My dizzy old dog ~ By Jessie, Practice Manager

Meet Ringo (AKA Wonder Dog). He is a 14 year old Australian Cattle Dog, who has traveled the Country, mentored many a rescue pup, and is, in general, made of pure canine awesomeness.

Ringo and his head tilt

One evening a few months back, Ringo was walking down the hallway of our home and seemed to slip on the smooth floor and scramble to regain his footing. He eventually got up, seemed none the worse, and continued on his way. The next day, we were all outside and Ringo was sitting in the sun. I called all the dogs (3 and that’s another blog altogether) to come in the house, and Ringo rose, staggered sharply to his left for about 8 feet and then fell flat on his side and was unable to coordinate his body to rise without falling back over.

Welcome to Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome: sad, frightening, and unpredictable, but usually temporary and manageable.

When we talk about Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome, we can get into some very clinical data such as peripheral or central vestibular syndrome, and other neurological details, but today we are just here to talk about Ringo, and what we experienced as the family who loves him.

Once Ringo fell that afternoon, his symptoms continued to worsen for about 24 hours before he seemed to stabilize. By then he was unable to walk without falling over, was vomiting from the nausea that comes from being dizzy, had refused to eat, and had a fairly significant head tilt to the left. He went through a phase of feeling a little panicked at the loss of balance and would try to fight it by moving swiftly, only to end up falling and flailing helplessly. Even though I have seen quite a few of our canine patients suffer from this syndrome, I wasn’t fully prepared for how disturbing it would be to try and manage my own dog.

Ringo was admitted to our hospital, placed on IV fluids,  nausea medication and also received acupuncture to help with his nausea. Once he was made comfortable, we performed a thorough workup including lab work, ultrasound and an extensive physical exam. When our doctors felt confident the symptoms could be attributed to Old Dog Vestibular Disease, we decided to treat him for dehydration and nausea, keep him safe and prevent him from hurting himself (in other words, no stairs, steep inclines or uneven ground), and support his body while it rested through the syndrome. As a side note, he has always hated to be picked up or carried, but since he has never completely returned to normal (he now has a new normal), he has learned to tolerate being picked up and carried with minimal grumbling.

It is now about 4 months later. Ringo still has a slight head tilt, and his balance never returned to where it was prior to the episode. But he navigates just fine on his own, even on stairs, although he does so carefully and we avoid them when possible. His appetite is good, and in general he has a good quality of life for an old man who can’t hear or see that well.

Over the years I have told owners many times, “I know it looks dramatic, but given a chance, it usually resolves”, just hang in there”. In the future, I’ll offer the same sincere words, along with a personal story about my dizzy old dog.

For more information of this syndrome click HERE

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