Old Dog Syndrome: All About Vestibular Disease in Dogs

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Old dog syndrome might just sound like what happens when your dog turns gray and begins to lose his youthful vigor, but it actually refers to a particular condition that can happen to dogs at any stage of life. Keep reading to learn about this condition, actually named vestibular disease, in dogs and what signs to watch for in case this condition ever affects your beloved pup.

What Is Vestibular Disease?

West highland white terrier lying on ground."Old dog vestibular syndrome" is the name commonly given to the balance disorder called canine idiopathic vestibular disease, says the Vestibular Disorders Association. While this condition is commonly seen in senior dogs, it can happen in dogs of all ages, cats, humans and any other species with a complex inner ear system. The vestibular system is the part of the inner ear that controls balance, as shown in a diagram from Merck Veterinary Manual. A disturbance in this organ can cause dogs to experience dizziness and have difficulty walking in a straight line. Wag! offers some signs to help you recognize the start of old dog syndrome:

  • Pronounced head tilt
  • Stumbling or staggering
  • Standing with an unusually wide stance
  • Unwillingness to eat or drink
  • Lack of coordination
  • Falling over
  • Continuous circling in a single direction
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid eye movement while awake
  • Choosing to sleep on the floor or other hard surfaces.

It's important to note that these could also be symptoms of a more serious condition, such as a stroke or a tumor in the brain. For this reason, you should report any sudden balance problems to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

How Vestibular Disease in Dogs Develops

Vestibular disease can come about in a variety of ways. The term idiopathic means that there is no known cause for why it occurs, which is most often the case. However, sometimes this condition can be triggered by an ear infection, perforated ear drum or as a side effect of antibiotics, according to Animal Wellness. Embrace Pet Insurance reports that some dog breeds such as Doberman pinschers or German shepherds are genetically predisposed to the condition and can show signs of it as puppies.

The good news is that this condition isn't dangerous or painful for your dog, although dizziness might cause him mild discomfort or motion sickness. The condition often clears up on its own within a couple of weeks, which is why vets typically adopt a "wait and see" approach, says Animal Wellness. If the condition continues or worsens, then your vet will likely go ahead and conduct a thorough examination to determine whether a more serious condition is causing the symptoms.

Prognosis and Treatment

Woman kissing yawning beagle on side of head.If nausea and vomiting are a problem for your dog, your vet may prescribe an anti-nausea medication. They may also provide IV fluids for a dog who can't get to the water bowl. Unfortunately, part of dealing with vestibular disease is waiting while your dog recovers.

In the meantime, Dogster offers some tips for helping your dizzy pooch at home. Provide him with a comfortable place to rest, such as propped up on a pillow with his water bowl within reach. Since a wobbly dog is more prone to fall or bump into things, you may also want to block off staircases or sharp edges on furniture. This condition can be frightening to a healthy dog, so extra petting and just being near him is always appreciated.

The Vestibular Disorders Association recommends that you avoid the temptation to carry your dog, which could prolong his condition. The more he gets around on his own, the more his inner ear will have an opportunity to right itself. Providing plenty of lighting so he can see his surroundings can help his recovery.

The bottom line is that if your dog develops the symptoms of old dog syndrome out of the blue, regardless of his age, don't panic. While you should bring his symptoms to the attention of your vet, chances are that your pup will feel better in a few days and return to his normal, frisky self.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.

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