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I love reading stories and information about pets which could help both owners and animals.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Did My Dog Have A Stroke? It Could Be Vestibular Disease !

By:  Laurie Brzostowski, President, Snaggle Foot Dog Walks and Pet Care-Round Lake

This post is personal to me which is why I felt it is was important to write it.

On Monday morning (10/20/14), I woke up at 4:00 am to hear my dog scrambling around like he didn't know where he was at.  He was panicking.  When I got down on the floor with him I saw that his eyeballs were moving rapidly back and forth.  My first thought was.. Oh My God he is having a stroke.  It was terrifying.  I called my boyfriend at 4:30 am and told him that I thought Sebastian was having a stroke and could he help me get him to the Emergency Vet Clinic.

My boyfriend and I put Sebastian into the back of my car and off we went.  The Emergency Vet is about 20 minutes away and throughout that entire drive all I kept thinking was is this it?  Is this the day I have to put my dog down if he is suffering?  Sebastian is a little over 14 years old now and is a Yellow Lab so I knew in my heart that no matter what I was going to do what was best for him... not for me.

We get to the Emergency Vet Clinic and they take him right into the exam room.  A few minutes later the doctor came out and told me it was not a stroke... he has Vestibular Disease.  Sometimes called "old dog disease" or "spinning disease".  She went on to explain that the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brainstem had been compromised which is why he was having all these symptoms.  That nerve is responsible for telling the brain whether you are out of balance or not.

Vestibular Disease is like someone having Vertigo or Motion Sickness 24 hours a day.  Which is why his eyes move back and forth and his "scrambling" around.  They lose all balance and direction.  Awful right?  It was terrifying.

This disease is recoverable and you do not have to euthanize your animals because of this.  It can correct itself with some help and lots of TLC.

So, as usual, I did some research on this particular disease and I wanted to share it all with you.  So just in case your dog or cat has these types of symptoms and you get terrified like I did.

So here it goes:

What is vestibular disease?

The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining normal balance. The vestibular system has central components located in the brain, and peripheral components located in the inner and middle ear.
"Vestibular disease refers to a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance."
Vestibular disease refers to a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance. It is more common in older dogs. It is also referred to as old dog vestibular syndrome and canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome.

What are the clinical signs of vestibular disease?

Most dogs present with the sudden onset of loss of balance, disorientation, head tilt and irregular jerking eye movements called nystagmus. Many dogs will become reluctant to stand or walk. Most dogs will lean or fall in the direction of their head tilt.

What causes vestibular disease?

Causes of vestibular disease include middle or inner ear infections, drugs that are toxic to the ear, trauma or injury, tumors and hypothyroidism. When no specific diagnosis is found, the condition will be called idiopathic vestibular syndrome. These cases are distinguished by the sudden onset of clinical signs and the subsequent rapid improvement with little, if any, medical intervention.

How is vestibular disease diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on medical history, clinical signs, and the results of blood and urine tests. In some cases, diagnostic testing will include radiographs of the head to assess the appearance of the middle and inner ears and the tympanic bullae. Occasionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans will be performed to look for tumors or other abnormalities. Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing may also be performed in some patients.
The criteria for diagnosing canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome are:
1. Older dog
2. Sudden onset of peripheral vestibular signs
3. No detectable cause - no signs of outer- or middle-ear infection, ototoxicity, trauma, hypothyroidism, rickettsial disease, etc.
4. Signs resolve over several weeks

How is vestibular disease treated?

Treatment is directed at the underlying cause, if one can be identified. In severe cases, supportive therapy such as intravenous fluids and hospitalization may be required until the pet can eat and walk on its own. If the pet is seriously disoriented or ataxic (stumbling, unable to stand or walk), it may be given sedatives to help it relax.   Drugs that help combat nausea or motion sickness such as dimenhydrinate may be beneficial. Antibiotics may be used in cases suspected of having middle or inner ear infections. Although corticosteroids have been used in the past, there is little scientific evidence to support their use in this condition.

What is the prognosis for a dog diagnosed with vestibular disease?

"The clinical signs associated with vestibular disease are often most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours."
The clinical signs associated with vestibular disease are often most severe during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Many pets begin to improve within seventy-two hours. The head tilt and stumbling often improve over a seven to ten day period. Most patients are completely recovered within two to three weeks although some will have residual symptoms such as a head tilt or mild "wobbling" for life. If the patient fails to improve or worsens, then a more severe underlying disorder should be suspected and advanced diagnostic testing should be pursued.

The good news is Sebastian is getting better.  I give him 25mg of Meclizine (motion sickness) pills once per day.  You can buy this over the counter at any pharmacy.  He still cannot get up by himself which is why I utilize a harness I have to help him walk outside to go pee.  I try not to do that too often throughout the day as you can imagine what it feels like to walk when you have Vertigo or Motion Sickness.  He did not want to eat his regular dry dog food so I purchased some canned food and mixed that with his dry, some rice, and lots of water so he can stay hydrated.  I do bring him his food and water to him as he still cannot get up by himself.

So, if your pet shows these types of signs.. don't just think it is a stroke and you have to put him down, it may just be Vestibular Disease and with lots of help and TLC they will be back to their somewhat normal self within days and usually fully recovered within a few weeks.


  1. Hmm… I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i’ll be your constant reader.
    mad til hunde

  2. I had really confusion on vestibular disease.First I would like to thank for this great article.Really got a clear idea on vestibular disease and got some wonderful solution on how to treat it.Truly outstanding.