Vestibular disease in older dogs is scientifically known as geriatric vestibular disease or idiopathic (meaning unknown) vestibular disease. The disease is defined as a disorder that attacks the dog’s balance systems, affecting either the central (within the central nervous system) or peripheral (outside the central nervous system) areas. If the disorder is peripheral in nature, as in most cases, it could be due to conditions that affect the balance center in the inner ear.
Examples of such conditions are ear infections, tumors, congenital defects, and idiopathic reasons. On the other hand, if the vestibular disease is central in nature, it could be due to cancer, inflammatory disease, trauma, and infections.
Signs and symptoms of vestibular disease in older dogs show up when the dog is around twelve years old. Most dog owners panic when they first see the signs of vestibular disease in their old dog, because the signs of the disease are very similar to those in stroke. Here’s a list of the signs and symptoms of old dogs affected with vestibular disease:
Nystagmus (involuntary flicking of the eyes)
Loss of appetite due to nausea
Certain breeds seem to be predisposed to acquiring vestibular disease at some point in their life. Here’s a list of the commonly affected dog breeds:
- Doberman Pinscher
- English Cocker Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Smooth Fox Terrier
- Tibetan Terrier
The cause of vestibular disease in older dogs is unknown. Fortunately, the disease resolves itself in one or two weeks’ time, although the head tilt persists sometimes. Even though the vestibular disease goes away in due time, it’s best to bring your old dog to the vet for a thorough examination. The signs of vestibular disease are very similar to other serious conditions. Only when your beloved pooch is deemed in good health and the signs seemingly appear from nowhere does the vet diagnose the condition as vestibular disease. Screening procedures are composed of a physical exam, neurological exam, blood tests, and radiographs.
Although the disease eventually goes away and most dogs experience a complete recovery, vestibular disease still need to be managed properly in old dogs. Aside from the medical intervention presented by your vet, home management is an equally important form of treatment.
When vestibular disease strikes your old pooch there are a few things you can do to help him through it. Place your dog’s food, water, and other necessities within easy reach so he doesn’t have to walk too much to get to them (walking can make him dizzy). When your dog needs to do his business, support his body during the process to prevent him from falling over. Confine your dog carefully until he recovers and keep a careful eye on him at all times.
Vestibular disease in senior dogs can sometimes become malignant, but this happens rarely. The disease may look scary, but with prompt medical attention, nurturing home care, and a positive outlook, you and your old dog can get through the disease.