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Our Scare With "Old Dog" Vestibular Disease


This morning our black lab, pictured above, who is approximately 10-12 years old was stumbling, having trouble walking, and eventually fell down.  Our first fear was that he had suffered a stroke.  He was brought to the vet immediately and THANKFULLY the doctor did not think it was a stroke.  His probable diagnoses is "Old Dog Vestibular Disease".

The following exerpt is taken from

The vestibular system is primarily responsible for keeping the head and body in the correct orientation with respect to gravity.

This system will alert the brain if we are standing, sitting, lying down, falling, spinning in circles, and keeps the body balanced. The vestibular system is comprised of nerves that start in the brain and continue to the inner ear. The sensors in the inner ear are responsible for informing the brain about any movement. Vestibular disease affects the ability of the brain to recognize abnormal body positions and also affects the brain's ability to correct these abnormalities.

Disorders of the vestibular system are divided into central vestibular disease and peripheral vestibular disease.

Central vestibular disease occurs due to an abnormality within the brain. Peripheral vestibular disease occurs due to an abnormality within the nerves of the inner ear.

Most cases of vestibular disease are peripheral and no known cause is determined. These are referred to as idiopathic.

Vestibular disease typically affects older dogs with an average age of 12 to 13 years.

Animal afflicted with vestibular disease become suddenly very dizzy and the symptoms can be very drastic and frightening to the owner.

What to Watch For:

  • Falling
  • Incoordination
  • Head tilt to one side or another
  • Circling
  • Rolling
  • Eyes continually drifting side to side or up and down
  • Stumbling or drunken walking.


    Vestibular disease can affect an animal very suddenly. Due to the signs of head tilt, circling and staggering, many owners feel their pet has had a stroke. Fortunately, strokes are rare in animals.
  •  I wanted to post this information so anyone who reads this doesn't have the terrible scare we had today.  There is a possibility that Shadow's symptoms are of an inner ear infection so he is on antibiotics just in case.  If the vet's diagnoses is correct, Shadow's symptoms should disappear in 5-7 days.  He already seems to be feeling better :) 

    My husband found Shadow in his work parking lot almost 7 years ago.  He was full grown, very skinny, but had been neutered.  After several days of feeding him and seeing him nearly get hit by a car, we decided to take him in.  Shadow has "Separation Anxiety Disorder".  It is clear that he was abused and probably thrown out on the street to fend for himself.  He is my husband's "shadow" and whimpers non stop and  sometimes won't eat if my husband or I aren't around.  He has gotten a little more trusting over the years and likes the very nice doggy day care he stays at when we travel.

    Thanks for visiting and I hope you are all doing well.


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    made a very interesting reading
    thanks for posting


    OMG!!! Poor Shadow!!! :( I hope that's what it is and that he gets better soon.


    This is good to know - my fiance's dog is about 12 and he is out of town a lot these days (he is a musician with a very active career), and I would have panicked if this had happened while he was gone and I had no clue! Well, I would still probably freak out, but at least I would know it might not be as serious as it looks on the surface, and I would be a LOT less stressed as I rushed her to the vet's!


    Great info Michelle. I hope Shadow gets well soon.Our Claudia has a ways to go. She will be two in Aug.


    Oh no, poor Shadow. What a sweetie, I hope the antibiotics do their 'thing' and he feels back to his old self soon. Sammy suffers from separation anxiety too. He cannot bear it if I'm out of the house on errands. It's okay if I'm in another room, because he can still feel I'm around.

    Brenda @ Split Rock Ranch

    Oh my gosh, what a horrible scare! I hope he's back to normal soon. Bless you for taking him in and giving him such a wonderful life after such a rough patch in his life.


    We just had this happen today to our 12 year old lab. After 2 years of seizures, j assumed this was going to be the last trip to the vet. Hoping for a quick recovery too.


    My yellow lab is 14 3/4 years old and suddenly became "punch drunk" , staggering and falling. We are taking her to the vet today, but after reading everything I can on the Vestibular Disease, I am certain this is what she has. She displays all the symptoms with the exception of the nausea.

    Cynthia Jokela

    Hi, Michelle. Our 14 y/o Chow/Retriever mix has been diagnosed with Vestibular Syndrome. She's had 4 incidents in the last six months, the second of which was awful--her motion sickness continued for almost a week. Tonight she had another one and I started Dramamine immediately and she already seems better.

    She vomits when it comes on. Has your dog ever done that? Typically, Cece begins drooling, walks unsteadily, starts vomiting, and then it's on.

    It's very scary when you don't know what you're dealing with--initially, we thought she'd had a stroke, too.

    Mo  Harris

    My lurcher Harry has almost the same symptoms, that came on gradually over 2 days until he collapsed, no head tilt or rapid eye movement he remained alert just couldnt move over the next few days he regained his legs and now after a week he is almost back to normal,he never lost his other faculties,

    Hello! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick
    shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the
    same subjects? Thanks!


    I'm sorry that it's taken me 5 days to reply. Our dog took a few days to recover and is fine now. I apologize that I don't know any other sites that discuss this. My blog is not that popular and a lot of the traffic visits this post. Good luck!

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