There is a syndrome, variously referred to as Canine Vestibular Syndrome, Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome (the current “preferred name”), Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome, and Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. Vestibular syndrome is usually a rapid-onset attack that causes a head tilt and loss his balance. The disorder is more common in older dogs and thus the name “Old Dog” or Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome — but it can occur in middle aged dogs, too, so the name was changed. It is not a life threatening condition. It has been suggested that there is a correlation between old dog vestibular syndrome and hypothyroidism, so blood work should be done to rule out this problem.
What it is
Vestibular diseases can be classified into three major disease processes: idiopathic vestibular disease, inner ear disease, or central vestibular disease. Vestibular means “a problem with the connections between the inner/middle ear and brain” causing ataxia. Generally, it is an inflammation of the inner ear, the vestibule being a cavity at the entrance to the cochlea of the inner ear. Vestibular disease will clear up without treatment in most cases, but it may be sometimes coincidental to other illness.
The disease normally affects dogs that seem normal up until the signs appear. At first, the symptoms can be very subtle, almost unnoticeable to the owner. If you take a closer look you will notice that the eyes shoot rapidly from side to side, the head is cocked to one side and these, together with the drunken staggers and vomiting lead many owners to the fearful conclusion that their pet has been poisoned. The owner sees an apparently healthy dog fall over, try to get up, fall over again and then wander around if it is willing to make the effort to walk, but staggering like a drunken sailor.
Dogs that suffer this syndrome show many of the same symptoms that are associated with a stroke victim. There is sudden loss of balance with many dogs unable to even stand up. Dogs may be nauseous from the “sea sickness” effect of vestibular disease. are often distressed, and their owners fear they will never recover.
Routine treatment includes the administration of intravenous fluids and electrolytes. No treatment can hasten the recovery, but medications can make the dog more comfortable while convalescing. Some vets may prescribe antibiotics if they suspect the possibility of infection. Vestibular disease will clear up without treatment in most cases but it may be sometimes coincidental to other illness. Keep in mind, the most common cause of treatment failure is not treating long enough.
Drugs that might be used to treat old dog vestibular syndrome include Cholodin Tabs and Winstrol V. Rimadyl has been used with some success, but veterinarians do suggest that owners should get regular liver function tests for any dog on Rimadyl.
Remember these signs of peripheral vestibular disease and consider it as a possibility if your dog exhibits these symptoms: A well dog that staggers and falls with no prior sign of sickness. It is important to note that there are no warning signs which may lead to the conclusion that it is a stroke. A few dogs have residual signs beyond this time, such as a head tilt, but with proper care and love, almost all dogs will recover.