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Shea Cox
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Idiopathic or “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease
Vestibular signs in dogs are often incorrectly referred to as a stroke

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 Anonymous | April 25 2012 |

My beagle experienced this at 4 years old. He had the head tilt, nystagmus, and ataxia ("drunken sailor walk). The left side of his face drooped -ear, flews, eye. Left eye didn't blink. Never vomited. We were advised by our general veterinarian to take him to a neurologist who diagnosed it as idiopathic vestibular disease caused by an inner ear infection. He prescribed dramamine and antibiotics and eye drops. A few days later he found his equilibrium and was pretty well recovered. Interestingly though, he was left with a slight weakness in the left side of his face. It's mostly normal, but when he barks or eats, that eye looks like it's squinting. He is 11 now and hasn't had an episode since.

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | April 26 2012 |

Thank you for sharing this experience~ and I am so happy to hear that he is going strong another 7 years later!

Submitted by Rita murray | September 3 2013 |

Thank you for the information . Our doggie suffered a similar episode yesterday. My husband who took her to the vet he told the vet she hadn't had ant ear problems when in fact she has had for a few days. We are taking her back to the vet today to hopefully get the antibiotics. Thank you so much

Submitted by Gaby | February 12 2014 |

Thank god for this page, my 13yr old mix is experiencing the same symptoms.
Sure hope that is all it is. Hate to think what life would be with out her

Submitted by Cheryl | February 15 2014 |

My 13 yr old mix had this the first of Nov. I was terrified until we went to our vet and discovered it's relatively common. Ginger is fine. She took about 4 full days to recover :) She still has a slight head tilt and seems to blink a lot when she is tired but we are GREAT :) BEST WISHES from US :)

Submitted by Kate | February 20 2014 |

My 13 year old dog is in the vets right now having developed all the symptoms yesterday. They took her in last night and want to keep her in until at least tomorrow. Fingers crossed for her; she doesn't move around much nowadays but it's surprising how much you can miss a (minimally) mobile rug when it's not around :(

Submitted by jim | February 22 2014 |

my 9.5 year old GSD is now having the same medical condition this is a very very hard condition to watch your beloved pet have to be in .. bex's in at the 72 hr stage and still cannot stan, is going about 6-8 hrs without moving his body and just sadly lays on his bed and just stares. he is on meds for the vomiting and his condition. i have daily talks to the vet and bed has been at the office on two occasions. he will drink water but after 5 hrs he vomits. i appreciate the comments mane by those who have experienced this condition with their loved one.. bed is 118 lbs at at this point needs 100 % assistance. from reading the comments and other bloggers its looks like its a wait n see period between the 2-7 days. again thanks to all who have posted their situations on this site ….jim

Submitted by Paulena | February 25 2014 |

Jim, don't give up. My 12 yr old GSD just went through the same thing. I had him at the vet hosp for 2 nights becuz he couldn't stand without assistance. Eyes tracked left to right for 4 days. They gave him anti nausea/motion sickness meds to stop the vomiting. I Kept a harness (dog seatbelt harness) on him most of the time to help him up to wobble outside to pee. He also has longstanding neurological problems with hindend ataxia so it has been two weeks and he is still wobbly, but can walk for 10 min or so pretty much by himself with only little tugs on the harness to steady him. He lost most of his hearing around day 5 - I attribute that to the Mometamax drops they put in his ears "in case he has an ear infection (it is known to cause deafness, some dogs recover). Don't put that stuff in his ears unless they know for sure he has an EXTERNAL ear infection. They also put my dog on antibiotics in case he has an inner ear infection.... Acupuncture seemed to help, I also have him on a homeopathic Pulsatilla for inner ear infection. There are a few homeopathic remedies for vertigo that might help your dog. He should start to be interested in his ball after about 1 week. My dogs head is tilted 45 degrees still; a canine massage therapist told me she worked on a dog who's head stayed tilted for over 1 year, and with massage the muscles released and the tilt is totally gone. .... Lots of work, but they're worth it. Good luck.

Submitted by Liz | February 26 2014 |

Jim...I sincerely hope your dog has shown some improvement since you posted .i am new here as my dog just had her first episodes and now I've concluded it's Vestibular Disease. She was quite bad tonight and now, after staggering around for a few hours, I finally got her to sleep. Wonder what tomorrow will bring. Poor dog looks so scared, too.
I just hope things work out with your dog because this is sounding really hard.

Submitted by Janet | February 28 2014 |

My 14 year old Lab mix suffered the same thing yesterday morning. I thought she had a stroke. She was walking sideways and out stretching her front paw as if to feel around. She had no darting eyes. I couldnt get her to a Vet because I can't get her safely down the stairs. I decided to research it and I found ODV. Old Dog Vestibular disease on this site and many videos of dogs with her symptoms. Because of her age I decided the wait and see. I boiled a chicken breast and put Benadryl in it for her nausea. She woke up this morning and is walking almost normal and acting her old self. She bugged me to go out do we attempted the stairs. With a few skids she got down ok. She had no problem going up. But. She has only urinated and defecated twice in 36 hours. I won't attempt the stairs again until I know she is stronger. That is my worry now.

Submitted by Melissa O | April 25 2012 |

My 7yr old eskie mix had all of those symptoms at the end of February. I barely remember anything the vet said once he mentioned brain tumor. She was also scheduled for a double enucleation in March. I was so close to making that call, but I'm so glad I didn't. The vet treated her with antibiotics and within a week, her balance was back and surgery went as planned. She's back to acting like a puppy again with absolutely no lasting effects.

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | April 26 2012 |

Wow- thank you for sharing your story, Melissa~ it sounds as if you both had quite an emotional roller coaster ride. It makes my heart happy to hear of her recovery and that she is acting like a puppy :).

Submitted by Karen | April 26 2012 |

This happened to our 14 year old border collie last fall. I had never heard of Old Dog Vestibular Disease before and thought for sure I was making a one way trip to the vet. After an an exam and talking to the vet we took the wait and see approach. Within a few days there was quite a bit of improvement. It took a couple of weeks to fully recover. If you look closely, she does still have a slight head tilt, but most people don't even notice it.

Karen

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | April 26 2012 |

Thank you for sharing a happy ending, Karen! I am glad to hear she bounced back and that vestibular disease was the likely cause. It can be such a scary thing to experience for the first time.

Submitted by Nicholas Pappas | December 31 2013 |

Hi , my 14 year old Shiba Inu has all the symptoms of Old Dog Disease. I got her antibiotics from the vet, but after the first day she was vomitting her meals. she is drinking water but hasnt eaten since she got sick , it has been a day . Did your dog have trouble eating while going through this? Im starting to really worry now. Ive Tried brown rice, baby food, chicken , beef(she took one bite).

Submitted by Cindy | January 7 2014 |

For our 13 yr old min. schnauzer diagnosed w/vestibular syndrome last month, our vet gave a nausea medication via shot in the office then gave us 4 pills (one pill each day x4). She had thrown up prior to the vet visit but not once after. She 1/2 cup ate boiled ground turkey and a couple dog biscuits on the 2nd and 3rd days & then was back to her regular dog food.

Submitted by Alex | February 18 2014 |

Try using Dramamine. My dog is eating and not vomiting now, though I am hand feeding him balls of canned food, and only giving dry food if soaked in broth first. This morning he ate scrambled eggs! Definitely not eating normal amount, but eating and drinking at least.

Submitted by Sharon | March 9 2014 |

I came home yesterday morning from work & found 4 small vomit spots in the yard. I immediately ran inside to see Gena, my 12+ yr old chow/R. ridgeback, lying on her bed. When she got up she was "drunk" & her eyes twitching back & forth very fast, head tilted & dripping drool. I took her to the vet thinking she had a stroke but was told it was IVS. No bloodwork or even an ear examine but was sent home w/ 7 days worth of Meclizine. Sunday morning, still the same but is eating small amounts & drinking little. No BM yet but will go pee outside. It's been a lil over 24hrs & I pray for a full recovery. I ordered her a product from Nu Pet, hope this helps.

Submitted by Wendy | January 2 2014 |

What a frightening experience to see your best friend in such a bad way and in such a short space of time. I have a 13yr old border collie and this is what he has been diagnosed with just 2days ago. Obviously still very much in the early stages. Patch had shown great sighns of being near enough back to normal within 24hours,but then relapst into a state that I thought,this is the dreaded visit to the vets where you return home alone. Thankfully not. He is on Vivitonin tablets,half twice a day. What a rolllercoaster ride but hopefully with the help of the vet,my boy will come through. Thanks for giving me hope

Submitted by RI Pet lover | April 26 2012 |

This happen to me with a Senior Lab rescue, I thought it was the end, I called the Vet to my home to put her down, after seeing my dog the Vet said no need, I was so happy to have her another 5 mts longer. Now that I know what it is, I will always take the wait and see....

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | April 26 2012 |

I am so glad to hear you had more precious time with your girl! Thank you for sharing your experiences and comments.

Submitted by Bjvan | April 26 2012 |

Thanks for posting about this! We have a 14 yr old Beagle mix that's starting to show geriatric issues, (eyesight, going up stairs, etc)so its nice to have a "heads-up" about something like this! We sure wouldn't want him to be put down unnecessarily! He's been a member of the family since he was a pup!

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | April 26 2012 |

You are welcome, Bjvan! Thanks for taking the time to post a comment!

Submitted by Louise | October 14 2013 |

Hi

We have an old rescue (16 years) who seems to have this. We took him to the vet 3 weeks ago when it happened, and he gave him anti biotics and steroids. He has worsened and now cannot even sit up. He can bareoy lift his head. Family are plannign a euthanaisia this evening and whereas I dont mind letting him go if he is not going to improve, I want to make sure there is nothing else we could have done. Is he likely to improve now given that he has nor responded to treatment and has not improved (in fact has disimproved) in 3 weeks? :(

Submitted by Anna | October 27 2013 |

I am curious as well. I have a 12 year old Shepard mix and he has been having problems for 3 weeks now as well. Our vet said it was a mix of vestibular and arthritis in his back legs, so I'm looking for anything I can to help him improve besides the Dramamine the vet recommended for the vestibular disease.

Submitted by George Jurgensen | December 7 2013 |

Our dog, a lab husky mix, 13.5 years old, is suffering his second bout of vestibular disease. He also has significant arthritis and has been on 100 mg rumadil daily. Its a struggle, sometimes he throws up. If he has been on his feet recently for any time, he is dizzy and doesn't want to eat. First illness was last July, weeks after he was attacked and recovered from being bitten by another dog. It took 10 days or so with dramamine and/or meclazine for him to begin to show improvement, and he got near 100% before being stricken again here in early December.

He's not as severe this time so far, and symptoms arose gradually over several days. We also were concerned he might have a tick borne illness or inner ear infection or other illness, (he shivers after the morning, seems extra stiff) so clavamox was prescribed (14 days).

Vets can run tests, MRI, xray, bloodwork, physical exam, but some can be expensive and there can be little point. Brain tumor is unlikely to be treated, most other causes will be helped only by time (idiopathic), fluids and food, and a few may need antibiotics. You must be diligent in giving antibiotics if prescribed, complete the regimen giving every pill as prescribed. Don't breed new resistant bacteria by stopping early!

He's pretty wobbly day 3. Anyway, not much else you can do, unless antibiotics may apply. Fluid and Food are very important, keeps kidney and liver functioning properly and keeps your dog strong for recovery.

Submitted by Brenda | April 26 2012 |

You must be careful not to confuse this with a stroke. My Brittney Spaniel had a stroke and was suffering from diabetes. The stroke had the same symptoms. He now takes insulin twice a day, but he has aged tremendously due to his health issues. After he had the stroke, he wasn't coming out of it. I was so torn. I decided in the fourth week that I didn't want him to suffer anymore. He couldn't come up and down the steps and my German Shepard was devastated, he would even try to help him up them. The day I came home from work to put him to sleep he had snapped completely out of it! I was so grateful that I waited.

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | April 26 2012 |

You are absolutely right, Brenda, which is why a veterinary visit is always an important visit to make if anything ever changes with your pet. As with everything in medicine, one set of clinical signs can represent many, many different disease processes and one should never assume a diagnosis. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I am so sorry about the decision that you had to make; it truly takes more love to decide to let go than to hold on.

Submitted by Portland | April 29 2012 |

Thank you for this article. It felt much more thorough than the article in the print version of Bark a few months back. I am grateful for your insight. I was lucky enough to also have a team of vets already on hand when my 15 yr old Wheaton experienced an episode. There were some early signs: her hind end would collapse and her rear legs seemed to have what looked like a spasm, she mysteriously fell over sideways intermittently but immediately recovered from both events.

I learned so much in the following year that I thought I’d share with others who might be in the same situation.

Team of vets:
We panicked until we had a full diagnosis of vestibular syndrome, and were told we should wait and see. I also followed up immediately with her physical therapist, who was well versed in the vestibular issue and my dog’s holistic (traditional and alternative) vet to accompany the recovery. The physical therapist used focused massage and pressure treatment to help the neck maintain strength and our other vet continued with acupuncture to treat back and neck stiffness caused by the vestibular tilt. She was 15 so some of the symptoms increased her senior issues previously present.

Safety and coordination:
My pup’s walking came back slowly though she often fell when she tried to walk so we surrounded her bed space with giant pillows to keep her contained and safe. We also used treat puzzles designed to encourage sniffing, searching and locating and this also helped with her regaining coordination. Oddly it was the most satisfying part of the process of recovery, because everything happened so slowly. With that we got to watch as with each week she gained mobility and balance.

Getting them to eat and drink:
The most challenging part that I’ve not yet heard anyone discuss is getting them to eat and drink. Perhaps my case was unique, too. Food and water were never an issue for her before and after the episode it was a huge challenge; apparently she could not smell the food, and became dizzy when she dipped her head down to the bowl. To avoid dehydration, she received fluids at home for the first week, and I was also able to give her water with the help of a large syringe, much like a turkey baster. I elevated the food dish by about 8 inches and sometimes had to hand feed her, the already home cooked food she was accustomed to. Heating the food up slightly helped her sniff it out and encouraged her appetite. I should note that I worked from home so this made the work of recovery much more feasible.

Going outdoors:
Taking her outside was helped by using a harness instead of a straight leash. This kept her from falling over when she needed to do her business.

Recovery time:
Because she was already a senior, she was slow on the recovery, about 2-3 weeks. The next episode happened 3 months later, the recovery slower but the symptoms less severe. She did spend the next year fairly episode free and she had a normal, slow but very happy dog life. No unusual food or drinking issues, either.

As she passed her 16th birthday, more than a year after the first episode, her mobility did deteriorate as did her mental faculties. Much of that seemed primarily due to senior dog issues and less about vestibular syndrome. Still, toward the last month I’d find her horribly unbalanced, unable to get up and often spontaneously falling sideways. She was no longer able to participate in any recovery exercises. She also decreased her engagement with her humans considerably, and her spunk was infrequent. After much soul searching and consulting with our team of vets who’d come to know and love her, we all agreed it was unfortunately time to say goodbye to the determined terrier.

Getting the word out:
We’ll never know if there was a tumor growing in her brain or elsewhere and at 16 yrs old it would be untreatable, but I do know I am so relieved to hear that this syndrome is finally getting the coverage it deserves.

One of our vets told us that he frequently is requested to euthanize dogs with this issue even after the dog is diagnosed accurately. I had never heard of it before and the days we awaited a diagnosis were terrifying. Had I heard of vestibular syndrome prior, we could have begun treatment immediately without the crisis of thinking we had to put her down.

Though it is common, it’s just not widely discussed. I support your clear message, Dr. Cox, to wait and see. Also, if you are able, consult as early as possible with vets who have worked with dogs in recovery.

Nine of my dog’s last twelve months were amazing and she still had a blast barking it up and chasing squirrels, more slowly than her dog siblings, but her terrier tenacity kept her going!

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 7 2012 |

Wow- Thank you, Portland, for sharing your thoughtful comments and your experiences at home! All the things you have mentioned are what many pet parents have to deal with at home during recovery. I would have loved to have discussed home care, but that discussion is way beyond the scope of a 600 word blog :). It warms my heart to hear that you had another beautiful year with your baby, as well as all the dedicated lengths you went through to help her through her recovery and give her a good quality of life. Thank you again for taking the time to share, it is appreciated more than you can imagine. And you gotta love that terrier tenacity! :)

Submitted by Jennifer Agate | November 25 2013 |

Thanks you for your post. My 15 year old colliex had one of these vestibular episodes just over 2 weeks ago. It was the first time I had witnessed such a thing and I've had dogs all my life. My vet put him on a drip to rehydrate him and he made a good recovery. His gait and balance was much as it was prior to the episode. Unfortunately he had a recurrence last night, possibly less severe, and this time I will give him a few days to see if he recovers before going to see the vet. I have found your post helpful as you mention recurrences.

Submitted by Laura | December 10 2013 |

Thanks so much for your story. My almost 14 year old border collie is recovering from this disease and I have been looking for info on how to get her to eat better and what options might be available to help her coordination and balance. Eating has been our biggest struggle but she is finally starting to eat a little again after about 4 days of flat out refusing everything.

Submitted by Janice Van Bever | December 12 2013 |

My 14 yr old border collie/golden retriever mix was diagnosed and is improving with her walking but I'm not seeing her urinate. She did it while being carried through the vet's lobby, both directions, but nothing since. She's only drinking water and finally after 3 days finally nibbled on a treat. She even had tuna on her kibble and she licked a little at the bowl. I'm worried about the lack of elimination.

Submitted by c jones | March 16 2014 |

we rescued a deaf 15 year old chow mix. have had him 2 or 3 years. he has had constant ear infections. is now mostly blind has arthritis through his entire body.worse in his back legs. walks okay once he gets up will chase cats.has been on rimadyl, and tramadol plus creatine ,glucosamine chondrotion last year. about 2 months ago begins urinating very frequently,also drooling on 1 side of mouth and holds head to 1 side.lays around alot that could be due to age or meds. does not seem in lots of pAin unless has ear infection. was wondering if some of this is due to side effects of rimadyl. he is a wonderful gentle dog . his apettite is fine although he is VERY SPOILED.any ideas appreciated

Submitted by Anonymous | May 1 2012 |

I wish I would have found this site earlier! We just put out Lady to sleep after presenting with exactly these signs. I am devestated and don't know why my vet advised euthanasia if this was a possible scenario. She only had I either symptom-loss of badder and bowel control. Is that symptom ever part of this syndrome?

Thank you for your article!

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 7 2012 |

Hi Anonymous~ I am sorry for my delayed response as I am just seeing these comments today. And I am so sorry to hear of your loss. It is unfortunately very difficult for me to say one way or the other~ what I can say, is that loss of bladder and bowel control often happens during a seizure, and seizures can come from brain tumors. Vestibular disease doesn't generally present with sudden loss of bowel/bladder control. My heart goes out to you~ it is such a difficult thing to lose a pet and best friend.

Submitted by Dana | May 2 2012 |

Thank you for this article. I have had a few clients and friends dealing with this in the last few months(including myself with my old guy). Good information and I have shared it! Thanks again!

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 7 2012 |

Thank you, Dana! I really appreciate the feedback and glad it has helped you and others. I hope your "old guy" is doing well!

Submitted by Lab Lover | May 22 2012 |

Thank you so much for this article. I took my 12 year old yellow lab to the vet this morning thinking she had a stroke. It was a very sudden onset of symptoms. At 7:30am she ate breakfast normally, although we noticed she did have a tiny bit of trouble walking, but nothing major. 15 minutes later she couldn't stand, her head was tilted and her eyes were spinning in circles.

We immediately took her in and the vet mentioned old dog vestibular disease. I had never heard of it, so when I came home, I looked it up. My guess is this is what she is suffering from. She is at the vet getting fluid and antibiotics to make her comfortable for now. I hope, hope, hope, this is all it is and not the suspected tumor. I will wait and see if she improves or gets worse over the next few days.

This article makes me feel a little better about her condition. Thank you.

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 7 2012 |

Thank you for sharing your experience and I am glad to hear this made you feel a little better after reading :). I am seeing these comments late, so I hope that she has continued to improve since your post. Improvement over time is definitely one of the hallmarks of the disease, and I hope this is what she has experienced~ keep me posted! :)

Submitted by Lab Lover | June 18 2012 |

It turns out this is exactly what my dog was experiencing. After 4 hours at the vet on fluids and antibiotics, the Vet called and said he had never seen a dog respond so quickly to medical treatment. She was up and moving around and I was able to see her that night. They did keep her overnight as a precaution, and she came home the next day on antibiotics. The only lingering side affect was her right eye was not dilating properly. At a check-up a week later, it had improved. Its been a month since this all happened, and she is back to her old self. A very scary experience, but thankfully one that ended positively. Thanks again for posting this article. It did help calm me down after the Vet had mentioned it could be a brain tumor.

Submitted by Mishi | May 31 2012 |

Thank you for posting this article, until today I'd never heard of this affliction. I woke up this morning to find my 16 year old dog vomiting, unable to walk/stand, tilting her head, and her eyes darting all over the place. My first thought was either a stroke or poisoning of some sort. The boyfriend and I rushed her to the Vet and were given old dog vestibular syndrome as the prognosis. After discussing options, we decided on an injection to help with the nasea and brought her home to follow the "wait and see" approach. She has already started drinking water unassisted if presented the water dish, but still has no interest in food. This article has been very comforting and reaffirmed my decision to give the old gal more time to recover. Hopefully, she'll be as good as ever in a few weeks and able to again run around the pasture with the chickens.

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 7 2012 |

Hi Mishi! I am so glad to hear this blog has offered some reassurance and help! I am glad to hear she is making baby steps, and hope she continues to do so. Let me know when she gets back to chasing chickens! :)

Submitted by Martha | June 2 2012 |

My 11 year old lab/chow mix just presented with these symptoms last night. The head tilt, drooling on that side and imbalance on the front leg on that side. No eye jiggling, but vet said this am that there was no nystagmus in her right eye, it does retract and the other one is fine. Appetite and drinking are good and gets around pretty good. She did vomit at the vet office but that's the only time. Vet gave prednisone and drew blood for labs and will check back Monday. I hope this is all it is and not a tumor or something like that.:(. Her symptoms dont seem that severe right now, and came out of nowhere last night. Thoughts?

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 7 2012 |

Hi Martha~ it sounds like you are hopefully dealing with a case of vestibular disease, especially the way you are describing her symptoms (mild) and improvements. With vestibular disease, the signs generally come on just like you describe- out of nowhere. I hope she continues to make strides and gets back to her normal self soon :)

Submitted by dale | June 3 2012 |

My Shiht-zu 11 years, Tony has been diagnosed with this. It has been 4 weeks. He did show some improvement at day 5 but got worse and now is trying again to improve. We are hand feeding and watering. Also having to hold him up to do his business. He also crys at night, we have left a night light on, I read they get confused in darkness from being dizzy. I wonder if he is also getting frustrated since he can no long fetch his ball or walk around. We are holding out since everything I have read said to give it time. I wonder to myself when the time will be, these sites say he is not in pain, but being stuck to his cushion bed and not being able to get around must not be very satisfying to him either.

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 7 2012 |

Hi Dale~ I would expect that by 4 weeks he should be showing steady improvement. If symptoms persist or progress, we get concerned of a more central disease (brain tumor), but it is difficult to say without knowing or seeing your boy. With brain disease, pets can get a change in their behavior, and vocalizing is often one of the signs. And you are right~ quality of life is so very important and it is difficult to make such decisions. I hope he continues to improve for you.

Submitted by Lisa | November 21 2012 |

My 14 yr old greyhound sharpie mix female (baby girl) dog suddenly seemed to have a really bad dream. I was awaken by her paddling in her sleep and she got up and kept ramming her head in the wall until I stopped her. Then she was falling down and paced until she got her bearings. She's always been prone to ear infections and had 2 hemotomas and tubes put in her left ear. the next morning I was out watering the plants and found 2 of my dining chairs on the floor. I immediately thought she had another bad dream but was thinking maybe she had an ear infection and was showing signs of degenerative disease, cause she has been becoming hard of hearing and she's been wetting her bed in her sleep. We took her to the vet and put on k-brovet. She didn't take it well, we only managed to give her 2 500mg in the evening and 2 in the morning. At this point stil not sure if she really had a seizure just a really bad dream. She panthed all day and wasn't interested in food or water and didn't take any naps. We stopped the k-brovet and spoke with the vet.

The following Saturday (this past weekend) we witnessed her having a seizure where she foamed at the mouth and defecated and urinated a mild episode followed 2 hours later which led to another after 3 hours. It seemed to occur when she would get into a deep sleep. 2-3 hours went by and nothing; so we thought the worst was over. We brought her upstairs to bed only to find ourselves waking to another seizure after 4 hours. We contacted the Animal Hospital, the person we spoke to advised us to monitor her; as long as between episodes she was bouncing back to her normal self and bring her in after 7 a.m. that there was nothing they could do more since we already did bloodwork last Saturday. She had another at 3 in the morning and bounced back again.

Then at 5 a.m. she had a minor one episode then panthed for an hour. Since began to not be interested in drinking water or food out of the bowl since. We figured she was so tired and just wanted to rest.

She's had a couple minor episodes later that morning but just wanted to go back to sleep. None since but it has been a scary horrible 36 hrs (about 8 total).

We are on the third day giving her water and food with a syringe. The vet said she may have a brain tumor. She's getting up from the ground on her own and she was always a girl who had anxiety quivers. She seems to have it when we take her outside like she's scared. She still refuses to eat sold food or drink from the bowl. She urinates on her own.

This occured several times until the last two seizure episodes she seemed so exhausted and panthed and not interested in water or food from her dish or walk the back yard to gain her bearings anymore. She's so scared now.

She hasn't had anymore seizure episodes only last night she panthed for an hour before she went to bed and her nose was warm.

Do you suspect it could be a brain tumor as well, this came on all of a sudden. She has always been such a mellow but skidish girl and would usually have anxiety quivers when it's closer to fireworks season or when she's scared. It's her personality.

Should I request for antibiotics and watch and see if she does have a bad case of inner ear infection? She face planted after the night of her initial bad dream and the day after. Now she seems only week in the legs while standing, quivering outside after we carry her to encourage her to urinate. Otherwise she lies down a lot nowadays and not interested to go go right away.

We are trying to feed her water and liquefied food with a syringe.

Submitted by Cath | June 5 2012 |

I am writing this absolutely devastated as my 14 year old German Shepherd girl developed these symptoms last Thursday. I called the vet who suggested a wait and see approach. Friday saw some improvement and Saturday even more. She was able to eat if hand fed and drink from her water bowl when brought to her. She was able to walk outside in the garden, on a leash, to do her business. She was very unsteady with a head tilt but seemed fine in herself. Saturday she was able to walk without assistance, albeit unsteadily, around the house and the eye flicking had stopped. Sunday saw a marked decline and from 6pm Sunday tea time she would not move. Her head tilt was much worse and she could barely lift her head. She was able to lick food off my hand but had to be given water through a syringe. I slept next to her every night from Thursday, never left her side. Monday (yesterday) there was no improvement. She had remained laid in the same position now for 16 hours and had peed where she lay. I gently cleaned her up and was so worried I called the vet to see her. He gently stood her up but she could not support her own weight and her front right paw was bent underneath her. She was panting and very distressed. I thought I would be given medication and was in complete shock when he suggested euthanasia. He said he thought something more serious was going on as she had markedly declined since Thursday. She died in my arms. After reading this I am now worrying in case I should have given her more time. I would have been quite happy to nurse her at home until she got better. I am so devastated and feel like I have let her down.

Submitted by Deanna | June 6 2012 |

Cath, I'm so sorry for your loss, and in such a stressful, confusing way, too. I've done a lot of reading on grieving over the loss of a pet, and your feelings of guilt and disappointment are very common. Just know that your animal trusted you, and knew you were doing the best you could with the information you had. Sometimes the vet just feels or knows something that's hard to communicate, and perhaps you felt it, too, which is why you made that decision in that moment. Try not to be so hard on yourself, as I don't think your wonderful dog would want you to be unhappy.

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