Our experience with our old senior dog Becca with old dog vestibular disease and what to expect
When our sweet old lab mix woke up vomiting one day, we were confused. Becca always had a voracious appetite and we couldn’t think of anything she could have eaten that could to make her tummy upset. Still, dogs being dogs- we figured it was possible she snuck something we didn’t see and decided to give her a little time in case of a simple upset tummy. But - over the next couple of hours, Becca’s inappetence continued and we noticed that she even looked a little wobbly. We took her into the hospital that afternoon and did a quick scan of her abdomen with our ultrasound. All looked good, so we went ahead and checked bloodwork too and still- nothing significant. Relieved, we gave her some antinausea meds and fluids under her skin and headed home to watch her a little longer. By the next morning, Becca was eating small amounts of canned food but wouldn’t touch her regular dry dog food. Her wobbling had continued and she further seemed to develop a head tilt so it looked at us cockeyed. What in the world was going on with her?
Fast forward: Becca had a bad case of what we call ‘old dog vestibular’ disease in layman’s terms. The easiest way to think about this is a ‘stroke’ in a part of their brain that causes them to be off balance and feel wobbly. Here’s a video of Becca walking and being wobbly.
What does this disease look like?
This disease can present in a lot of different ways. Some owners wake up to a dog that that can’t seem to ‘right itself’ while walking or has eyes that jerk back and forth (called nystagmus). This is a disease of older dogs and in general tends to come on fairly quickly. This dog may fall down on it’s side and seem to flop and be unable to understand where the floor is in relation to it’s body and legs. This is a disease of older dogs. It also needs to be ruled out from a lot of other disease processes: ear infection or inner ear disease, brain tumor, toxin ingestion and more. If you suspect your old dog might have vestibular disease or seems wobbly at all,
What do I do?
This is a disease that is important to go see your vet for. In case you are married to someone who thinks they are a vet but is not, no- you cannot diagnose this at home and yes, they really do need to come in. Your vet will try to differentiate this disease from other look alike diseases. Look alike diseases may need different treatment. Your vet may recommend an ear cytology, bloodwork or more depending upon what your vet finds on your physical exam. In addition, pets with old dog vestibular disease can feel nauseous and get dehydrated easily requiring anti-nausea meds and fluids.
If you have worked with your vet and they suspect old dog vestibular disease in your pet, the good news is this disease tends to improve within 2 weeks. Some may have a residual head tilt or still have a little ‘wobble’ moving forward but overall prognosis is excellent. Typically once they’ve had this disease once, they will not get it again. However, for pets that have not gotten better within 2 weeks, it is important to go back to your vet as it is likely something more serious is going on and additional diagnostics will be needed. Please keep your vet up to date on this and your ongoings at home. Having said this and having 2 older dogs that have been through this, this is a difficult disease to watch your older pet have. They will need your TLC and extra attention at home to help them get around until it wears off. Things we did to help Becca in our home:
1. Move obstacles out of their way
2. Set up their bed and food and water in an area that is near the door to go outside so they do not have to walk far to go out to potty
3. Use area rugs on slippery floor surfaces (make sure these rugs have adequate ‘grip’ to floor and do not slide around)
4. assist your pet going in and out. This can be done by carrying them down stairs if needed or using a towel under their tummy to give them extra support as they get up and down
5. Bring water and food to them if they seem to have difficulty getting to it
6. Set an alarm to remind yourself to get pet up and outside for potty breaks. They may not be able to remind you themselves.
Lastly, if signs worsen or do not improve, please call your vet clinic as additional diagnostics may be needed.
Hi friend! My name is Monica Tarantino and I am a veterinarian and a firm believer that dogs are the most inspiring animal in the world. At Muttsley, we believe in mutts, medicine and the mission of keeping them happy and healthy. We work through our practice of medicine and our blog. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for visiting Muttsley and thank you more for your role and commitment to our lovable canine friends! If you enjoyed this blog then we hope you join other Dog Parents like you and transform from concerned to 'in-the-know' dog parent with our one-of-a-kind vet created courses. Learn more about creating a healthier life for your aging dog, by checking out our free resources and top-rated Longer Living Dog Mini Course for Pet Parents. Your dog will thank you.