Vestibular syndrome: when the dog loses his balance

Often seen in older dogs , vestibular syndrome results in a sudden loss of balance. This can be particularly frightening for pet owners, as the symptoms of this condition mimic those of serious conditions, such as brain tumor or stroke.


  • Vestibular syndrome, what is it?
  • What causes the appearance of vestibular syndrome?
  • How to treat vestibular syndrome?

Vestibular syndrome, what is it?

The vestibular system is responsible for the balance of the body. It has central components located in the brain and peripheral components located in the inner ear . It is thanks to him that the dog can control the position of his body in space. But when an element of this system is affected, the animal loses all sense of balance. It is said that he suffers from vestibular syndrome.

And the least we can say is that the symptoms of this syndrome are immediate and particularly impressive:

  • the dog has his head bowed
  • he can not keep his balance by walking, he moves as if he was drunk
  • he turns on himself, falls in the direction of inclination of his head
  • the dog can no longer control the movement of his eyes
  • he gasps or even vomits

Note that all dogs may one day be victims of vestibular syndrome. However, dogs over 8 years of age and large dogs , including German Shepherds and Akita Inu, are more often affected.

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease, which is also sometimes called “old dog disease” or “old rolling dog syndrome,” can be very scary for pet parents. To the untrained eye, the symptoms may mimic serious, life threatening conditions such as stroke or a brain tumor.

The good news is that this condition, which is described by veterinarians as fairly common, typically disappears in a matter of days.

VCA Animal Hospitals define vestibular disease as a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance.

“Idiopathic refers to the fact that veterinarians can’t identify the source of the balance issue,” said Dr. Duffy Jones, DVM, a veterinarian with Peachtree Hills Animal Hospitals of Atlanta in Georgia. “There are a lot of theories such as inflammation, but as with some humans who suffer from vertigo, we really don’t know the cause.”

Dr. Keith Niesenbaum, DVM, a veterinarian with Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital in Garden City Park, New York, and who has been practicing for 32 years, said that idiopathic vestibular disease is more common in older dogs and there really isn’t a breed that is immune.

“Anecdotally, I’ve seen it more in large breed dogs, but it can also happen with small breeds as well,” Niesenbaum said.

Symptoms of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Deb Hipp of Kansas City, Missouri, was preparing to go out of town for a few days when her 17-year-old dog, Toby, suddenly had more trouble than normal getting up.

“He has some mobility issues, so I thought he was just tired, so I waited another ten minutes and tried to get him up,” Hipp said. “On the second attempt, he was having trouble placing his paws to stand and I immediately took him to the emergency vet.”

Hipp thought Toby might have had a stroke, but the veterinarian made a note of Toby’s eyes, which were darting back and forth. After some blood tests and a more thorough exam, he diagnosed idiopathic vestibular disease. By that time, in addition to not being able to stand and the darting eyes, Toby also displayed other symptoms of the disease, which include:

  • Head tilt, which may be slight to extreme
  • Acting dizzy and falling down, which may remind people of someone who is drunk
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dogs may also turn in circles or roll

“The symptoms are acute, or immediate,” said Jones. “The symptoms will not be a slow progression but happen all of a sudden. There really aren’t any symptoms that can be a sign this is coming on.”

What causes the appearance of vestibular syndrome?

Several causes can cause the appearance of vestibular syndrome in dogs. Most often, it is a lesion of the inner ear caused by otitis, encephalitis, a reaction to a drug, head trauma or the presence of a polyp or tumor in the body. ‘hear.

But sometimes the vestibular syndrome is idiopathic , that is, the cause could not be identified. These are generally older dogs that suffer from an idiopathic vestibular syndrome. In this case, recurrence is not uncommon.

How to treat vestibular syndrome?

Medical Treatment for Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

It is important to get your dog to its veterinarian as soon as you see any of the signs, as the symptoms are similar to that of other more serious conditions, such as an inner ear infection, stroke, brain tumor, or seizure.

Idiopathic vestibular disease is confirmed by a veterinarian upon a complete physical examination, such as checking the eye movement, which would be rolling in cases of a stroke, and lifting the paw and flipping it over to see if the dog puts his paw back. “If the dog can flip his paw over, it typically isn’t a stroke,”

Once the condition is diagnosed, the dog is typically treated at home unless the dog is vomiting and is at risk of dehydration, at which point he will hospitalize the dog so it can be put on IV fluids.

“If the dog goes home, we will typically prescribe an anti-nausea medication and something to help with dizziness,”

If your dog has one or more of the symptoms described above, take him or her urgently to a veterinarian . If the source of the loss of balance is easily identifiable, the veterinarian will prescribe to your pet a suitable treatment.

On the other hand, if the syndrome is idiopathic, the symptoms should disappear on their own in a matter of days or even weeks. Generally, after 72 hours, the situation starts to improve.

In the case of idiopathic vestibular syndrome, only nausea medications can be prescribed. However, when returning home, care should be taken that the animal can not be injured . It will therefore be necessary to deny him access to the staircase and to prevent him from climbing on tall furniture.

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Author: KIKIE

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