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Sometimes it feels like the world is spinning out of control by Dr. Brent Gordon

Old dog vestibular disease is a very common cause of collapse in older dogs. Many owners will describe it as a “stroke-like” event, although this is not technically the case. A vestibular episode in older dogs often occurs very suddenly but then can persist for several hours to several days depending on the individual. It is a change in the inner ear or the nerves leading to the inner ear that results in “vertigo” symptoms.

They will often feel spontaneously off balance or dizzy, similar to an inner ear infection or vertigo in humans. This causes them to fall to one side, sometimes rolling, sometimes flailing to try and right themselves. They may have a significant tilt of the head and eyes that are twitching rapidly. They are always awake and aware of what is going on, but they may lose control of their bladder due to how disorienting the event can be.

Vestibular disease can be easily confused with a seizure or or collapse episode. So don't rely on your own instincts, always get a veterinarian involved! The key factors are that a vestibular dog will always be alert and responsive, although they may feel disoriented. And often they will have the characteristic signs of “feeling dizzy”, which is the fast twitching eyes, rolling to one side, and a head tilting to one side.

Most often the episode has no specific cause and the animals recover with supportive treatments. In rare cases it can be due to an inner ear infection, infarct, tumor or may be severe enough to require hospitalization. Your veterinarian will have to help you determine the testing and treatment plan.

Dogs that have had vestibular disease frequently recover and do not have long term complications.

Dogs that have had vestibular disease frequently recover and do not have long term complications. Sometimes they may have a mild head tilt that persists, but this does not cause them any identifiable discomfort.

There may be things you can do to help them during these episodes. First identify what direction they are rolling or falling towards. Use a blanket or pillow on that side to wedge them in a position where it is harder for them to roll over, this will cause them to feel more stable. If they appear stable and you feel comfortable obtaining some footage of the event that shows off their twitching eyes and head tilt, it may help your veterinarian have better evidence for the type of event that occurred (you only need 30 seconds of footage at most).

Then find a local veterinarian that will be able to see your pet, you may need to consider urgent care or emergency services depending on the time and day. Because these episode are easily confused with other diseases and treatment can be beneficial, it is best to always see a veterinarian and never try to go it alone at home.

Dr. Brent Gordon DVM

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