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Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

Smokey the German Shephard

Vestibular syndrome is a fairly common problem in older dogs. People often think their pet had a stroke or brain tumor. It can also occur in cats, but is not common in cats.

Vestibular syndrome goes by some other names such as Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, Old Dog Rolling Syndrome or Old dog disease.

The Vestibular system is the part of the body in the inner ear and brain that controls our balance. It tells us up from down, right from left. Central Vestibular Syndrome is due to something in the brain not working correctly (stroke, brain hemmorrage, meningoenchephalitis or tumor). Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome is due to something in the inner ear not working correctly (Polyps, tumors, inner ear infection). Periperal Vestibular syndrome is much more common than Central Vestibular Syndrome. Hypothyroidism can cause peripheral vestibular syndrome. It can be due to medications such as Amikacin, Gentamycin, Neomycin, Tobramycin, or certain diuretics. If a dog has a broken ear drum and ear cleaning products or medications enter the inner ear it can also occur from irritation.

Symptoms of Vestibular Syndrome:

Head tilt

Dizzy, walking like they are drunk

Falling down


Eyes flicking back and forth , up and down or rolling (known as Nystagmus)

Nausea, not wanting to eat


Walking in circles

Stumbling, loss of balance


Leaning on things to prevent falling

The above symptoms usually occur suddenly.

What the Vet will do if they suspect Vestibular Syndrome

A good, thorough physical exam

Check for knuckling of the paws (Conscious Proprioception) and other neurologic problems

Check for Nytagmus (abnormal eye movements)

Check for evidence of an ear infection

Blood work - CBC, Chemistry Panel, SDMA and Thyroid hormone levels


Sometimes more in-depth diagnotics are needed like CT, MRI or CSF tap

Treatment for Vestibular Syndrome

Thyroid hormone supplement if your pet is hypothyroid

Antibiotics/Antifungals if you pet has an ear infection

Treatment for central vestibular syndrome depends on the cause -

If a tumor is suspected surgery or steroids. If meningencephalitis is suspected antibiotics or anti-inflammatories

Treatment for Idiopathic Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome (Idiopathic means we don't know the cause) -

Hospitalization if the case is severe and requires IV fluids

Anti-nausea drugs like Cerenia, Metoclopramide or Meclizine

Keep the animal hydrated with IV fluids or SQ fluids

Cold Laser therapy


Confine to a small safe area such as a crate or small room. Remember they are dizzy and can fall down stairs.

Good nursing care - bring them food and water. Help them eat and drink

Help them go outdoors by using a harness or sling

If they are anxious - calming agents like Zylkene, Essential oils such as Chamomille or Lavender and Flower Essences

Most patients recover from Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome in a couple of weeks, typically showing some improvement in 5-7 days. We have found animals treated with laser therapy and acupuncture recover faster. Some patients will have a life-long residual head tilt.

Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome tends to recur and many patients have multiple "bouts" of it.

Questions? Call us at (630) 859-0471 or Email us at

Judy L. McBeth DVM, CVA

Fox Ridge Veterinary Clinic

Your Pet's Family Doctor - Since 1994

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