Old Dog Vestibular Disease can be triggered by a number of things including inner ear problems, a collar related injury, a brain injury or tumor or a central nervous system dysfunction.
However, often there is no clear trigger or underlying issue to be found and the condition arises spontaneously.... and usually resolves itself in the same way.
'Vestibular' basically means 'the perception of body movement and balance'.
The 'Old Dog' part of the equation is there because this is most often seen in dogs who are seven years or older.
'Disease' sounds scary, but this is almost always a fairly benign illness and it is not contagious.
It affects the nerves that co-ordinate the messages between a dog's eyes, inner-ear, and body - you could say it scrambles them to some degree.
So, in a nutshell, Old Dog Vestibular Disease affects your dog's balance.
Now being able to balance is a pretty fundamental ability, so losing it makes life very difficult, and the symptoms can look pretty scary - and must feel awful for Fido.
If you've ever suffered from a bout of vertigo yourself (or even been really, really, drunk!) you'll have some idea of how he's feeling!
Luckily this problem is generally not nearly as serious as it looks, and most dogs make a full recovery, with little to no treatment.
Here's what you need to know....
The signs of Old Dog Vestibular Disease come on very suddenly, and are pretty dramatic.
This means that it's easy to panic and think that your dog has had a stroke or has brain damage.
Luckily the odds of either of these happening are much lower.
Symptoms of Peripheral Vestibular Disease in dogs include:
Your dog may not have all of these symptoms but he's likely to have at least two of them.
Loss of balance and Nystagmus (the unusual eye-movements) are the most common.
Severe cases may also produce other, more severe, symptoms such as:
Here's a video that shows you what vestibular disease symptoms look like......
The full name for this problem is 'Idiopathic Peripheral Vestibular Disease'. Quite a mouthful!
The word 'idiopathic' means 'arising spontaneously' and 'from unknown cause'. Both of these definitions usually apply here.
So basically Old Dog Vestibular Disease shows up out of the blue for no apparent reason.
Vestibular Disease isn't solely a condition which affects only senior dogs, but it is most often seen in dogs who are middle aged, or older.
Sometimes your vet can find a reason behind the symptoms.
Causes of canine peripheral vestibular disease may include:
Only a veterinarian can make a diagnosis and after the initial exam he/she will be able to tell you whether there are more tests that Fido needs.
The peripheral form of Old Dog Vestibular Disease is almost always a self-limiting condition - this means that it cures itself given time.
Most dogs will start to improve and symptoms will ease off within 2 to 3 days, and will be totally recovered within two to four weeks.
More severe cases may take up to six weeks to be fully recovered.
BUT this doesn't mean that you don't need to have Fido examined by a veterinarian - you do!
Although chances are good that your dog has the peripheral form of the disease, there are other possibilities including Central Vestibular Disease
Only a licensed veterinarian can make an accurate diagnosis.
While there's no 'cure' for this vestibular condition, there are things you can do to help Fido cope with the difficulties he's experiencing.
Depending on what has caused the problem in the first place (if your vet can isolate it) there may some treatment needed for the 'trigger'.
Symptoms of Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome such as nausea and vomiting can be reduced or controlled by medications prescribed by your vet (sort of like the meds you take for motion-sickness).
Anti-nausea drugs such as Bonine or Gravol may be prescribed or recommended by your vet and these can make your dog feel more comfortable.
Anti-inflammatory medications or antibiotics may be prescribed if your senior dog shows any signs of an ear infection or problem.
Sometimes corticosteroids such as Prednisone can really help reduce the symptoms of vestibular disease if it is caused by inflammation or swelling in the ear, or elsewhere.
Obviously if the examination shows any signs that there's something more serious going on, then other treatment options for the underlying issue will be needed.
For dogs with simple idiopathic vestibular disease, the rest of the treatment is just 'supportive care'.
That means helping Fido to manage his day-to-day life which is tricky when he can't balance his body properly and his eyes have trouble focusing.
Here's what you can do to make your dog's life easier:
Staggering and stumbling around is scary for your dog, so try to minimize the space he has to move about.
If Fido is used to being crated and is comfy there, this can really help and you can use the crate more than you normally would.
But for older dogs who don't use a crate, now isn't the time to start. Instead try to confine him to a smaller area, or to one room at a time.
When he needs to go outdoors to pee/poop, go with your dog and help him to stay upright and find the right spot.
An older dog could really hurt himself if he falls down steps, or onto a hard surface or walks into a wall, fence or tree.
Protect him from himself until his balance comes back.
Sometimes using doggie diapers or belly bands can be helpful (especially at night) because a dog who is dizzy and sick often doesn't notice or respond to the body's potty cues quickly enough.
But, don't rely on a belly band or diapers. Make the effort to get your dog to his/her potty spot regularly and encourage normal potty habits whenever possible.
Often dogs with vestibular disease don't want to eat because they feel sick. Anti-nausea medicines prescribed by your veterinarian can help with this.
Also, it can be tricky for Fido to eat even if he wants to, because his eyes flicker and move involuntarily and make it difficult for him to focus.
Make his meals more appealing by dding some tasty gravy, or a little canned food, to his kibble and encourage him to eat while lying down if he'll co-operate.
Some dogs pretty much refuse to eat, or the physical symptoms make it very difficult for them to do so. This stage generally only lasts a few days.
Both of these are nutritionally dense and even getting a little of one or other into your dog will give him valuable nutrition.
Your vet may stock one, or both, of these or you can order them online through the links above.
Pediasure (a similarly nutritional liquid for sick infants) can be used in an emergency, but it's high in sugar and contains dairy, neither of which is good for dogs in general.
If he insists on standing, stay beside him and hold him up if necessary.
Drinking poses the same problems, but your dog MUST drink or he'll get dehydrated, so the same help is needed here.
Pedialyte contains vital electrolytes so try to give your old boy or girl a little of the unflavored variety as well as water if you can.
If he won't/can't drink, then discuss it with your vet - he might want to give Fido some IV fluids to make sure he stays hydrated.
The majority of dogs will show signs of improvement within about 72 hours, and be fully recovered within 2 weeks.
But, if your old dog doesn't seem to be any better after a couple of days, or he gets worse or shows other symptoms, get him back to your vet asap.
The majority of dogs will be fully recovered from a bout of old dog vestibular disease within about 2 weeks.
Usually all symptoms will have faded away, although sometimes the head-tilt or a little loss of co-ordination will linger.
It's rarely enough to cause any real problems and shouldn't impact your senior dog's quality of life.
Once a dog has suffered one go-around with this problem, he has an above-average risk of having another. New episodes are usually similar to the first one in both severity and duration.
Although this isn't ideal, the good news is that IF Fido has another 'episode', you'll know what it is right away and won't feel so panicked.
Plus you'll be able to get him any medications he needs, and know how to help him through those first, difficult, days.
Many times the symptoms of vestibular disease are mistaken for stroke symptoms by panicked dog owners.
This isn't surprising as they can be quite similar and although the odds are in favor of vestibular problems rather than brain issues, a dog can have a stroke.
Here is a quick look at what occurs when a dog has a stroke, and what makes it different from vestibular problems.
A stroke is the result of either:
A clot, or bleed, can be caused by a range of health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, thyroid problems, injury, inflammation, blood clotting disease and more.
Ear problems in dogs are not a trigger for stroke.
Advanced age can also be the cause of a dog experiencing a stroke.
The symptoms of a stroke in dogs have some similarities to symptoms of vestibular disease, but there are some subtle differences.
These symptoms are similar to those seen in a vestibular episode, but the unusual eye movements are not exclusively horizontal.
These symptoms are not likely to be seen in dogs with vestibular disease:
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