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Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome

One of the most common causes of acute loss of coordination and head tilt in dogs is called the canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome. This is a pretty scary situation for pet owners because their dogs were fine one moment and in the next, they can barely walk!



What causes this vestibular syndrome? Nobody knows but the silver lining is that the patients can respond within 2 weeks and most recover with just a residual gait disturbance or a small lifelong head tilt. The condition is similar to Vertigo in people. My vestibular patients receive acupuncture and usually recover or have dramatically diminished symptoms within 48 hours.


The concerning part of the Vestibular syndrome is that at first glance it is often indistinguishable from other serious conditions like brain tumors, inner ear deep-seated infections, toxicity in the ear membrane, or Brain stroke. Seeking veterinary care immediately is a must, the veterinarian will test your pet’s nerve system and rule out most of these. There is danger in jumping to conclusions and euthanizing a pet that looks like it is in a lot of distress but in my opinion, it is important to wait at least 48 hours to see if the condition is an underlying progressive issue or just vestibular syndrome. The prognosis is definitively worse for those pets suffering from brain tumors since there is not much that medicine can offer to cure them, just to do palliative “hospice” care and maintain quality of life. Ear medications can cause ototoxicity meaning the ear membrane swells in reaction to the drug and causes pain, loss of hearing ( might be reversed), and the loss of balance and head tilt that characterizes vestibular syndrome.Inner Ear infections or polyps can cause the same symptoms.


Treatment of vestibular syndrome often includes supportive therapy such as intravenous fluids and nourishment. It might also require hospitalization until the pet can eat and walk on its own. If your dog is seriously disoriented or stumbles, it may be given a sedative to help it calm down. Cerenia or other nausea medication can help settle the tummy. Dramamine may be beneficial since it is a or motion sickness drug. Antibiotics may be used in cases suspected of having middle or inner ear infections. A short course of steroids might also be beneficial. The Chinese herbal formula Bu Yang Huan Wu is excellent for the treatment of strokes in humans and I have successfully used it for over a decade in the treatment of vestibular disease in dogs and strokes. Aquapuncture using vitamin B12 in the Acupuncture points TH17 and GB20 are local points to the head and they help to quickly move the Qi or energy.


We have seen several cases of older dogs suffering from this vestibular syndrome and the main thing they had in com We are happy to report all made a 100% recovery!mon was bein geriatric pets and having extremely loving and caring pet parents that quickly intervened once they saw them in distress.

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