Canine Vestibular Disease Can Look Like A Stroke, But Is Something Else Entirely

Written by: Greyceli Marin

January 27, 2016

Time is inevitable, and when your dog enters the age of the senior citizen you know to expect some changes. Idiopathic Vestibular Disease is commonly seen amongst elderly dogs, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome.

Symptoms can include head tilting, sudden loss of balance, disorientation, rapid eye movement and sometimes vomiting. The signs are startling, and can be easily confused for a stroke, but all Vestibular Disease really is, is a non-progressive disturbance of balance.

Why does it happen in the first place?

Vestibular Disease is a result of damage to the Vestibular System, which is responsible for maintaining the dog’s normal sense of balance. This system has components in the brain and the inner and middle ear.


According to Jared B. Galle, DVM, Vestibular Disease can stem from problems in either the dog’s peripheral or central vestibular system. If damage is done to the peripheral system in the form of ear infections, lesions, injury, or even tumors, clinical signs of Vestibular Disease are seen. Likewise, trauma to the central vestibular system (namely the vestibular systems of the brainstem or cerebellum) will also produce symptoms.

The Old Dog Syndrome is peripheral, meaning that the receptor organs in the inner ear are affected. The actual cause is unknown, but rest assured, the first 72 hours are the most debilitating. After that, dogs usually recover within 2-4 weeks, with a head tilt sometimes being the last symptom to go.

How bad is it?

The severity of the disease depends solely on its origin. Since the symptoms are similar amongst all types of Vestibular Diseases, the underlying cause must be identified and treated before a recovery time can be estimated.

Below is Casey on her fourth day with Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. According to pocochoir at YouTube, who posted the video, her symptoms resolved themselves without the help of any medication, only TLC.

In an article from The Bark, Shea Cox, DVM, recommends taking your pup to the vet for diagnosis, then applying the “wait-and-see” approach. She says if the signs subside within 72 hours, there’s no need for any further testing. If not, however, the source is likely something much more serious, and then an MRI is recommended.

Should I be worried?

Dr. Shea Cox stresses that Vestibular Disease is not painful. She encourages pet owners to be cautiously optimistic, as there is a very good chance that improvement will be seen. Nausea medication is often prescribed to help with the motion sickness.


It’s imperative that you check with your vet at the first sight of symptoms in order to identify the source of the problem. And always remember, with every passing year, hug your dog just a little tighter (but always gently).

Featured image via Alexey Matveichev/ Flickr

Sources: MVMA (“Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Top Ten Things You Should Know About Vestibular Disease“), VCA Animal Hospitals, The Bark

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Written by: Greyceli Marin

January 27, 2016

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