What is old dog vestibular syndrome?

Hi, I am wondering if you could tell me what would cause a dog to have one eye that has turned red in the white...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Mar 7th 2008


Hi, I am wondering if you could tell me what would
cause a dog to have one eye that has turned red in
the white part of her eye. Her pupils are dilated,
she is falling down stairs and bumping into
things. Her head seems to be cocked to one
side. This is my sister-in-law’s Boxer. I told her it
looks as if she has had a stroke. She is now 9 going on 10.
I feel so bad:-(

Wanda
Leeds, Maine

If the problem developed rapidly, your sister-in-law’s Boxer is most likely suffering from old dog vestibular syndrome. It is an extremely common syndrome. And, fortunately, almost every dog with old dog vestibular syndrome recovers and goes on to lead an essentially normal life.

The syndrome has several characteristics. It occurs in dogs over seven years of age. It occurs rapidly (usually the dog goes to bed feeling fine, and wakes up with the syndrome). It is very scary to watch, because dogs with the syndrome stagger, hold their heads tilted and often can’t walk. They may even vomit or roll around on the floor. But the most important part of the syndrome is this: over the course of several days, the syndrome usually goes away. (In some cases, mild symptoms persist long-term. However, these symptoms usually do not interfere with quality of life.)

Your sister-in-law’s dog definitely needs to see a vet. He will hopefully confirm the diagnosis of old dog vestibular syndrome. There are some other conditions that can cause similar symptoms (ear infections and poisoning are common; brain tumors are rare; strokes and other conditions are exceptionally rare).

If, in fact, old dog vestibular syndrome is causing the symptoms, there is a very good chance that with appropriate nursing care your sister-in-law’s dog will be feeling much better in a week.