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How to recognize vestibular syndrome in old dogs

If the senior dog suddenly falls over, is no longer sane and can no longer get to his feet without help, you immediately think of you Canine stroke!

But wait!

There is an outwardly very similar disease in old dogs, which is quite harmless and can even heal very quickly: Canine Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome.

Never heard? Then read on!

Das Vestibularorgan

The vestibular organ im Inner ear is part of the sensory system in humans and dogs.

The organ is located next to the cochlea. It consists of tubes filled with lymph (the Bogengängen) and bulges (den Macular organ).

Diagram of the organ of equilibrium in the dog

Different ones measure here specialized sensory cells our relative position and perceive rotational movements or accelerations.

This part of the body helps us to orientate ourselves in three-dimensional space.

The collected information is passed into the brain stem via nerve fibers, where it is processed with data from the cerebellum and the optic nerve. This interaction ensures that we can coordinate our movements.

Signs of vestibular syndrome

If the vestibular organ no longer works properly, this can lead to vertigo and, in the worst case, complete disorientation. Typical signs include all sorts of signs of ataxia, so one impaired coordination of movements:

  • Spinning sensation, vertigo
  • Tilted head
  • Staggering your head back and forth
  • Twist to one side
  • Stagger in a circle or roll on the floor
  • Stumble, fall over and no longer be able to stand
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Refusal to feed
  • Stagger and ‘like walking on ice’
  • Stand in a corner and stare at the wall
  • Rhythmic eye movements (nystagmus), horizontal, vertical or rolling

Some of the cases of such vestibular syndrome can be mild and reminiscent of a drunkard. Mostly, however, one associates the signs with those of a stroke and rashly names the disease as “Canine stroke„.

However, this is highly misleading as there are a number of diseases that can lead to ataxia. True strokes in dogs are theoretically possible, but seem to be rare.

In addition, the term ‘stroke’ suggests a much more unfavorable prognosis for the future than is usually given in reality.

Vestibular Syndrome in the Old Dog

A special form of acute balance disorder is called self-healing equilibrium disease, geriatrisches Vestibularsyndrom or more often than idiopathisches Vestibularsyndrom designated.

Idiopathisch means: cause unknown.

What is special about this condition is that it is especially affects very old dogs.

The symptoms come on suddenly.

There is no previous illness, no early warning signs and no gradual progression. The dog is doing well and suddenly it loses its balance out of nowhere.

Cockapoo is lying and panting

And understandably the owner is horrified and in a panic when the dog suddenly gets into such a pathetic condition and obviously suffers.

But you shouldn’t act too hastily.

How can a geriatric vestibular syndrome be differentiated from other balance disorders?

Other diseases can also lead to more or less severe balance disorders.

A doctoral thesis published in 2017 (Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome in the Old Dog) at the veterinary faculty of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich lists a whole series of differential diagnoses that must first be clarified:

These include problematic changes and inflammations of the inner ear, degenerative nerve diseases, (brain) tumors, infectious diseases, poisoning, metabolic imbalances or drug side effects.

As a rule, however, one would no longer expect a very old four-legged friend to carry out the procedure of extensive exclusion diagnostics.

In case of doubt, only a veterinarian can decide which examinations make sense and how best to help the dog.

Prognosis for Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome

Blessing in disguise: The outlook for geriatric vestibular syndrome is pretty good.

Although the symptoms often get worse at first, this is usually the case survived the worst after the first day. From then on, the condition improves spontaneously, even without any outside help.

When will it get better?

The worst will soon be over!

To 72 hours should you can see a significant improvement. Most dogs are largely symptom-free again after a few days, at the latest after a few weeks.

In the worst case, some dogs may have a slight tilt of the head, but this does not seem to bother the dogs any further.

It is absolutely advisable to ask a veterinarian for his assessment!

Is this also of the opinion that it is just If it is a geriatric vestibular syndrome, it depends on the condition and quality of life of the old dog before the illness, whether you trust yourself and the dog to survive the vertigo together for a few days and hope for spontaneous improvement of the symptoms.

Treatment of Vestibular Syndrome

As I said, the cause of idiopathic vestibular syndrome in old dogs is unclear. So one can only initiate symptomatic therapy.

And that depends logically on the individual symptoms.

With a mild form, you don’t necessarily have to do anything at all.

One should give the dog one quiet, sheltered corner with a well-padded but not too wobbly basket and possibly delimit it spatially and secure from danger. The main thing is that the dog doesn’t get hurt when he gets up and falls.

Greyhound lies on sofa
If the dog is initially so dizzy due to the vestibular syndrome that it does not want to run or eat, it is best to let it rest in consultation with the veterinarian.

The only thing you can do is take care of your dog and him much rest allow.

You have to make sure with small portions that the senior drinks and eats enough despite the nausea. And you may have to support yourself with a harness when doing your little business.

All in all, you should treat him as you would wish if you were, for example, badly drunk or seasick and simply feel sick.

If the symptoms are more severe, the vet can help!

When you feel bad, you understandably don’t want one thing above all: food and drink.

Most dogs pack a few days with little to eat.

The condition of the water supply becomes critical more quickly.

And with the old dog, there is also the problem that you usually have to get one or the other drug into the dog, regardless of the vestibular syndrome.

So if the senior does not want to consume any food or water at all or vomits everything immediately, he may have to be given infusions and anti-nausea medication (antiemetics) for the first few days.

The situation can be just as problematic if the dog’s health is already badly affected.

Arthritic dogs in particular have problems walking anyway.

It often takes long-term revenge if they keep slipping or falling during the acute phase of the vestibular syndrome. You can walk even more unsafe afterwards out of fear. Or they hurt themselves seriously.

And blind or demented dogs are already disoriented before the illness and may even panic if they do not understand their situation.

Here you can talk to the veterinarian about possibilities to adjust the pain therapy or to keep the dog mentally and physically calm in order to prevent him from permanent attempts to get up.

Hold on, it’ll get better!

But even if the dog has completely healed after a few weeks and the worst is forgotten, people who often look after the dog should definitely be informed about the symptoms as a precaution.

It is not uncommon for dogs to have multiple vestibular syndrome outbreaks in their lifetime.

Can you prevent relapse in geriatric vestibular syndrome?

Unfortunately, there isn’t really much that can be done to prevent another outbreak.

However, there are indications of a positive influence of the remedy Karsivan®. This has been tested on dogs for a number of years and is said to have a number of positive effects on the health of the old dog.

Since my oldie gave us a real shock with his first vestibular syndrome, he and the other older dogs have been getting Karsivan from me on a regular basis.

A household doesn’t make statistics, of course, so of course I can’t make any statements about effectiveness. At least I haven’t noticed any negative effects on my dogs, so I’m passing it on.

The remedy is occasionally offered at online pharmacies or even at Amazon, here is a link to the Karsivan 50 mg film-coated tablets.

Karsivan works, among other things, to promote blood circulation. The idea behind an experimental treatment is that a vestibular syndrome may be due to an undersupply of the cells in the inner ear.

The active ingredient contained Propentofyllin Although it is a veterinary medicinal product, it is now also being tested in humans, for example for dementia, acute hearing loss or multiple sclerosis.

To date, there is no evidence of efficacy in relation to geriatric vestibular syndrome in dogs. But it is definitely worth a try.

Of course, I wish that your dog never has to deal with balance problems. But I hope this post helps you to recognize vestibular syndrome as such in the worst-case scenario.


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