Our the Pacific Northwest vets understand that, for concerned pet parents, witnessing the symptoms of vestibular disease or 'old-dog syndrome' can 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 — also known as 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 at any age, including dogs, cats and even humans.
Because the vestibular system is responsible for controlling balance, dogs with vestibular disease will experience dizziness and have difficulty walking normally. The symptoms of vestibular disease tend to be most severe during the first 24 to 48 hours, with many dogs beginning to improve within 72 hours.
While your dog's symptoms may look distressing, keep in mind that this condition is not fatal and most dogs recover completely within two to three weeks.
Common symptoms of vestibular disease
If your dog suddenly shows any signs of verstibular disease, call your vet for advice on whether you should bring your dog into 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.
Some of the most common symptoms to be on the lookout for include:
- Standing with legs spread wide
- Loss of balance / falling over
- Continuous circling in a single direction
- Lack of coordination
- Rapid eye movement while awake
- Choosing to sleep on hard surfaces
- Head tilt
- Loss of appetite or unwillingness to drink
It's essential that pet owners communicate with their vet about any of these symptoms. While these 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 eardrum, 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 this condition can cause dizziness or nausea in dogs, it isn't painful or dangerous. Most likely, the condition clears up on its own within a couple of weeks without treatment. If your dog's condition begins to worsen over the course of a few days, 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. If your dog shaving difficulties drinking from their water bowl, the vet may administer IV fluids. However, when all is said and done, the main treatment for vestibular disease is time.
How can I help my dog recover from vestibular disease?
To help keep your dog comfortable while recovering from vestibular disease, be sure they have a comfy place to rest and have easy access to food and water. Since vestibular disease is a balance issue, keep the floor clear of obstacles and block off stairs to help to keep your canine companion safe.