Dogs with Geriatric Vestibular Disease have a head tilt, walk in circles, fall to one side, appear disoriented and are reluctant to stand up. Some also have flicking eye movements, known as nystagmus. Many dogs feel nauseous and vomit.
Geriatric Vestibular Disease often develops suddenly and without warning in old, medium to large breeds of dogs. The precise cause is a mystery and there are no known predisposing risks.
The latest thinking is that it is a type of stroke and that the blood supply to the vestibular system is interrupted.
The vestibular system is a complicated structure in the inner ear that perceives the body’s orientation relative to the earth and informs the eyes and limbs how to move accordingly. It allows animals to move on uneven ground without falling, helps them know when they need to right themselves, and allows their eyes to follow moving objects without becoming dizzy. When it fails a dog’s balance is upset and he feels as if he has motion sickness.
Most patients return to normal within a few days but others take weeks. We don’t medicate them unless they are unable to drink on their own or persistently vomit. Intravenous fluids in hospital and medication to settle persistent vomiting support these patients until they can drink on their own.
Most dogs with geriatric vestibular disease are nursed at home. They need a warm, dry, well-padded bed and will temporarily require assistance with toileting.
Despite the initial acute and dramatic presentation, most dogs with geriatric vestibular disease recover completely or accommodate minor balance problems.
Recurrence is possible but uncommon.