Idiopathic canine vestibular disease, also called “geriatric vestibular disease” and “old dog disease” can be pretty scary to see in our dogs – the symptoms can be very dramatic and concerning.
Vestibular disease happens in dogs whenever there is a disturbance of the balance centre of the body. This is controlled inside the inner ear, so ear infections can sometimes send our dogs’ balance off-kilter! Injuries, some systemic diseases and some cancers can cause problems with the vestibular system. Occasionally in older dogs, though, we can get all the signs and symptoms of a problem with the balance centre without any apparent cause – this is what we call “idiopathic” vestibular disease.
Idiopathic vestibular disease is more common in older dogs – over the age of 8 years. It occurs acutely – very suddenly. The most common signs are:
- A head tilted to one side
- Rapid flicking movements of the eyes
- Stumbling or loss of balance
- Walking in circles
- Vomiting and nausea
As you can imagine these can be very startling to see and many owners assume the worst when they see their dog displaying these signs. Surprisingly, though, the worst of the signs of idiopathic vestibular disease will resolve completely on their own in 24-48 hours and only supportive treatment is necessary.
It is still worth checking in with your vet if you’re worried about vestibular disease in your dog! As mentioned, there can be some more serious causes of these signs so ensuring there are no underlying problems is important. And we can help by giving supportive medications for nausea and to improve appetite to make your pet more comfortable.