Vestibular Disease: Serious Symptoms with a Positive Prognosis

By: Jennifer Evans

“It all started one afternoon where I heard her fall on the floor once or twice. This was odd so I went to check on her and she couldn’t stand up – her legs kept giving out and she looked confused. She vomited a few times mostly bile and was unable to stand on her own.”


One of our Pawsitive Purfection Pet sitting clients recounts this frightening experience describing the onset of Vestibular Disease in her senior dog, Clover. The Vestibular system originates in the inner ear and regulates an animal’s balance and sense of spatial orientation. The disease occurs when something irritates or causes inflammation to the nerves of the inner ear such as an ear infection, over-zealous ear cleaning, head injury, polyps in the ear, hypothyroidism or certain antibiotics (amikacin, gentamicin, neomycin, and tobramycin).


Clover’s owner continues, “I called the vet and brought her in immediately and they administered tests for Vestibular Disease. The main symptom is nystagmus or a horizontal movement of the eyes. She did not have this at first which led our vets to worry she had a deeper issue. We ended up driving to Penn Vet Hospital and she was so sick on the way there we really thought she was going to pass. It was on the way there the nystagmus developed and was actually a welcome sign because we knew she had a less serious issue. She got fluids and cerenia for nausea and we took her home. She had a bad tilt to her head for about a week and walking the first few days was tough. We kept a diaper on her and had to give wet food because she wasn’t interested. She eventually had to get a subcutaneous fluid injection since she went a few days without eating. She ate a McDonalds cheeseburger but we decided that couldn’t be her only food haha. Overall it took about 10 days until she was better. From what the vets told us the nystagmus, dizziness, loss of coordination and vomiting are the symptoms to watch out for. It happens in older dogs and they said it usually happens once and they don’t get it again which is good! Some keep their head tilt permanently as well. Overall it was scary, but since she had recovered, she has been perfectly normal!”


Treatment, as in Clover’s case, often involves IV fluids and other supportive therapies. If there is an ear infection, antibiotics usually resolve the disease. Removal of polyps and management of low thyroid issues also have dramatic results if those problems are the root cause. The symptoms of the disease can be very stressful for a senior dog so holistic cyber vet Dr. Karen Becker recommends certain home remedies such as passionflower, hops, skullcap, valerian, and chamomile that have a calming effect.


Vestibular Disease is often mistaken for more serious conditions such as a stroke, The main symptoms are head tilting, stumbling, falling, and the side to side eye movements known as nystagmus. The good news is, as in the case of Clover, that even senior dogs usually make a complete recovery and the disease will not recur. We wanted to bring attention to this disease to create awareness that despite the serious and dramatic initial symptoms, dogs with Vestibular Disease often make a complete and lasting recovery.