This post is very detailed yet clear information source that is dedicated to cover every aspect of the canine vestibular syndrome, or so-called old dog syndrome. We've compiled facts and researched from various sources and prepared an easy to read overview. We hope that this information will help you and your little family member as it is our sincere intention.
If we're talking about dizziness on our website, why wouldn't we discuss dizziness in our little friends. Just like in humans, a dog's ear is divided into 3 parts: outer, middle and inner ear. The vestibular system is present inside the inner ear. It sends out sensory information to the dog's brain that are important for it to maintain its balance and spatial orientation.
Spatial Orientation: our natural ability to maintain our body orientation and/or posture in relation to the surrounding environment (physical space) at rest and during motion. (link)
The vestibular system is also connected to the eyes. That's why disturbance in the vestibular system can lead to abnormalities in eye movement. It is also linked to the muscles that help keep the dog's normal posture.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals: "vestibular disease is a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance."
> It's common in old dogs and less common in younger ones. It can also affect cats regardless of age and is then called Feline vestibular disease.
'Vestibular Disease in Dogs': This name is used because the disease affects the dog's vestibular system.
'Canine idiopathic vestibular disease': "Canine" means relating to dogs. "Idiopathic" means that we don't exactly know what is causing it. This is a subtype of the more general "canine vestibular disease."
' Old dog disease': a more colloquial name that is used because the disease is common in old dogs.
'Old rolling dog syndrome': This name is used because the disease can cause rolling and circling because it affects the dog's movement and balance.
The vestibular system sends information about the dog's position and movement in a message to the brain. The brain needs to be able to interpret the message properly for the dog to "feel" its spatial position or understand that it's moving.
When there's a balance or movement problem, we start to suspect either a lesion in the inner ear - it doesn't send a correct message- or a problem in the brain - it doesn't properly understand the inner ear's message. Put in more scientific terms; vestibular disease can either be a result of a peripheral cause (in the inner ear) or a central cause (in the brain). The peripheral form of the disease is more common than the central form.
Chronic and recurrent inner and middle ear infections are more a common cause in young dogs, while Idiopathic vestibular disease is more common in old dogs.
It's more common in younger dogs. Dogs that have long and heavy ears are more likely to develop ear infections. The most commonly affected breeds are Spaniel breeds and hound breeds.
Not every middle or inner ear infection will cause vestibular disease. In fact, some dogs show no symptoms at all if it's only a minor infection.
It is more common in old dogs, and it can occur in any breed. What's really characteristic about it is that it starts suddenly and improves rapidly on its own even with little or no medical treatment
Idiopathic vestibular disease means that we don't exactly know what is causing the symptoms of the disease. However, it could be a result of a lesion in the inner ear that makes it send wrong messages to your brain. Another possible cause is an immune-mediated disorder.
The condition is present since birth, so if the dog shows the signs and symptoms of vestibular disease before 3 months of age, it is probably due to a congenital cause.
Breeds such as Akita, Beagle, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, English cocker spaniel, Smooth fox terrier and the Tibetan terrier are more likely to develop this condition.
The main symptoms of the disease are:
If only one ear is affected, the dog will tilt its head, circle, show nystagmus only on the same side of the infected ear.
This depends on the underlying cause. The idiopathic vestibular disease lasts a short period that could be only a few days. It usually doesn't exceed 2 weeks in most dogs. However, some dogs will need more time until the head-tilt and loss of coordination fade away.
If the condition is due to an infection in the middle or inner ear or any other cause that makes the inner ear or its nerves inflamed, then the underlying cause needs to be treated to stop the symptoms.
The symptoms of canine vestibular disease can be pretty dramatic and even scary for some owners. This is especially true for older dogs. As the dog ages, the likelihood of developing a cerebrovascular disease increases and stroke is the most common manifestation of that.
If a stroke affects certain parts of the brain like the brainstem or the cerebellum, it can cause the same signs and symptoms of canine vestibular disease. So, it can be hard for the owner to know the difference between them.
However, idiopathic vestibular disease is usually a temporary condition that can resolve on its own while a stroke can be more prominent. The veterinarian can also perform an MRI to diagnose if the dog has a stroke or not.
That's why it's crucial to visit the veterinarian if you notice any of the symptoms we've mentioned because it could be signs of a more life-threatening condition.
The veterinarian can reach a diagnosis of canine vestibular disease using:
If these aren't enough to reach a diagnosis, the veterinarian can also order:
There are a few measures you can take to protect your dog from developing this condition
However, it's common for old dogs to develop Idiopathic vestibular disease and you can't prevent your dog from developing it.
To wrap it up and complete the learning process, check out the video below that describes Vestibular Disease in Dogs: