During one month last year at least two people contacted me regarding strange
symptoms their goldens were exhibiting.
In both cases, the owners thought their dog might have had a stroke—the dog was leaning
toward one side, shaking it’s head, etc. Again in both cases it turned out to be Canine Vestibular Disease—also known as “old dog vestibular syndrome.”
Vestibular means a problem with the connections between inner/middle ear and brain causing ataxia. Dogs with ataxia stand with their limbs braced, they walk with difficulty and have a “drunk” type of motion because they have lost their sense of balance. When the vestibular nerve, which travels from the inner ear to the brain, malfunctions. It disrupts the animal’s sense of balance and orientation.
It is important to find out where the vestibular abnormality is located. The disturbance can be peripheral, meaning it is located outside the brain, or central, located inside the brain. The distinction between the two is subtle and is best diagnosed by a veterinary neurologist. The peripheral disturbance is the most common and least serious.
It has been suggested that there is a correlation between old dog vestibular syndrome and hypothyroidism so blood work should be done to rule out this problem.
The ears should be thoroughly examined because the same symptoms can result from a severe ear mite infection. Also certain types of antibiotics such as streptomycin and gentomicin can cause vestibular syndrome.
This syndrome is not a life threatening condition, nor should it even be called old dog vestibular syndrome because young dogs have also contracted it. However, in most cases old dogs are seen by veterinarians with this condition more often.
Time is a major factor in old dog vestibular syndrome. Recovery time depends on the afflicted dog. Eventually the animal teaches itself to compensate and overcome old dog vestibular. Rest and quiet are required during this recovery time, and it’s important to keep the dog in a well lighted room. If possible, avoid carrying the dog, or, if this is unavoidable, lift the dog slowly and smoothly and hold the pads of it’s feet while airborne. Lifting and moving it through the air disrupts the dog’s sense of orientation. Keeping the dog’s feet firmly on the ground with it’s eyes on the horizon helps regain it’s balance. This condition is sometimes misdiagnosed and dogs who could have recovered have been
euthanized because the condition appears so severe. It is important to note that there are no warning signs, which may lead to the conclusion that it is a stroke. Fortunately most dogs will be spared this affliction. However, if your dog does contract this disease, it is comforting to know that it is not fatal and recovery is merely a matter of patience and tender loving care. Please note that a serious inner/middle ear infection—which can occur without the customary smelly ear—has the same severe and frightening symptoms. An infection can usually be cured with antibiotics and the dogs have a complete recovery. As always, check with your vet.
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