Idiopathic or “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease

Idiopathic or “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease ….. didn’t know there was a name associated with the symptoms of some scotties (and other breeds) I’ve recently been reading about.

In fact, I think one of the scotties I sold to a very good friends 13+ years ago, may have suffered from this. He had similar symptoms, but the vets he attended could not put a name to it ….. so here’s what it is:

Symptoms can look like your canine companion has had a ‘stroke’ : walking like a drunken sailor and with head tilted to one side. If not diagnosed correctly, and the assumption is your dog is suffering from a brain tumour ….. who knows what your vet will suggest.

So, we’ve found a couple of articles on Idopathic Vestibular Disease, just in case it’s something you come across, or a friend mentions it. So what is it?

Idiopathic (meaning unknown cause) vestibular disease is a syndrome that looks very bad, but can get better on its own with little or no treatment!

The vestibular system is those parts of the brain and ear responsible for maintaining a sense of balance. When something goes wrong, like in humans, when our inner ear is disrupted for whatever reason, we do experience a loss of balance. For our beloved canine companions, they may display some of the following symptoms:

  • Head tilt (as mentioned above)
  • Unsteady gait, loss of balance or falling over
  • Circling in one direction
  • Sideways rapid eye movement
  • Sudden vomiting

Yes I hear some of you shout out loud, some of these symptoms may well be displayed with the more serious illnesses like the brain tumour or an inner ear infection, or sudden bleeds into the brain.

However, if these symptoms “appear out of nowhere in your older dog” it will still be advisable for a visit to your vet, but in this instance, you can go armed with the small amount of knowledge of this particular “disease”. It will be something that you can discuss in greater detail with your vet, after he’s carried out a thorough examination of your dog : checking the ear canals to determine if it is just an infection, bloodwork, blood pressure check and discussing with you what you think has changed in your dogs life before you saw this sudden change in your dog.

Some vets, if they are unable to immediately rule out a more serious illness may well adopt a ‘wait and see approach’. If it is simply idiopathic vestibular disease, gradual improvement may well be seen within 72 hours. However, if there is no improvement or symptoms worsen, then you will need to revisit your vet.

It should be noted that idiopathic vestibular disease is not a painful condition, so providing the quality of your dogs life is not immediately impaired, waiting for a short time may see some improvement : idiopathic vestibular disease is the most common form of vestibular disease in dogs so there may just be hope around the corner.

For further reading you can visit:

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