Does vestibular disease recur in dogs? Expert Advice

Old dog syndrome treatment not working

Your dog should show marked improvement within 72 hours to a week. If this doesnt happen, they may have been diagnosed incorrectly. Contact the vet or another vet for another evaluation.

Many dogs with vestibular disease, even old ones, go back to their normal selves within a week to a month. But some will permanently have a tilt or act wobbly, particularly when trying to do certain things, or retain a small number of probably not severe symptoms. You should still call the vet to see if they think the dog should be seen again

Vestibular disease in old dogs is episodic

This delicate and sensitive system changes depending on various factors, meaning your dog can be better or worse at different times. Nasal congestion from a cold, allergy, barometric pressure changes, or an infection could make the dog much worse. An infection or cold will require treatment. For allergies, you could try to limit the dogs exposure to the allergen.

This means that if one of these things is occurring and your dog is in dire straits with their vestibular symptoms, know that they dont have to stay that way. If your dog suddenly gets much worse, this could be because one of these things is occurring. You might want to take the dog to the vet to ensure it isnt something that needs particular treatment.

It is likely that your dog may go long lengths of time between episodes and have no symptoms, or they may get dramatically better and have only some lingering symptoms. Depending on the factors involved in the episode, they may not have another one at all.

Causes of vestibular disease in older dogs other than age

Just because your dog is getting on in years doesnt mean that it is the only potential cause of a vestibular problem. They might have been exposed to a toxin or venom, suffered an injury, have developed hypothyroidism, or have an infection. You should take them to a vet and ensure that the vet considers all the viable possibilities.

Vestibular Disease in Dogs. Dr. Dan covers symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

I don’t get to give a lot of good news to my clients. As some of you already know, my veterinary practice deals primarily with end-of-life issues—hospice and in-home euthanasia mostly—not an environment where good news abounds. So, when I see a consultation appointment scheduled for an older dog whose owner is describing a head tilt, difficulty walking and eyes that are “moving funny,” I get really excited.

Why? Because these are symptoms of a condition that looks really, really bad (owners often think their dogs have had strokes), but usually gets better on its own with little or no treatment. Veterinarians don’t know exactly what causes idiopathic vestibular disease (“idiopathic” means arising from an unknown cause, or the pathologist is an idiot, as one of my professors said in veterinary school), but it is very common.

The vestibular system is composed of portions of the brain and ear and is responsible for maintaining our sense of balance. When something goes wrong with the vestibular system, it feels like the world is spinning.

These clinical signs are not unique to idiopathic vestibular disease. Infections, tumors, inflammatory diseases and other conditions can all adversely affect a dog’s vestibular system, so a thorough physical exam is necessary. But when the symptoms seemingly appear out of nowhere in an older dog and then start to improve over the course of a few days to weeks, idiopathic vestibular disease is usually the cause.

When I suspect that one of my patients is suffering from idiopathic vestibular disease, I generally recommend a wait-and-see approach and treat symptomatically. For example, owners need to protect the dog from falls, help him outside to urinate and defecate, and hand feed and water if necessary.

Sometimes I’ll prescribe anti-nausea pet meds. If the dog starts to get better in a few days and is more or less back to normal in a few weeks, additional diagnostic testing is not necessary. If that is not the case (i.e. the dog is not recovering from vestibular disease symptoms), or if the initial physical exam is not fully supportive of idiopathic vestibular disease, blood work, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and other tests may be necessary to reach a definitive diagnosis.

Most dogs with idiopathic vestibular disease recover fully. Others have mild but persistent neurologic deficits (e.g., they have a head tilt or wobble a bit when they shake their heads), but these are rarely serious enough to adversely affect their quality of life. Dogs can have more than one bout of idiopathic vestibular disease as they age, but since the symptoms look familiar to owners, they usually don’t panic the second or third time around.

Idiopathic vestibular disease isn’t always benign. I’ve had a few cases where we’ve had to euthanize because dogs because they have been severely affected and have failed to recover sufficiently, but these are the exception rather than the rule. So, if your dog has been diagnosed with idiopathic vestibular disease, take heart; there is every reason to be optimistic.

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