but today he is panting really hard & having trouble with his rear legs today. He paces & seems to never sleep so thinking he's exhausted. Also, he actually looks like a person who had a stroke. Not only is his head tilted but his left eye droops & eyelid will not close & he drools out of left side & left rear leg drags! Hoping we have some good news after tomorrow's vet visit. Oh, they need 24hr around the clock care. It's so sad to watch & I'm also dragging! Puppy prayers!

Submitted by Susan | May 11 2014 |

Sunday my 16 1/2 yr old shih tzu started circling and falling down. I picked her up and eyes where going side to side very quickly. I googled and Dx'd ODVD. Took her to ER. Blood work was remarkable for her age. Told me she had wax build up in left ear which was the side of her head tilt! But no infection. Given 2 antihistamines, prednisone and was told she wld recover in 2 wks,
. By Tuesday, she was blind and couldn't walk, refused to eat and drank very little water. . Took her to my regular vet, she DX ear infection, gave a shot of Midazolum, ear drops and sent me home with IV fluids & critical care food.

Want people to know that fluids & Midazolum shot helped a great deal. But by Friday she seemed to lose appetite and severe circling again. Saturday still no improvement so got another Midazolum shot and did the Eppley Maneuver which is a PT adjustment to combat dizziness in humans and I thought I had witnessed a miracle. Her head tilt was gone and her vision started to improve as well her appetite. Sunday nite and she is almost normal.
2 things I have learned, always follow up immediately w/ ur regular vet after an ER visit & ask lots of questions and google other options.

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