Old age ain’t for sissies, and that’s as true for dogs as it is for people. Elderly –and sometimes middle-aged – dogs may develop vestibular syndrome, which also goes by the name “old dog vestibular syndrome.” Another term is “canine idiopathic vestibular syndrome,” with idiopathic meaning “of unknown origin.” Although symptoms of vestibular syndrome are scary, the good news is it’s not a life-threatening condition and most dogs recover fairly well.
The vestibular system, located in the brain and inner ear, maintains the body’s balance and orients it to its position in space. When the vestibular system is out of whack, the affected creature no longer has a sense of where his or her body is positioned. Vestibular syndrome comes on rapidly, which is one reason it’s so frightening to dog owners. A perfectly healthy older canine suddenly develops various neurological issues. Signs of vestibular syndrome include:
- Head tilt
- Difficulty walking or balancing
- Falling over – one side only
- Nystagmus – eyes moving back and forth
- Wide stance
- Other neurological problems
- Loss of appetite – due to nausea from balance problems
- Vomiting – also resulting from nausea.
Some of these symptoms are found in serious diseases, such as strokes, severe infections or brain tumors. That’s why it is always necessary to get a definite diagnosis from your animal care provider.
Severely affected dogs may require sedatives to help them relax, or motion sickness drugs to stop vomiting. If your dog is less afflicted, natural remedies such as lavender essential oil can help them calm down. Rather than place the oil directly on the dog, put drops on the collar or a bandana around the neck. Other natural methods and means to help dogs with vestibular syndrome include:
- Acupuncture – treatment can help a dog suffering from vestibular syndrome. Try to have the first acupuncture session as soon as possible after diagnosis. Some dogs show improvement within a few hours.
- Gentle exercise – inactivity in an old dog only makes his joints stiffer and can delay the recovery process. Your vet will advise you on suitable ways to walk your dog, such as using a special harness to help keep him upright.
- Physical therapy – a veterinary physical therapist can design exercises specifically for your dog and his symptoms.
- Floor mats – invest in some inexpensive floor mats with good grip, and place them around your dog’s bed and other places she likes to rest. The more secure footing provided will help her get up and moving.
If a practitioner is available, you may want to consider reiki, T-touch, or energy healing to help your dog recuperate.
Food and Water
Because your dog feels nauseous, they may not want to eat or drink. It’s easy for a dog with vestibular syndrome to become dehydrated and require intravenous solutions from the vet. One way of getting nourishment and liquids into your pet is by feeding chicken broth with some boiled chicken. It’s gentle on the stomach and a good start to getting your dog eating and drinking again. Make sure your dog always has water available and offer it regularly if reaching the bowl on his own is problematic.
The most natural treatment for vestibular syndrome is tincture of time. Most dogs recover from vestibular syndrome within days or weeks, although a head tile may remain permanently. A second instance of vestibular syndrome is rare, but does occur. If your dog does experience a recurrence, you’re less likely to panic the way you did initially, but it’s still wise to have the vet examine your pet.