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Causes & Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Causes & Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Our Winston-Salem vets understand that for concerned pet-parents witnessing the symptoms of Vestibular Disease or 'Old Dog Syndrome' be distressing. Today we look at the symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs, and how it is treated.

What is vestibular disease?

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease, 'vestibular disease' or 'old dog syndrome' is a non-progressive balance disorder stemming from issues affecting the animal's vestibular system within the brain, inner ear, and middle ear. Although this condition is most often seen in older dogs, it can affect any animal with a complex inner ear system including dogs, cats, and even humans, at any age.

Because the vestibular system is responsible for controlling balance, dogs with vestibular disease will experience dizziness and have difficulties walking normally. The symptoms of vestibular disease tend to be most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, with many dogs beginning to improve within seventy-two hours.

While your dog's symptoms may look distressing keep in mind that this condition is not fatal and most dogs completely recover within two to three weeks. 

Some of the most common symptoms of vestibular disease include:

  • Standing with legs spread wide
  • Loss of appetite or unwillingness to drink
  • Loss of balance / falling over
  • Continuous circling in a single direction
  • Rapid eye movement while awake
  • Head tilt
  • Staggering
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Choosing to sleep on hard surfaces

If your dog suddenly shows any of signs listed above call your vet for advice on whether you should bring your dog in to the office for an examination. Depending on your dog's medical history and overall health, your vet may suggest waiting to see if the symptoms quickly improve without treatment.

That said, communication with your vet over these symptoms is essential, while symptoms may be a sign of vestibular disease they could also be signs that your dog is suffering from a more serious illness.

What causes vestibular disease?

In some cases the cause of vestibular disease is unknown, in those cases the disease is called idiopathic vestibular disease. In other cases the condition may be triggered by an ear infection, perforated ear drum, hypothyroidism, trauma, tumors or as a side effect of antibiotics.

Some dog breeds are also more prone to developing vestibular disease, including doberman pinschers and German shepherds. 

How can vestibular disease be treated?

While the condition can cause your dog to feel dizzy or nauseous, it isn't painful or dangerous and will likely clear-up on its own within a couple of weeks without treatment. If over the course of a few days your dog's condition begins to worsen then your vet may begin to consider other causes for your dog's symptoms.

If your dog is experiencing nausea due to vestibular disease, your vet may prescribe an anti-nausea medication, or IV fluids if your dog is having difficulties drinking from their water bowl. However, when all is said and done the main treatment for vestibular disease is waiting while your dog gradually recovers.

How can I help my dog to recover from vestibular disease?

To help keep your dog comfortable while recovering from vestibular disease, be sure to provide her with a comfy place to rest and easy access to food and water. Since vestibular disease is a balance issue, keeping the floor clear of obstacles, and blocking off stairs can help to keep your canine companion safe.

If you're concerned about your dog's health contact your regular vet for advice or to book an appointment. Contact Carolina Veterinary Specialists if you are unable to reach your primary care veterinarian - including late nights, weekends, and holidays - our emergency vets are here to help.

Caring for Winston-Salem Pets

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists, we accept new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service welcomes all clients.

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