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Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
As a dog owner, have you ever wondered how your dog is able to move about, run, jump and play without falling to the ground? Ever wondered how your dog can run around in circles without getting dizzy? Perhaps not, because we tend to take these things for granted.
However, all of this is accomplished thanks to the dog's vestibular system, a complex and effective mechanism that originates in the dog's inner ear allowing the dog (and even us humans) to have good orientation skills. In particular the vestibular system allows dogs to well balance themselves and coordinate their eye movements with their head.
All these great features that allows dogs and humans to walk and lead everyday normal lives go unnoticed generally until problems start to take place. When this happens, often dog owners are therefore quite startled and often really cannot get a grasp of what is going on.
The most common reactions to vestibular disorder in dogs are:
''I think my dog just had a stroke.''
''Something is really wrong with my dog.''
''I think my dog is having some sort of seizure.''
Indeed, it can be quite scary.
Owners of dogs affected by vestibular disease of course are very alarmed when their dog starts exhibiting these scary symptoms. More often than not, they will rush their dog to the emergency room thinking their dog just had a stroke and imagining him paralyze for the rest of his life.
Fortunately, often the causes of vestibular disease are not so grim most of the time. In most cases, vestibular disease is due to some problem located in the inner ear (peripheral vestibular disease). However, it is best to have the dog checked out by a veterinarian to rule out problems located in the brain (central vestibular disease).
Because the inner ear is responsible for a variety of important functions such as balance and coordination, when a dog develops an ear infection he or she may start exhibiting symptoms of vestibular diseases. This is because in some severe ear infections, the infection may spread from the external ear to the middle ear and then into the inner ear, negatively affecting all these important balancing functions.
Unfortunately, in some cases the cause remains unknown (idiopathic). This often takes place when the dog reaches its senior years, indeed often it is called ''geriatric vestibular syndrome''.In this case, for unknown reason the nerves connecting the inner ear to the cerebellum become inflamed often resolving on their own after a few days or a few weeks.
In some cases, low thyroid levels may cause vestibular disease issues.
Sometimes medications placed in the dog's ears may cause sudden acute vestibular disorders. Known culprits may be the following products: gentamycin, streptomycin, neomycin, erythromycin, polymyxin and ear products containing alcohol. Metronidazole has also been know to be a culprit.
Tumors in the inner ear or in the brain may cause vestibular disease symptoms.
This term depicts brain infection and may cause symptoms of vestibular disease. Causes may be canine distemper, toxoplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Erlichiosis, blastomycosis, coccidiomycosis .
In order for the treatment to be effective it must take care of the underlying cause.Thyroid medicine may be prescribed for hypothyroidism, ear infections must be cleared and the administration of toxic ear drops must be stopped.
In most cases, vestibular disease resolves within two months. Often after 4-5 days the nystagmus episodes should subside. However, in some cases the head tilt will remain. Dogs are often prescribed medications that reduce dizziness such as Diphenidramine (Benadryl) or Meclizine (Antivert).
Question: What sort of toxins could be found in a yard that could affect motor functions in dogs?
Answer: There are several toxins in the yard that can cause neurological disorders. Examples include poisonous plants, toxic mushrooms, some types of rat poison, blue-green algae (found in fresh and salt water in warm regions), cocoa bean mulch, slug and snail baits and chemicals such as herbicides, fungicides, pesticides etc.
Question: Could my dog be poisoned if he ate a stick from a yucca plant? He's a 115 lb Golden Retriever.
Answer: Yes, yucca is categorized as toxic. The more that is ingested, the more likely the symptoms can worsen from vomiting and diarrhea, to possible liver toxicity.
Question: My dog had a bleed in her brain and it is now day 7. She still can't balance or walk. Will she ever walk again?
Answer: Has your vet actually confirmed that your dog had a stroke? Usually, a stroke can only be confirmed through an MRI which can be quite costly. Strokes are not common in dogs as in people. If truly a stroke, it is difficult to predict whether your dog will regain function of her limbs. Only time and the right medications can tell.
Question: Would vestibular disease cause dogs to run almost non-stop?
Answer: If your dog is running around in circles, it may be a sign of a vestibular problem, but there may be other problems at play. A neurological/brain issue may be possible. Dogs can have strokes, brain tumors, or even just canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Liver failure and kidney failure may also cause strange behaviors at the result of toxic waste being released in the bloodstream. A vet visit is in order to determine the underlying cause.
Question: My 2 yr old American bull boxer mix was outside going potty and I noticed after going she was walking by a bush and her whole body slowed down dramatic as if she was walk slow motion frame by frame. Is this behavior normal for my dog?
Answer: Is she a bull terrier mix? I wonder if you may have witnessed an episode of trancing? You can read about it here:/dogs/Why-do-Bull-Terriers-a... Of course, if you notice anything else concerning, please see your vet.
Claire on January 27, 2019:
I had my 13 year old Minature Schnauzer but to sleep yesterday after a sudden onset of what I would describe as seizures - head tilt, confusion, eyes darting, body tremouring but he was still standing, urinating without realising, staggering. Over an hour he seemed to go into this state and then come back about 5 times. He is diabetic and insulin intolerant and has many lumps - some investigated earlier in life as fatty. When I went to the vet they said his blood sugars werw okay and they could investigate with blood tests but because of his eyes it will be something with his brain and on top of everything else the kindest thing may be to put him to sleep. So I did. Then I hit Google and I'm now wondering if it was this and he would have got better. The guilt of whether I gave up on him too easy is killing me. Do you think it could have been this? Should I speak to my vet?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 10, 2018:
Matthew, I am so sorry for your loss. There are several differentials for the symptoms you noticed in your dog, so please don't feel guilty. There are also brain tumors which are found in elderly dogs and that can cause issues as such on top of vestibular disease. You gave your dog a wonderful life and 15 years is a great accomplishment.
Matthew on November 07, 2018:
Hi, I know this is a rather late post, but a little over 4 years ago, my 15 year old Bichon Shih Tzu suddenly began writhing and rolling on the floor. At the time my family and I had no clue what was happening and when we took him to the vet they told us that his behavior made it impossible for them to determine the issue. After a painful deliberation we made the decision to put him down.
After finally seeking closure as to what had afflicted him, I came across your article, and feel that Vestibular Disease is likely what may have been the cause. In part I feel better knowing what the illness was, but can't help the slight guilt at knowing it was likely he could have recovered and not giving him the chance.
I can't change the past though, so at the least, I'd like to thank you for helping me come to understand what he had gone through and bringing some closure to my life with him/
Christy JACOBS on June 05, 2018:
My dog was sleeping started shaking flipped off the couch and started jumping like a horse and running in to things like he had no control
James on May 27, 2018:
My dog is three years old suddenly he stoped eating can’t walk he is puking and diarrhea please help am worried
Todd on December 04, 2017:
My dog may have eaten plastic wrapper or styrofoam from a package of meat
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 19, 2017:
Yes, please see the vet a dog who cannot stand may be suffering from low blood glucose or something else that needs immediate attention.
Nicole Woodbury on October 15, 2017:
My 3 year old chiwawa is vomiting yellow bile and can't stand without leaning to the side. What is wrong? Should I take her to the vet?
Chelsea on August 20, 2017:
I have an adopted 1 year old female dog who is suddenly acting dizzy and is breathing fast. She had accidentally eaten a 150 mg fluconasole tablet . What should I do.
John on August 06, 2017:
I have a shitzu, jack. 2 days ago he began showing signs of imbalance. He has been seen by the emergency vet but he is getting worse. I need help and can't see our vet until tomorrow ( hopefully) suggestions? I'm reading a variety of possibilities and asking if their are similar stories out here
Susan on July 30, 2017:
I have an English bulldog, 12 years old. Rocco had been in excellent health until 12 days ago. In the evening he got up started walking in circles, rapid eye movement, unbalanced walking and walking into furniture. Took him to the vet the next day, he did blood work, no ear infection. Vet said to see how he is after a couple of days, otherwise he would put him on antibiotics. Vet did put him on antibiotics, plus a thyroid med. blood work showed slightly low thyroid. Vet suggested we took Rocco to a specialist, which we did. She checked him out, suggested an MRI or we could wait three weeks to see if he gets better. Rocco has improved, eats and drinks well, walking better but still not good on uneven ground, cannot do stairs right now and sometimes seems like he does not know where he is. Do you think we should get an MRI, I do not want my Rocco suffering if it's something worse. How long can this vestibule last? Thank you
Patty Adams on June 29, 2017:
It seemed out of the blue that my dog just started walking in circles and circles in the medicine that the doctor gives a darn thing to be doing a whole lot and we're going on about almost 2 weeks and they're saying he has seizures so I don't know what to believe
Brooklynn on June 20, 2017:
My puppy is doing this. He's a month old it's happened twice now. Lasts for maybe 1-5 minutes..
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 09, 2017:
Brunoshuman, Sounds like in a case like this, it may be helpful to get a second opinion by another vet or even better, a specialist, a veterinary neurologist. Record the behavior on camera and have the vet see it. It could be a petit mal seizure and dogs look startled because they cannot control their bodies and don't understand what's happening to them.
BrunosHuman on April 04, 2017:
Hi. I have a 13 and a half year old pug. 3 weeks ago, I thought he had a stroke. He couldn't even attempt to walk. Head tilt, rapid eye movement etc. Took him to vet, and the first thing the vet pointed out was the rapid eye movement, and said he was sure it was vestibular disease. He also had blood work done to rule out any underlying issues, and everything was normal. The vet said it was most likely ideopathic. He gave me some medicated ear drops and antibiotics just in case it was an inner ear infection. Also was given motion sickness medicine, and anti vomiting medication. He said that Bruno would probably show signs of improving within a few days. Much to my surprise, by the time we got home from the vet, he was vastly improved, with just some unsteady gait, and slight head tilt. By that evening (3-4 hrs after vet) he seemed perfectly fine. I found it odd he would recover so quickly if it was vestibular disease. I gave him the full course of meds as prescribed, but 8 days later, the same thing happened again, with the same symptoms. I called the vet, and he assured me it was possible to recover that quickly, and then have another episode. He felt maybe if it was an inner ear infection, that maybe there was still residual bacteria in the inner ear, and gave me more antibiotics. 9 days later, during the night, he awoke and seemed startled. A few minutes later he was shaking, and trembling, as if he was shivering. His gait was unsteady, but not as severe as the first 2 episodes. I also did not notice the rapid eye movement. This episode only lasted about 15 minutes, and then he was fine, and went back to sleep. Today 2 days after that last episode, it happened again. He seemed startled, and sat up on the bed. He began trembling all over. He did not have the rapid eye movement, his head was only slightly tilted, and his gait was unsteady, but again, not nearly as severe as the first 2 episodes. Again, this lasted about 15 minutes, then seemed fine. I also noticed yesterday, that he had much darker than usual stool, but with a normal consistency. I thought it may be from all the medication he has taken. He hasn't had a BM since then so no idea if it is still dark.
I was under the impression, that vestibular disease should not cause these sudden, and short lasting episodes, so it has me worried that it may be something more serious.
Also, his appetite has been hit or miss since the first episode. I assumed it was from the nausea associated with this disorder. For some reason, he wont eat the food out of his bowl. He sniffs it, and seems uninterested. However, if I then scoop the food out of the bowl, and feed him from my hand, he'll eat it. Also, he'll eat it off a plate on the floor. Once I start him off with the plate, or out of my hand, and get him eating, I'll dump it back in the bowl, and he will then continue eating it.
I feel like if I take him to the vet again, he'll just reassure me it's ideopathic vestibular disease. He did bloodwork to rule out anything more serious, and seems so sure about the diagnosis. What's your take? Is it possible to have these multiple, short lasting attacks if it is vestibular disease?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 21, 2017:
Lin, you will have to see a vet for dosages of antivert and to determine if your dog is actually dealing with this condition and would benefit from it.
Lin on February 06, 2017:
We have a 10 year old Chihuahua mix who is having the same symptoms. How much of the antivert should be given, what dosage?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 19, 2017:
Wendy, has your dog seen a vet? It could also be a spinal issue or neck issue causing pain when trying to lie down.
Wendy on January 13, 2017:
my dog keeps crying and falling asleep standing up
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 08, 2016:
Perhaps it may be worth a try to see a specialist, such as a vet specializing in neurology.
Rebecca on December 07, 2016:
My 6 1/2 year old Beagle mix has been exhibiting similar signs and symptoms as Eileen's dog. We have been to the vet numerous times, spent about $1000, he's been on several different steroids, antibiotics, ear drops as well as Dramamine. We have played the roller coaster game. Same days are better than others and there's days or weeks that have just been bad. This last time he went to the vet they performed a myringotamy in his left ear. Pulled out a bunch of debris and junk. Said that he had fluid on the other side of his eardrum. Said that he would probably get way worse before he got better. That's been 2 weeks ago and we've just seen him get worse. We are at a loss. Talked to the vet and they said based on everything that they've done there's nothing else they can do. Said that we should've seen improvements at this point. We can't afford an MRI. I'm at a loss...does anybody have any suggestions?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 24, 2016:
Traci, what did your vet suggest? What were their findings? I hope by now a diagnosis was made and that your dog is on the mend.
Eileen on October 08, 2016:
My 7 year old golden has been exhibiting these signs for awhile now. He had what we thought was an ear infection in July, his ear was red and irritated. Our vet put him on antibiotics, amoxicillin, I think and an antibiotic pack in his ear. He got better, but then the head tilting, leaning left and going in circles, falling over started, he had not had these symptoms previously. We again took him to the vet and he got another round of antibiotics. After that course, he improved, but soon worsened again. Back to the vet for another round of antibiotics, this time Baytril for 3 weeks. Again he showed improvement until the course was done, then the symptoms returned. The vet then put him under and cleaned out his ears, there was debris in there-cheat grass, etc. Antibiotic packs were put into both ears and he once again showed improvement. It's been 3 weeks and I assume the antibiotics have worn off and now he is back to the symptoms, this time more sever than the previous returns. Would vestibular disease respond to antibiotics, then come back or are we dealing with something completely different? I'm taking him back to the vet on Monday with little hope of them being able to help-any insights??
Traci Hosler on September 28, 2016:
I am freaking out! But reading your article made me feel a little better.. my poor baby, Carlos, an almost 5 year old Chihuahua, is going through these symptoms right now. He is kind of teetering around like the dog in your vide, he has weird , leaky eyes, tilted head, and he cannot go up and down stairs without falling. But he is eating, drinking, peeing, and defecating just fine. The vet just did blood panels and all came back o.k., except the thyroids were a little low. They ran the test twice and it was still a little low. They are sending it out to a specialist to see if they are low enough to be causing all of these symptoms. If not, the next step would be x-rays and blood pressure. And if they would come back o.k., the following step would be an MRI of the brain. This is going to kill us monetarily! UGHHHH!!!!!! But this is my "son"! I want to help him!!! I don't know where I am going to get this money from, but I NEED to HELP my baby! I am a hot mess through all of this...
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 17, 2016:
I don't think you are neurotic at all! Maybe you should see another vet or a specialist as this is not normal at all. Has your vet prescribed anything for your dog?
Ginger on June 07, 2016:
Hello there hope someone can help. I have a 15th year old mini Yorkie and we have recently moved from Europe to Thailand is been over a month now and she's been having issues with the warmth weather she was diagnosed with collapsed trachea since she's 6th but is under control. 3 months ago I discovered on her a swollen node in her neck and I took her to the vet the try to take a sample from the node and only puss came out of it and after a blood work the vet said that the node can stay there or disappear at any time and if not it could de puncture or remove because of the node she's been drooling a bit but the vet put her twice on antibiotics and it has remain something minor. She has always suffer from her tummy as well and last Sunday after our morning walk she vomited and made diarrhea in 3 different spots I gave some liquid and removed her food and that same night her head was tilting for a few moments and she was stumbling around. I got really worry and opened a pack of flagyl (antibiotics) that her vet back in Europe gave in case of emergency is been 3 days and head is not tilting but she still walking unbalanced. She's eating,drinking and doing her stuff but normally but her energy is lower than usual. I'm kind of afraid of the vets here in Asia and I wonder if maybe this episode could be related to the node or worse.
marleyrose on June 03, 2016:
My 13 year old lab has been having spells of unsteadyness for about 10 months now. She will twitch, and suddenly keels over as if she is drunk. She soon rights herself again. The only way I can describe it looks like the feeling you get when you get off a boat and your legs go! She has no head tilt or eye problem just this twitching (usually of her head but can be her body too) and falling over. Her appetite is normal as is her toileting. On a walk she will occasionally stumble but not too bad. The unsteadyness mainly seems to happen when she is standing still? I have had her to my vets on numerous occasions and she has had several blood tests for all sorts, they have also checked thyroid function, but everything came back within normal limits. I think my vet thinks I am neurotic now! I video'd her having a funny turn, she was just standing and suddenly started swaying-she then shook herself and was fine afterwards. Am I missing something?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 29, 2016:
Only your vet can tell with a physical exam and tests. I hope it's an isolated episode, but if it happens again, record the behavior and take your dog to vet.
deanna on January 24, 2016:
when my lab woke up this morning she put her head into my sons closet. i had to physically remove her from that spot, then i got her to walk down the hallway while she kind of slid across the wall. at the end of the hall is when she started to walk in circles. i couldn't calm her down or stop her at all. she just kept pacing and going in circles. she wouldn't respond to me calling her. i tried to feed her with a no go. i then was able to get her outside and she continued to walk in large circles and paced back and forth. no head tilting that i have seen just walking in circles and kind of walking like a sailor that has been out to sea for awhile. she tripped on holes in the yard and the one step to get outside but didn't fall. after 15 mins. she is fine. she peed and ate a full meal (actually gulping her food like she hasn't eaten in over a month, which she never did before) now she acts like nothing happened. do you think it might be this vestibule disease?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 11, 2015:
I am so sorry to hear your dog is having these symptoms. Hopefully your vet can sort it out, sometimes it's an ear problem and some dogs may get better with medications that control the dizziness.
Tisha on November 10, 2015:
My 11.5yr old cavalier spaniel has an vestibular disease episode nearly 2 months ago and is also suffering from a horribly severe case of yeast infection in her paws (for probably about 6 months). She hasnt wagged her tail or eaten in her own for weeks. She lays in her bed all day long except when I carry outside to potty. Tonight it seems like the vestibular systems are back because she can't even look in my eyes and doesn't seem to be comforted by my cuddling. She shakes while breathing. I'm going to try to get her into the vet again (4th time) tomorrow. We've done all the blood & urine tests but don't plan on doing an MRI. I'm losing hope that she will recover. I'm just so sad.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 27, 2015:
Thanks, I am happy to hear that you have enjoyed reading my article on vestibular disease in dogs.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 27, 2015:
Lori F, many cases remain "idiopathic" meaning the cause is often unknown. How is your dog doing now?
RichardMn on September 25, 2015:
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LoriF on September 16, 2015:
Just was given Cerenia(maropitant citrate) 60mg Only was give 4 Really did not tell me if I need to give it every day or ? I gave him one waiting to see how it may help She our Vet still seems puzzled what may have caused this. He was fine up until this Past Saturday night When we got up Sunday is when all of this started . He doesn't seem to be any worse If anything he is moving around a bit less than on Sunday,that is when we really noticed it because we went up into the mountains and he was not him self and was off balance and not wanting to eat started Took him in Monday and the rest I have mention. He is only 3 Years old Has always been health,we feed him good food and he gets plenty of exercise .
LoriF on September 16, 2015:
Just was given Cerenia(maropitant citrate) 60mg Only was give 4 Really did not tell me if I need to give it every day or ? I gave him one waiting to see how it may help She still seems puzzled what may have caused this He was fine up until this Past S Saturday When we got up Sunday is when all of this started .
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 15, 2015:
Have you asked your vet for any meds to help with the possible dizziness/nausea? Dogs who are dizzy are often uncomfortable and don't like to move around and can get nausea. Depending on the underlying cause, it may take some time to recover.
LoriF on September 15, 2015:
Our dog Dexter a Spinger Spaniel Was acting fine on Saturday night woke up to a different Dog on Sunday morning.he had an accident in the house which he never does and was walking of balance and bumped into things fell over a few time had little or no appetite Took him to Vet on Monday did blood and stool test all came back normal she looked in his ears said only could see very little inflammation puzzled has put him on prednisone and Enrofloxacin Today saw little on know improvement he ate when I hand feed him this Am but would not eat this evening. doesn't seem to want to move around a lot I am feeling very worried and stressed.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 21, 2015:
Look for a free exam by VCA by Googling VCA free first vet visit, this can cut the price of the office visit, leaving you to pay for any exams or medications. Call them to check if they still offer this before going. Best of luck!
Kerry on August 19, 2015:
I need advice. My yorkie who is 6yrs old seems to be experiencing this. She walks like she is drunk and has the head tilt and the eyes that dart back and forth. I'm low on money and can't afford another vet bill. Still paying the one for her epileptic seizures and her knee that pops in and out of place. Is there anything I can do at home to help her get through this. She's my baby and has helped me get through everything and I hate I can't afford the vet.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 03, 2015:
Cheri, your vet didn't give anything for the dizziness, if not, maybe worth asking for something? Also, for the walking issues, you can look online for special slings and harnesses to help support their back end while walking. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Elsie Anne Owings on August 03, 2015:
Cheri, we wish the best for you and your Lab. Please keep us posted. Whatever happens, we hope to learn from it, as well as encourage and support each other.
Cheri on August 01, 2015:
Our lab went in to the vet for a lethargy and weakness in his rear legs. We initially were told, after blood work, that his platelets were low and he was running a bit of a temperature. They had us take him back 2 days later for follow up blood test and the platelet count had come up a bit and they gave us Deramaxx for what was thought to be arthritis. Last night I took his took his temp when it seemed he was feeling poorly and found it to be 104.9. The on-call vet said to go ahead and give him some additional Deramaxx and check his temp again in the morning. Next morning the temp was 103.2. We took him into the vet and they did chest xrays to rule out that as a source of infection. When we went back to pick him up they told us his eyes were jerking and asked if we had noticed them doing this before, which we had not.They explained to us that it was vestibular disease. Our lab, TJ, was weak in his rear legs to begin with and with and now with the dizziness it's almost impossible for him to walk and potty. I'm not a very big person and I've found it's very difficult to manage him on my own to potty (he is 79 lbs). It's breaking my heart seeing him like this. He already had problems and now this. Our vet put him on 2 different anitbiotics, and something for nausea. I'm hoping that he might show some improvement quickly. The comments from others here have been encouraging.
Elsie Anne Owings on July 26, 2015:
Thank you so very much, Alexadry!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 25, 2015:
Thanks so kindly for Teddy's update!. Your observations about the carsickness are very interesting. Idiopathic (of unknown cause) vestibular disease is quite common, and can be frustrating to deal with because there's really nothing to treat for. .It sounds like you have a great vet and Teddy is blessed to have such caring owners! Paws crossed then that it was only an isolated episode
Elsie Anne Owings on July 25, 2015:
As we expected, our veterinarian was not able to determine an exact cause for Teddy's vertigo episode. He checked Teddy's ears and found only a minor problem with one outer ear; nothing that was likely to cause an inner ear problem. Low thyroid is unlikely, since Teddy is very active and thin. The doctor did find that Teddy's teeth need cleaning, so when the doctor cleans them, I'll ask him to check Teddy's jaw hinge and mastoid area more carefully while the dog is out, since Teddy has been eating more slowly lately. But overall, the doctor said that Teddy's episode sounded like a classic age-related vestibular episode, with one exception: usually these episodes take days or weeks to resolve, and Teddy's was over in an hour or two. Nevertheless, the doctor didn't lean toward any other diagnosis.
He said if it happens again, try to bring Teddy in during the episode, unless it happens at 4 a.m. again like the last one. :D But since it hasn't happened again within a week, he said it might not happen again at all.
We'll see. I'll definitely keep an eye on Teddy, because his balance/orientation still aren't quite what they used to be. For example, he got carsick after the drive to the vet and threw up in the vet's office, which he has never done before. Then again, my 96-year-old father gets carsick now, too, and he never got sick during his years in the Navy on a destroyer in the Pacific. Dad's doctor said it's age related, and probably Teddy's problem falls into the same category. We'll hope for no more scary episodes, but thanks very much for getting us through this one!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 24, 2015:
You're very welcome. I hope all gets sorted out well for your dog's vet visit. Sometimes an exact causes cannot be found.
Elsie Anne Owings on July 22, 2015:
Thanks, Alexadry. Teddy's appointment with the veterinarian is scheduled for Friday afternoon. I will let you know what we find out. So far, Teddy has had no further incidents since the one that occurred late Saturday night. That incident lasted only a couple of hours, and he has been fine ever since. I can't think of anything that could have brought it on; nothing was different from his usual routine. It just came out of the blue. Teddy, who tends to be a nervous type anyway, was terrified when it happened, and we discovered, as others have, that the best thing we could do was keep him calm and comfortable until the event passed. Our next step, if at all possible, will be to try to find out what brings it on and how to prevent or treat it in the future. I'll keep you posted. Thanks again!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 20, 2015:
Hello Elsie Anne Owings, I hope your Teddy recovers from the episode you describe. He's surely fortunate to have a dedicated owner like you. Yes, please keep us posted on how he does. Fingers crossed it's nothing serious.
Elsie Anne Owings on July 19, 2015:
Alexadry, thank you so very much for this post, and thanks also to all the readers who have shared their experiences. This page has given us hope on a very difficult night.
Teddy is a 12-year-old Shih-Tzu/Schnauzer mix. (The dog groomer jokingly calls him a "Schnau-Zoo.") I adopted him and another dog 2 1/2 years ago after their original owner, who was a close friend of mine, died unexpectedly. The adjustment was difficult for the dogs (and for us) but after Teddy got used to our home in the country, he decided he loved country living! He does have a food allergy to beef and bison, and some problems with gastroparesis (inactive stomach muscle) but after we figured it all out, corrected his diet and got him on some prednisolone and reglan, he has been eating well and doing just fine. For the past year, he has been a zooming bundle of energy and the picture of health.
Until tonight. We fed the dogs and took him out for his walk. As he walked toward my husband, Teddy unexpectedly fell down. Then he started walking in circles. When we got him into the house, he was running in circles, shaking, and his eyes were darting from side to side. He also scratched the sides of his head.
Like so many other dog owners, I thought this was the end of my Teddy. I had a Beagle years ago who died from inflammatory brain disease, and I was afraid Teddy was doing the same. Or, at the very least, I thought it was a seizure. Although those problems remain a possibility, I now suspect that Teddy has canine vestibular disease. An hour after his episode started, it ended, and he looks okay now. It is early Sunday morning, and I will get him into the vet on Monday to try to find a cause and treatment for this problem. Thanks very much to all of you for providing me with knowledge and hope! I will post again after Teddy and I have been to the vet.
Craig on December 29, 2014:
Thanks for your kind words.Bailey was a great dog was so friendly would greet everyone even the mailman and meter reader.It was so hard to let her go but I know it was the right thing to do and I have lots of great memories and stories to share.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 29, 2014:
So sorry to hear about your dog. It seems that once dogs reach a certain age their body just succumbs to something eventually. The say that old age is not a disease, but at some point it just seems that some health condition will affect them and their body will give up. 15 years is a remarkable age for a lab, she sure must have left wonderful memories for your to rejoice.
Craig on December 29, 2014:
just put my 15yr old lab bailey to sleep second bout of vestibular disease 7weeks suffering severe arthritis could walk and eat but the vertigo was the worst could not sleep lay head down jump back all night long.2hrs sleep at most exhausted.quality of life gone.Just wanted to post. Thanks
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 22, 2014:
Keep up updated on your vet's findings! Wishing it's something minor that can be easily treated.
susan morrison on December 21, 2014:
Our 13 year old Nellie, a Terrier Bassett mix spent all last night vomiting - completely out of the blue. We thought it might be due to her obsessively licking our wood floors after I had mopped with Mop and Glo and possibly been poisoned. I called the 800 emergency number on the bottle and spoke with a representative who thought the licking of the Mop and Glo was not serious - but the inability to balance while walking was concerning. Now after reading all these helpful comments, I think it might be vestibular disease instead. Her eyes are darting back and forth and she is unable to stand or walk easily without almost falling over. She has not eaten or drunk water since - but luckily she responds very well to eating ice cubes and hopefully she is not too dehydrated. We have her comfortably propped up for the night with blankets and pillows and are taking her to the vet first thing tomorrow (today was Sunday and only very expensive emergency care available) to see what she diagnoses. So scared to think it might be something worse that an inner ear infection. The ironic thing is that for the past month - I have been experiencing the same symptoms as inner ear infection as well - with dizziness and nausea while sleeping and getting out of bed in the mornings...so I completely sympathize with the poor girl.
Carol on October 23, 2014:
This site was a life saver for me and my dogs!! Alexadry has provided a site and information that all of us can share and use to support each other and our companions. Hope Doxie recovers, and gives you many more years of love and laughter.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 22, 2014:
I hope your vet can pinpoint the problem so your dog has a speedy recovery.
Chris on October 22, 2014:
Hi truth is this article was very informative to me and my girlfriend we have a nine year old doxie named Kiera and today was the first day she showed the more alarming symtoms and it scared us to death we are praying that this is what she is going through cause this is what she has been showing us all day and nitems Thank you so much for everyone's experience and information
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 13, 2014:
Glad to hear the vets went to the bottom of this and were able to help your dog get better. Vestibular disease in dogs can be scary.
Carol on October 13, 2014:
This is a great site for sharing...A couple of years ago my 10 year old lab developed vestibular disease and was treated successfully twice. (not having dealt with this previously, it was very scary). Just recently my 8 year old lab developed the same, although, not as severe symptoms with being unable to stand up, and having a few "head tilts". After an emergency visit, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism!! She did have a small ear infection, that we treated, and started her on thyroid supplements!! She has since thrived, losing 15 pounds and gaining a ton of energy!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 03, 2014:
I don't like how they are handling the situation. Maybe see another vet for a second opinion?
Christi on October 02, 2014:
I am sick to my stomach to learn that my little guy could have had a ear infection! He had been in to the vet for loose stool and low appetite. They told me he should stay so I left him for 4 days; then they told me he had a brain problem because he tilted his head up sometime at a 45 degree angle. They said I should let him rest because of it; the thing is he never had any symptoms other than lifting his head straight up when he laid down. I felt like they didn't even try after this. They didn't even check his ears! They took him off his heart medicine and diuretics and put him on medicine to treat what they believed to be a problem with his brain and didn't test him for it! We went back for the checkup 5 days later and they released him then they called me in the car and said to come back that his kidney levels were high. He was there another 4 days after I insisted they help him, released again, then I had him back in 5 days later! They had the nerve to tell me that "if it was their pet they wouldn't spend the money" after our first visit!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 26, 2014:
Sounds like an ear issue. Diagnostic tests will help you feel less confused and lost. Find a good vet that will go through your pet's medical history (was she on any medications known for causing toxicity to the ear, any recent injuries or accidents?) then perhaps the vet will suggest to run tests to help pinpoint the problem. Blood work, x-rays of the head to check the middle and inner ears, and in some cases, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans are sometimes needed to further investigate.
Alexandra on August 26, 2014:
My 12 year old German pointer is having a really hard time walking. It seems as though she's drunk. She tries to get up and walk but falls back down. This happened twice before in the last 2 years and it goes away within a day or 2. Her eyes aren't doing any rolling however she keeps shaking her head. She loves having her ears massaged and last night I woke up with her pressing her ear against my hand. After massaging her ears this seemed to happen. It breaks my heart in a million pieces. She is my very best friend in this whole world and I can't imagine my life without her. I've been on the floor with her for the last 6 hours watching her sleep and praying that when she wakes up she'll be ok again. Could this be vestibular disease? The last time this happened, we took her to the vet and she told us it could be a neurological issue but wasn't certain. I'm so confused and lost.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 23, 2014:
Your vet is the best person to determine what is going on. It could be she had a seizure or she could even have an underlying heart problem.
Debbie on August 20, 2014:
My 16 year old silky terrier had two episodes of what looked like falling on her right side within minutes of each other. These episodes didn't last long at all and haven't recurred. She hasn't shown any other symptoms other than sleeping lots. Could this be the onset of vestibular disease? She has a gall bladder issue for which she takes ursodiol. Other than that, she's been very healthy.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 14, 2014:
Many dogs do better licking ice cubes rather than gulping water. To reduce nausea, some vets may prescribe Cerenia http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?A=279... meclizine http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&a... some may prescribe dramamine; however, because of your dog's age perhaps he was concerned about side effects? Many dogs will refuse regular food, but will be more likely to accept canned food. You can ask your vet for a prescription canned food that is good for dogs with kidney problems. Otherwise, you can try meat- based baby food with no onion or garlic in it as this vet recommends--see also his other suggestions...http://www.justanswer.com/dog-health/5ozrg-dogs-ea... Prescription canned food for dogs with kidney problems or baby food is a good choice as the dog gets more fluid intake versus a dry food, also you can warm it up with some warm water so to increase water absorption. Warming the food up also entices a dog to eat it more as it's more pleasant to eat and the aroma gets them hungry.
winnie on March 14, 2014:
My 15 year old beagle is having a very bad attack of vertigo as diagnosed by my vet who is wonderful. He won't eat or drink as a result of the nauseau. Any ideas on what I can feed him temporarily just to get something in his system. His regular diet is a prescription food for dogs with kidney problems and he won't go near it. I want to get liquids and food in him (it's been 4 days with just a couple of sips per day), but I don't want to destroy his fragile kidneys in the process.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 28, 2013:
You're very welcome, good luck.
Samantha Hornsey on December 28, 2013:
Ty alexadry I will certainly look into this info xxx
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 27, 2013:
Look up a free vet visit from Banfield, that's how I got a second opinion for almost free.
Samantha Hornsey on December 27, 2013:
Ty Alexadry we take him to the pdsa as we r on a low income n can't afford a private vet. I don't think they will do tests as the only option they gave us was the steroids or to be put to sleep. I wish they would do tests as he has a strong heart and is healthy apart from that xxx
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 27, 2013:
Sounds like a second opinion may be helpful, perhaps more tests need to be run to see what is causing this.
Samantha Hornsey on December 27, 2013:
I have a 13 and a 1/2 old staffordshire x that started with this bk in mid oct the bet diagnosed vestibular and put him on pedisone he was on it a while then they weaned him off. As soon as they weaned him off the steroids it came back. So bk the vets we went and the vet put him bk on 2 pedisone daily for a month and we have to go back to see if vet is to wean him down to 1 or put him to sleep. Is there anything anyone can suggest as I really don't want my dog put to sleep :( xx
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 29, 2013:
Have you seen the vet for this? There are meds to reduce the nausea and vertigo if your dog is suffering from a vestibular disorder.
Anna on September 28, 2013:
I've got a 15 year old Jack Russel, and today she started having the eye twitching. I noticed it first, but needless to say my mom and I were freaking out. She's been having problems walking, and has been throwing up the past few days. The amount of detail in this article is reassuring, but sadly not comforting if there's nothing we can do but wait and hope she gets better again.
Thanks for the info anyway, it's helped us feel a little more at ease.
ClaraSue on July 04, 2013:
Thank you for the informative article. When my dog (age 14 next month) had these very symptoms a few months ago, I immediately though "stroke"! After rushing her to the vet, who didn't help us in the least, I came upon a few articles on the web. Her symptoms cleared up on their own after a week or so. This morning she started exhibiting the same symptoms. Since she came through it just fine the first time, I'm hopeful that she'll come through them again, although is scares both her and me when it occurs. She acts exactly like the dog in the above video. In your opinion, do geriatric dogs go through this more than once?
debzen on July 04, 2013:
After having 3 weeks of seizure type fits (he conscious), several blood, urine tests, and an ear infection, I decided to take my 8 yr old boxer to an ear specialist. He had blockage. He underwent anesthesia and had both ears flushed to remove the hair/wax ear plugs. BUT, one ear had a little hole in the membrane and the canal was so restricted, he said it was the size of a poodle's. It's been 5 days so far of giving Finchy syringes of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs to his ear. All has been well. He's been eating with me spoon feeding him. No seizures, no twitches, no stumbling, no loss of balance, no whining, no excessive drool or runny nose, until today. I was only able to do one ear with the anti-inflammatory, but could not do the other as he would not allow it. He started growling and showing teeth, which is extremely odd, so I read the signs and backed off. That night, I was able to do the antibiotics in both ears because my boyfriend was there to hold him down. So tonight, he had another seizure. I feel I failing his treatment because I didn't do the other ear, and giving him these ear treatments is becoming harder and harder. I'm at a loss as far as treating him goes. I'm afraid I'll have to do more flushes, and I cannot afford the $450 for each of these flushes, after spending nearly $1,000 so far. I make just over minimum wage. I'm afraid the signs of this disease are going to come back if I don't somehow get his ears taken care of.. Any advice/tips on treating his ears and handling his neurological symptoms in the mean time would be much appreciated before I take him back to the vet once again.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 08, 2013:
Thanks for the update PeteK! I really hope those episodes subside. I am sharing with you a website about canine epilepsy that has turned helpful for many, here's the link:
PeteK from Yorkshire England on March 08, 2013:
Thanks for your best wishes. The vet gave Bailey a full examination,everything from the operations is now fine, we still have to continue with 6ml Lactulose 3 times daily, as for the current issues, the vet said the same as you regarding doing a video when he has another episode. They did full range blood tests, and everything was fine. Slightly raised blood count (56) but nothing to worry about. She thought it might be a petite Mal which apparently is not as common as Grande Mal, but also not as worrying. She said if he continues only to have no more than one episode a month it's probably better to leave well alone, rather than resorting to the type of drugs required to treat this type of event, however, if they become more frequent, or more severe, then she will refer us to see a specialist (neurologist) for further investigation and treatment.
So don't really know any more than before really, except we know Bailey is doing well after his ops, and his bloods show everything is working as it should, which is all good.
Still fingers crossed that his wobbles stay as infrequent as before, and don't get any more severe.
We don't have insurance, and we have already paid out over 2500 GBP including 158 GBP yesterday for the blood tests & consultation. We would NEVER take a cheaper option, but it's still stretching us financially, so if for nothing more than that we really need him to stay healthy for as long as possible.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 06, 2013:
I hope they can find a cause so your dog can be treated accordingly. Let me know how it goes, sending best wishes your way!
PeteK from Yorkshire England on March 05, 2013:
Thanks, we will try, I had suggested the same thing, but we are always so concerned when it happens, logic goes out of the window & we just hold him & comfort him until he recovers.
Worryingly, he had another small episode last night, no eye roll or head tilt apparent this time, but he overbalanced when he stood up & you could see in his face the confusion. It was a very small attack this time, @ 30 seconds, but a worry that it was only 24 hours after the last one. It seems to be his back legs that he loses control over when it happens, and we have noticed his back legs shaking a little on occasion, which is unusal for Bailey.
We will of course tell the vet everything - but the appointment was actually made as a follow up to the major surgery he had.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 04, 2013:
It would help if you could keep a recording camera ready and record these episodes on tape. Then show them to your vet, this should help your vet tremendously as he can determine if what you're seeing is seizure activity or something else. Let me know what he/she thinks it is. Best wishes for the upcoming appointment.
PeteK from Yorkshire England on March 03, 2013:
My 8 year old Border Collie Bailey has just had his 4th very short incident. Typically these last up to a couple of minutes, his eyes seem to be rolled down, his head tilts backwards over one shoulder, he loses his balance, and has a confused/frightened expression on his face. He is fine immediately after each incident. He has no loss of appetite or incontinence. He has only had 4 incidents to our knowledge over a period of @ 10 months, but they are very frightening when he has them. Could this be Vestibular Disease? We did ask our vet after his first incident, but at the time Bailey was having serious health problems (Rectal diverticulum, enlarged prostate, bilateral perineal hernia & prolapse bladder) he had to have two emergency operations, so to be honest, the vet wasn't really that interested in this. As this now seems to be getting more frequent, we are getting increasingly concerned, and we have a vets appointment for 7th March. It is just that these event only last a few minutes at most, so we don't know if this fits the Vestibular profile, or whether this points to something else. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 14, 2013:
It's easy to confuse it with stroke as the symptoms are similar, but in most cases it turns out to be a vestibular issue. I'm happy to hear your dog is doing better, best wishes!
Brenda Roszell on February 13, 2013:
Our 14 year old Golden was diagnosed with vestibular disease last summer. We thought she had a stroke because of the symptoms. She was very sick but she made a full recovery within about three weeks. She is still doing well without any of the symptoms except a slight head tilt when she is very tired.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 06, 2012:
Hi Karen, I really hope your vet was able to pinpoint the problem and your dog is recovering by now. Usually, when it re-occurs like that there is an underlying issue that needs to be diagnosed by a vet with some tests. Unfortunately, at times a cause cannot be found and when this happens it falls under the term 'idiopathic vestibular disease".
Karen on November 03, 2012:
Thanks for your advice and best wishes.
Update from today:
This third attack has been the worst so far. I spent the night monitoring my dog and I gave him Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) but he was still no better in the morning. He was crying and thrashing about. I took him to the vet first thing this morning and they have decided to keep him in. I called for a check up after two hours and they said they had been able to calm him down but every time they try to examine him he was thrashing about again so they have put him in a padded cage.
I pray that I will be able to bring him home soon and that he will make another full recovery.
Carol on November 03, 2012:
All I can tell you is that my dog experienced 2 attacks, six months apart. The first attack was unexplained, but the second attack coincided with a confirmed ear infection. Since she is a lab, and I can't keep her out of the water swimming, I am assuming it was from that. Hoping Alexandry can provide you with more info. Best wishes for answers, and a speedy recovery.
Karen on November 02, 2012:
My dog has already had two episodes of vestibular disease. The first was in January of this year and the last one was 6 weeks ago.
He has just had his third attack tonight. The vet couldn't find the cause for the past two episodes so I'm not sure why it is re-occurring.
I will take him to the vet tomorrow morning first thing. I'm so worried about him. He has only just got over his last episode of this disease and now he is unwell again.
Has anyone experienced a dog having two attacks within 6 weeks of each other?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 14, 2012:
Paul, please don't feel bad, from your description it sounds like she was really suffering and many older dogs that develop this condition are also put to sleep because some of them do not get better and there could also be an underlying brain disorder causing similar symptoms.
Paul Brown on September 14, 2012:
Our border collie dog had to be put to sleep a few months back she had all the same symptoms as mentioned above she was nearly 14. She woke up fine in the morning full of energy then just suddenly her legs went and her head and body became like twisted she was vomiting with lots of saliva. For a number of years we had her back and fourth to the vets with ear problems they never could really get it sorted out she would get better then a few months later same thing again with ear trouble. We rushed her to the vets the day it happened and they told us something had went wrong in her brain and she was in alot of discomfort and the best thing to do would be to let her go. I feel so bad and guilty reading here that lots of dogs get better with this condition and not once did the vet say this is what it could have been. We had her since being a puppy and was the hardest thing i have done in my life. She could not walk at all buti just feel so guilty now.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 13, 2012:
Hoping the best, it's good you know what is causing this (the ear problem), many cases remain idiopathic (no known reason). Best wishes for a speedy recovery!
Carol on September 13, 2012:
Thanks Alexadry...we did go, and otitis media was diagnosed in both ears. We rec'd ear drops, and oral antibiotics. The next day she was much improved. Day 3, more lethargy, and looked like a relapse. Called the vet, put her on antiemetics...holding our breath.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 11, 2012:
Ear infections are reoccurring in many cases, so if this was the trigger the first time, it can happen again if this is the culprit. I would consult with the vet and see if this demands further testing.
Carol on September 09, 2012:
Nothing definitive...we went on the assumption of vestibular disease because the presenting symptoms were "textbook", and there was evidence of an ear infection. The secondary diagnosis was "seizures", not yet diagnosed, but I am assuming because she responded to the treatment of vestibular disease, with antibiotics, and anti-emetics, that was the diagnosis. She has had no sequeli up until yesterday when she became very lethargic. Although her presentation this time has been not as dramatic, I am seeing similar, yet vague symptoms. We were on your site here six months ago, thankfully.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 09, 2012:
What was the vet's diagnosis the first time around? Was is it an ear issue?
Carol on September 09, 2012:
What is the incidence of re-occurrence of this happening? Once again, 6 months later, although much more subtle, my 8 yr. old lab is not "herself". Uninterested in food (which is her life stay), and laying around. She is trying so hard, and it's obvious she is not herself. With thanks...as always
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 17, 2012:
Awww.. thank you! It really makes me happy when I hear my articles help out dog owners in need, best wishes for a speedy recovery!
Carol on August 17, 2012:
Hang in there Jamie...hopefully you and your dog will be as lucky as we were. This website is a blessing...good luck!
Vestibular disease or poor balance is a sign of brain or nerve disease and can happen to any pet. The good news is that many of the causes of vestibular disease are very responsive to treatment however, some causes are life-threatening. Therefore, if your pet has vestibular disease, achieving a rapid diagnosis can be very important. This information will help you understand what may be the cause of your pet’s balance problem.
Pets with vestibular disease walk as if they are drunk because they side step, lean, or stumble to one side. Poor balance is called vestibular disease because the receptors that sense movement and head position are located in the vestibule of the inner ear. Information from these receptors runs along the vestibular nerve into the brain. The brain then processes this information to make adjustments in head and body position. The cause of vestibular disease can be from a problem in the brain or a problem in the nerve. Disease located in the brain is often called central while disease of the nerve is called peripheral. Nerve or peripheral disease is generally self-limiting or easily treated however, disease of the brain can be life threatening, especially when left untreated. A careful examination will indicate the location and therefore the seriousness of the disease.
In addition to controlling head and body position and therefore balance, the brain also controls level of awareness, strength, walking, pupil size, breathing and the heart beat. Some of the diseases that affect the brainstem can cause difficulty walking, coma and even death. These diseases can be rapidly progressive therefore, distinguishing central from peripheral disease early on can be very important.
The most common diseases of the peripheral nerve are bacterial infection and inflammation that cross from the middle ear into inner ear, low thyroid and a process called idiopathic peripheral vestibular disease. The most common diseases of the brainstem are granulomatous meningoencephalomyelitis (GME), tumor, stroke, low thyroid and infection.
MRI is invaluable as it is the best imaging test for the brain, middle and inner ear. Which test(s) BVNS would choose in any particular case often depends on age, breed, progression and clinical impression.
Many veterinarians offer referral to get the best opinion about where the disease is located. Once this is determined, the most appropriate test may become obvious allowing for more accurate and rapid treatment. Another common reason for referral is the suspicion that the disease may be in the brain and therefore, life threatening. Timely advanced testing followed by specific therapy, can be the difference between life and death.
Encephalitis means that there is inflammation of the brain – it does not imply that the cause of the inflammation is known. Encephalitis can be infectious or non-infectious. Encephalitis is more common in small dogs, younger than 8 years of age, but any dog or cat can get the disease. The diagnosis is often made using MRI, spinal fluid analysis and infectious disease tests. A rapid, specific diagnosis provides for the best treatment and outcome of this life-threatening disease.
Granulomatous Meningoencphalomyelitis (GME )
GME is inflammation (more white blood cells than normal) in the brain, meninges or spinal cord in the absence of infection or a brain tumor. GME is theorized to be an immune disease where the immune system attacks the nervous system. GME often involves the balance center of the brain and many patients have several of the signs of central disease listed on the front. MRI and CSF analysis and a high index of suspicion are often required to make a diagnosis of GME. If the patient is not rapidly deteriorating, infectious disease tests and an antibiotic trial are ideally done to rule-out an infectious cause. GME can be rapidly progressive and about 10% of pets do not survive their initial manifestation of the disease. There are many new drugs for GME which are allowing more dogs to do well. The current 1 year survival rate for this disease is about 70% with many patients living longer, normal lives while on medication. A rapid diagnosis improves the odds of being able to survive the initial symptoms and go on to live well.
Peripheral vestibular disease happens when there is irritation caused to the nerves that connect the inner ear brain with the brain. Central vestibular disease, on the other hand, is the less common form, and it is a more serious type of condition as it originates inside the central nervous system.
The peripheral form can feel rather dramatic, especially to the dog parent, particularly when it occurs for the first time. Fortunately, you’ll be glad to know that most cases can improve in a timely fashion, so long as the dog receives the right treatment and supportive care.
Why does peripheral vestibular disease occur? Some of its causes include overzealous cleaning of the dog’s ear (which can result in a perforated eardrum), tumors, polyps, hypothyroidism, stroke, trauma from a head injury, as well as recurrent or chronic inner and middle ear infections. There are also some types of drugs that can cause the condition, most of them being antibiotics — neomycin, gentamicin, tobramycin, and amikacin.
All of these can damage or irritate the nerves of the inner ear. This leads to inflammation. However, the disease can also be idiopathic (meaning that the cause can’t be identified), which mostly happens in older dogs. An infection of the middle ear is one of the typical reasons that lead to the development of this disease, at least in younger dogs.
Some dogs can be born with vestibular disease as a congenital defect.
As for central vestibular disease, some of its causes range from infections and traumas to inflammatory disease, loss of blood flow, bleeding in the brain, or cancer.
The typical symptoms of vestibular disease are represented by balance-related issues. As such, pet parents whose dogs have it might notice that their canine friends start to experience staggering, head tilting, circling and stumbling, a loss of coordination, and falling and rolling. Jerking eye movements from side to side are also common.
Loss of balance combined with dizziness can lead to other types of symptoms, which consist of nausea, excessive drooling, and even vomiting. Head tilting and circling in the direction of the affected ear can also be noticed. Nystagmus (abnormal eye movement) is only present in one eye if just one of the ears is affected.
Congenital vestibular disease can be seen between the dog’s birth and 3 months of age. Some of the breeds that are most predisposed to it are Doberman Pinscher, Akita, German Shepherd, English Cocker Spaniel, as well as Beagles.
In geriatric dogs, this disease can be mistaken for a stroke. Vertigo can be intense, with dogs experiencing symptoms such as the ones we’ve already discussed, but also a difficulty or a total inability to stand up. In old dogs, the condition can make it very challenging, if not impossible, for the dog to pee or poop in the right place.
A physical examination which includes a neurological assessment can determine the specific form of vestibular disease. An otoscope can be utilized to look into your dog’s ears, and x-rays might be required in some cases, as well. The vet will also recommend blood tests, but also cytology to eliminate any potential causes of the symptoms.
A biopsy is used for polyps and tumors. MRI and CT scans can provide valuable information, as well, especially when it is more difficult to discover the root cause.
Performing a thorough neurologic examination is required for determining a specific neuroanatomic localization, which is the critical factor in distinguishing between the two forms of vestibular disease, but also in making a difference between ischemic stroke and idiopathic vestibular disease (in older dogs). The recurrence of clinical signs is another important factor to consider.
Idiopathic disease can recur in dogs even after they’ve improved, but that happens more rarely compared to strokes and the interval between the episodes is also longer in idiopathic vestibular disease (it can even take months for it to come back). With a stroke, the period between the episodes is days to weeks.
Puppies that are born with congenital vestibular disease are capable of adapting, and that’s why they are typically less affected by the condition as they grow up. In old dogs, the condition can resolve in one to two weeks, but the tendency to tilt their head can sometimes remain for the rest of their life.
If medication is at the root of the problem, discontinuing it might bring a complete resolution. Sometimes, there can be residual hearing loss following these medical issues. If there are cancerous tumors present in the dog’s ear, the prognosis is less optimistic. Polyps can be removed surgically.
Compared to its peripheral counterpart, central vestibular disease has a somewhat poor prognosis, mostly because the brain stem suffers damage.
Since peripheral vestibular disease can also be caused by an infection, the dog could undergo treatment with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Luckily, cases of the peripheral form improve fast, so long as the underlying cause is addressed and the vertigo symptoms are managed with the appropriate supportive care.
Given that dizziness can make it very difficult for a dog to walk normally, food and water need to be as close to him/her as possible, or even brought to the canine patient so as to encourage him or her to drink and eat. There are also patients that have to be hand-fed until they get better. Last, but not least, many dogs will require assistance in getting back and forth from where they go potty.
In idiopathic vestibular disease, the form that’s most commonly encountered is the peripheral one. As such, improvement begins after just two to three days and continues over a time span of up to two weeks.
Peripheral vestibular disease also shows up in cases of otitis media or interna, in which case the improvement can be static or progressive. If the dog suffered an ischemic stroke, the improvement is variable, and stroke episodes can recur. In most cases of neoplasia, the dog suffers from central vestibular disease and the improvement can be static or progressive.
The clinical signs that are associated with vestibular disease are usually more severe during the first 24 to 48 hours. There are many pets that experience improvement within just 72 hours. The head tilt and stumbling improves over a 7 to 10 day period. Most of the patients are considered completely recovered within two to three weeks. Some might have residual symptoms such as mild wobbling or a head tilt for the remainder of their life. If the patient doesn’t improve or his/her condition gets more severe, there could be a more serious underlying disorder that should call for advanced diagnostic testing.
Unfortunately, there is no sure way to prevent vestibular problems in dogs. If your dog is prone to ear infections, then regular ear cleaning with a vet-approved cleanser can help keep ear infections from developing. Annual or biannual veterinary exams and lab tests can help your vet detect subtle changes before your dog develops vestibular dysfunction.
If you notice signs of vestibular disease in your dog, do not wait for it to go away. Bring your dog to the vet as soon as you can. The sooner the underlying cause is found, the faster your dog can get proper treatment.