Sunday, July 1, 2018

Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Roxy in her favorite spot
Roxy gave us a big scare several months back. She was restless and appeared queasy. She wouldn't lay down and couldn't stand straight. She kept walking in circles and occasionally fell down. Scariest of all, her eyes were jumping back and forth. This went on for about 30 minutes. Then the episode passed as suddenly as it came on.

Hubby and I weren't sure if she was having a stroke or if she had a brain tumor. It was 9:00 at night and we were at a loss. We called her favorite person in the whole world (Son #2) and asked him to come spend some time with Roxy. We were up well past midnight just loving on her. I really thought that was our last night with the old girl.

I called the vet's office as soon as it opened Saturday morning. I told the tech that Roxy was a 13ish year old German shepherd and described the symptoms. She said "Oh, sounds like vestibular. Come on in." She didn't sound nearly as worried as I felt.

The vet gave Roxy a thorough once-over. The official diagnosis was idiopathic vestibular disease -- the best possible option under these circumstances.
Roxy left with a bottle of ear drops, steroids (for other old dog issues), shorter toenails and a belly full of cookies. The vet said she looked great for an old girl. (Yea!) We were warned that Roxy could have another episode. Should this happen, we were instructed to keep her comfortable, try to prevent her from hurting herself and give her anti-nausea medicine (i.e. Dramamine) if she looked queasy. However, there was no need to worry.

Idiopathic vestibular disease -- sometimes called "old dog disease" or "old rolling dog syndrome" -- is actually a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance. Vestibular disease is diagnosed after a complete physical examination and other possibilities, like a stroke or ear infection, are ruled out. 

It's called idiopathic because no one can really identify why this happens. As the AKAs imply, it's usually seen in older dogs. It's also more common in large dogs. And if you believe the internet, German shepherds are often affected, though no breed or size of dog is immune to it.

Roxy has had a couple minor episodes since that night, however she seems normal (at least as normal as a 13+ GSD can be.) Oddly enough, I have two friends whose dogs were diagnosed with vestibular disease about the same time as Roxy. Their dogs are worse off than mine. One (an 11 year old German shepherd) has a permanent head tilt now and the other (a 17 year old terrier mix) has lost his appetite.

Vestibular disease is scary and I'm still learning about it. Has anybody else experienced this? Please share! -- K