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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 kris | May 9 2014 |

My dog too... I feel so bad for everyone. My dog will not clear up.

Submitted by kari | May 26 2014 |

I am SO thankful I found this article! My 12ish yo aussie is experienceing this right now. Symptoms started yesterday (of course on a sunday with today being a holiday) but she seems a bit better today. She's not really eating, but drinks fine and pottied outside with no assistance. I plan on calling the vet tomorrow to see if she needs to be examined. crossing my fingers she feels better more each day and will pull thru it like a champ :)

Submitted by Lori | May 27 2014 |

Hi Kris and all who shared on this subject. My dog , a GSD, has had it since the end of February. He was on antibx over a month and Meclizine for dizziness. He got to the point where he could not get downstairs...he was too afraid, with his head tilting,he would fall. We had to practically carry him out to the bathroom. Then he slowly got better. He has improved so, so much. He is able to up and down the stairs again and his head tilt has improved.But....now my daughter thinks his symptoms are worsening again. Is this something that waxes and wanes?

Submitted by Carolyn | August 11 2014 |

How old was your dog and did this ever clear up? My 13 yr. old lab mix is at 2 weeks. Does well with the dramamine daily but hasn't improved. Am wondering if she ever will.

Submitted by Susan | August 19 2014 |

Thank you for this insight. Knowing we are not alone is comfort in itself. Our 13 yr. old retriever mix experienced this in May at which time we took her to the vet and she was diagnosed with this disease. Tippy recovered completely in about 10 days. She began experiencing slightly more significant but similar symptoms four days ago. (Just by chance she had visited the vet the day before and was found to be in good health for her age.) Currently, Tippy is recovering gradually. She can walk on her own without falling over, but slight irregular terrain causes her to wobble. She can now go up steps while being steadied on a leash; I still need to carry her down the steps. She still moves her head in a writhing motion. She no longer is throwing up. My biggest concern, having been through this one time already, is her lack of appetite and inability to feed herself. I have been finger feeding chicken. She eats poorly presumably due to both nausea and inability to stabilize her head for sustained retrieval of food. She does lap up water from her bowl after a few false starts. Any suggestions for helping her eat is appreciated. I have a feeling recovery will take longer than ten days this go around.

Submitted by Paula | August 20 2014 |

Commenting on your Tippy. My Tori's experience at age 12 with Vestibular was extremely difficult for about 14 days and was a gradual recovery - with at age 18 still a slight head tilt. I force fed her for probably 4 to 5 days with a syringe that I mixed her food into a gruel and syringed it into her (same with water) and I had to take her out with a sling under her to potty. I was traumatized as I watched the initial symptoms and scared I was losing her. Her's were extreme, but thankfully my vet knew exactly what it was and I took her home with anti nausea meds and the rest was just the nursing care she needed to recover. All it takes is love!

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 Kristen Kylstad | September 22 2014 |

How much Benadryl did you give your dog?

Submitted by kris | May 9 2014 |

Yeah me too... my 14 yr old chihuihui has this problem, can not stand, she can trott ok, but when she slows down or stands, she become overly whelmed shakey, her body jolts and she falls down. She paces all night with no sleep. She is exausted by 10 am next day. She will not eat, and was on dramamine, but a new vet dr. gave her a shot to test the disease, it has been 48 hrs, no luck, the dramamine worked better. But I am 2 months into this now, she has not healed yet. Kris

Submitted by Cecelia Fox | August 8 2014 |

Kris, How is your chihuihui now? My dog's symptoms are very close to your dog's. She paces all night, sleeps most of the day. When not sleeping she paces, puts her face in corners and stands there. Body tremors and jolts. Balance issues. Seems dazed and disoriented. Blood work at vet came up normal in all except a very slight low white blood count. Thanks in advance.

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 kris | May 9 2014 |

Wow!!! My 14 yr old chihuihui has it now, she is losing weight from lose of being able to eat... I keep changing her diet because she has stopped wanting the same thing. She falls so much, she is pacing the floor all the time, when she slows down or stops, she just falls down shakes or wobbles. She can not sleep at night. Walks and falls all night. She can not sleep with me on my bed now because she has fallin off the edge of my bed and hit the floor and woke me up. I am a nervous wreck. Dramamine worked, but the new vet gave her a shot and wants me to wait to see if it helps, the waiting is killing me, it has been 2 days and she is worse, the dramamine worked the best so far, but I will take her back to the dr today for a 48 hr follow up after that shot. She can no longer be on a sofa or bed unless I am on it and wide awake. I will take any advice anyone has. thanks!

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 julie Smith | June 2 2014 |

Whilst on holiday last week, my 13 year old Border Collie started with all the symptoms listed above. She only vomited once though. Her eyes flicked left to right and she walked as though drunk often falling down. We all said our tearful good byes as we were sure the vet would put her to sleep. However, I couldn't believe my eyes when my partner brought her home again. We are now on day 3 and there is a marked improvement. She has never lost her appetite and will drink. She had a severe head tilt to the right, but even this isn't as bad. She can now walk around the house but she is very wobbly and not in total control, but she knows when she wants to go out for a wee etc, which is a blessing. The vet gave her an anti-sickness jab, a few days of steroids to make her feel better and antibiotics, although he said there was no signs of an inner ear infection but couldn't totally rule it out. I will add another update in a few days. Fingers crossed!
Julie

Submitted by Christie | June 6 2014 |

I am sharing our story with the hope that it will give others hope as so many other posts gave us hope as our dog was going through this. Our 16 year old border collie suffered from a bout of idiopathic vestibular disease a couple of weeks ago. He had the head tilt, nystagmus, didn't eat for a few days, and didn't stand or walk for 12 days. The first vet we saw wanted to diagnose it as a stroke and asked if we wanted to put him down. We refused to accept this and, with a second and third opinion, he was diagnosed with vestibular disease. Our vet told us to give him time and TLC. We took turns sleeping in the room where he was, we syringe fed him a mixture of wet dog food and water, and we changed his pad every few hours as to prevent urine burn. I am happy to report that his nystagmus, nausea, and head tilt went away in about four days, and today, on day 12 he is walking and even running on his own! This is a dog that could not put weight on his feet for over a week! Keep working with them. Email me if you are experiencing a dog who cannot stand up. I am happy to help! Christienaterv@yahoo.com

Submitted by Connie | July 18 2014 |

Christie, reading your post just gave me much-needed hope. Andy, our 13 year-old BC/Aussie mix was diagnosed with Vestibular Disease after what looked like a stroke last Saturday. He has been unable to sit or stand on his own since then. We are hand feeding and watering him and he still wags his tail like crazy, so we know he's in there somewhere. It's just been so hard waking up every day to see him the same way. We are able to be with him 24x7 and are very thankful for that.

Submitted by Deb | August 3 2014 |

Christie, I also want to say you have given me hope. My mixed breed dog Casey, 14yrs old, has just had the symptoms which appear to be OVD. We are on day 4 and seeing changes. Not drinking much and vet recommended chicken broth but she is not interested so I use a syringe every couple of hours to assure she is not dehydrated. She is very aware of family members and happy when someone gets home, wags tail and tries to get up. Vet says definitely wait and see but reading these posts gives me hope. Thank you

Submitted by mary | August 6 2014 |

I just returned from the emergency vet. My 13 yr.old mixed shepherd scared the day lights out of me. The vet was leaning more to the vertigo issue than a stroke. He is still there and I will pick him up in the morning and follow up with my regular vet. he threw up 5 times. His eyes were tracking so fast. He doesn't really present a head tilt but he can not stand with out support. thank you for your comments and hopefully in a couple days/weeks of supportive care he will be back to his self. I had to research this thing and found this site

Submitted by pj | September 13 2014 |

13 y/o yellow lab who is totally down. Now on day 3. Can'p barely hold head up much less sit up. Totally freaks if we try to move her or take her out to poty. She went once so far. Fights not to poty inside..poor girl. Eye movements are there but decreased. Taking water through a syringe but today lapped out of dish when held for her. Small bits of soft food fed to her 4-5 times a day. On prednisone, Dramamine first now benadryl. No antibiotic though and that's worrisome. Desperate to see an improvement in ability to sit or stand. Very little sleep. She doses for 5 minutes and pants and drools for an hour. We feel so helpless. Any suggestions at all would be truely appreciated. So sad to see our girl suffer like this. Sadder yet if the wait and see turns out badly after all she's going thru.Thank you for being there.

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

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