A beagle lying down on a deep carpet.
A beagle lying down on a deep carpet. Photography by alex_ugalek/Thinkstock.

Peripheral Vestibular Disease in Dogs: 4 Things to Do About It

Peripheral vestibular disease in dogs affects inner-ear sensory receptor organs and makes your pup dizzy. Here's how to help your dog during an episode.
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He suddenly circles, tilts his head, stumbles, and “plops” onto the floor. Uh-oh looks like our 13-year-old (and still filled with crazy energy) dog, Chuck, is in for a few dizzy and distressing days. Peripheral vestibular disease in dogs has stealthily slid into our home again.

Yes, I said “again.” Chuck is not the first pup in our home to suffer from peripheral vestibular disease in dogs. He is the third of our family’s pooches to meet this sneaky equilibrium-disturbing intruder as teenage years arrived.

So, what is peripheral vestibular disease in dogs?

An older, sick dog lying down.
What is peripheral vestibular disease in dogs? Photography © Lindsay_Helms | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

According to the Vestibular Disorders Association, it is a problem with the inner-ear sensory receptor organs — the peripheral component of an animal’s balance system. These vestibular structures send the brain crucial information about where the body is in space (e.g., moving quickly, standing, leaning, falling).

An effectively functioning vestibular system allows our pets to balance, run, jump, and live action-filled lives. But when a malfunction like peripheral vestibular disease in dogs occurs, acute and frightening symptoms manifest. A dog may experience an extreme head tilt, dizziness, circling and falling, with eyes shifting rapidly and repeatedly. He may be nauseous (with a corresponding lack of appetite and interest in drinking), vomit and have diarrhea.

What causes peripheral vestibular disease in dogs?

Sometimes an inner-ear infection is at fault. Peripheral vestibular disease in dogs has also been linked to medications that can harm inner-ear vestibular receptors. Often, however, especially in older dogs, the cause is of unknown origin — idiopathic. (“Old dog vestibular syndrome” is another term for this type of peripheral vestibular disease in dogs.)

And how can pet parents handle this health problem? I put the question to my trusted veterinarian consultant, Dr. Candice Sebourn, DVM, who practices at Clayton Road Veterinary Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Sebourn, who has treated numerous instances of vestibular disease in dogs, explains, “I understand guardians’ panic when their pet is suddenly disabled by this disease’s surprising symptoms. But it is actually a short-term problem, with most dogs showing noticeable improvement within 72 hours and almost full recovery within two weeks. And there are simple steps you can take to help your pooch while this syndrome resolves.”

Dr. Sebourn then recommended the four top actions to implement when vestibular disease in dogs hits. With these in hand, we are ready to support our old boy, Chuck.


What to do about peripheral vestibular disease in dogs:

1. First, take your pooch to the veterinarian

Your pet’s medical professional will be able to look more closely at the symptoms of peripheral vestibular disease in dogs, provide her opinion about the vestibular problem, and determine if its cause can be readily identified. She can also provide medicine to help support your dog. For dizziness (and resulting nausea and vomiting), Meclizine is a widely prescribed, standard treatment. A newer drug, Cerenia (maropitant citrate) available as an injection (and used with success by Dr. Sebourn on many pet patients), could be an even swifter support. And your vet can prescribe or recommend over-the-counter medication to help reduce your dog’s diarrhea, if that is an issue.

2. Next, keep your dog safe from harm

Limit the possibility of tripping, falling and injury. For us, this means gating staircases in our home so Chuck won’t start a journey up and tumble back down. We are confining Chuck to the kitchen if we have to briefly leave the house and are clearing the floor of items that could trip him. We are using a harness to provide him support when we guide him outside for potty needs and stay next to him so he can lean on our legs as his body drifts. And we also trimmed his nails for increased stability.

3. Help your pooch get comfortable

With peripheral vestibular disease in dogs, your pooch needs supportive bedding, accessible water, meals that are easy to digest and attention. For Chuck, we are bundling up blankets and lining his bed so he can lean his right-tilting head and body on them. When positioned this way, he is able to close his eyes and rest. We moved his water bowl flush against the wall, and placed it on a slightly elevated holder, so he will not have to lean down too far to drink. We changed his food to a bland, easy-to-digest chicken and rice combination, and, in addition to using the raised bowl stand, we are bringing his food to him and holding it so he can reach it easily. And we are spending time with him at floor-level — petting, calming and just being there while his world is topsy-turvy.

4. Monitor your dog

This means keeping track of water drinking, eating and symptoms. Your pet needs to stay hydrated and consume at least a small amount of food. A lack of drinking will require a trip back to the vet for IV fluids. Ongoing diarrhea may force the same. Symptoms of peripheral vestibular disease in dogs should start to lessen in a few days. If they do not, more testing may need to be done, as other diseases can exhibit similar symptoms.

For our Chuck, we are keeping a close eye on his hydration. He remains very interested in drinking water, actually consuming more than usual (a relief). And his food intake is mostly on-track, as he does eat the modified diet (without his typical enthusiasm, but that’s okay).

And now, three days into experiencing peripheral vestibular disease in dogs, we are seeing some progress, with Chuck’s eye movements slowing and his mobility increasing. While he is still right-tilting, he is doing a better job walking down the four stairs to our backyard (with assistance) and shows more vitality and interest in his environment, evidenced by a serious bark today at a trespassing squirrel! We are confident he is over the hump and will soon be back to his energetic self.

A final word on peripheral vestibular disease in dogs

I hope your dog will never be invaded by dizzy canine peripheral vestibular disease. And I truly wish you do not experience it with multiple pooches, as we have. But know if your pet’s world does start spinning, you can handle it! Just take some deep breaths, follow these four recommended steps, and provide support while he successfully battles peripheral vestibular disease in dogs and returns to a much more stationary world.

Thumbnail: Photography by alex_ugalek/Thinkstock.

This piece was originally published in 2016. 

About the author

Chris Corrigan Mendez, M.Ed., PLPC, NCC, is a professional counselor in private practice and the proud guardian of four rescue pooches. She leads a pet illness and loss support group and provides individual counseling to bereaved pet guardians. Chris practices under the supervision of Helen Conway-Jensen, M.A., M.Ed., LPC, NBCCH, LIC #2002021231. Follow the author at ccmcounseling.vpweb.com and facebook.com/ccmcounselingstl.

23 thoughts on “Peripheral Vestibular Disease in Dogs: 4 Things to Do About It”

  1. Our 14 year old lab/Australian shepherd had this six months ago. It was a full two weeks before he started eating real meals. For about a week I would feed him by sticking a fingerfull of canned food down his throat once an hour. I only managed about 300 calories a day when he needs close to 1,000. After two weeks he was eating again though only Half of what he used too. It was a good 6 weeks before we started daily walks again. Three or four months till he got back to a healthy weight. Now six months in we are finally seeing the dog he used to be. Last night he rolled onto his back to sleep for the first time since the illness and his mood and energy are president old dog. There were many times during that two weeks I thought it was time to put him down, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Everything on the internet says the dog will fully recover quickly, but for us it took much much longer. Really glad we waited.

  2. CONERI ANTHONY REDDY

    My dog Snoopy pomerian 14 years suffers from vestibular disease syndrome since August 2019.We took it to vet ,somehow we could make him survive with lot of efforts till now.But,lately,it started constantly yelling ,making sounds (disturbance to neighbours) which we are unable to sleep as well as our Snoopy.I request you kindly suggest me a remedy .

  3. My 65 lb. 14 year old lab chow is on day 2, he eats and drinks but hasn’t pooped since. When should I take him back to the vet for constipation? I did give him about 1/4 cup pure pumpkin to lube things up.

  4. Mt 14 yr old Chow Chow had this on-set this past Friday – took her to the vet Saturday morning – where she still remains = hoping to bring her home today, the rapid eye movement stopped as of yesterday, I did get her to eat roast beef lunch meat yesterday during a visit and she is drinking water, but she is not able to stand on her own at all and she refuses to lay on her left side at all. The vet says steroids and antibiotics are really not effective for idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome – so treating with Cerenia and Meclizine for the nausea and dizziness. Praying for more improvement today.

  5. Our 14 yr old golden retriever just developed this on this past Sunday, July 19. I first noticed the eye movements. Scary how it comes on so quickly. We are going into day 3 today (Wed) and hope for improvement. He still cannot walk without us holding him. We use a big, fabric tummy harness that has 2 handles at the top to put around his belly to help guide. He has been eating 2x a day like normal. Appetite remained the same. Is avoiding drinking though. We use Blue Wilderness canned food as canned has a lot of water so he’s staying hydrated that way. Vet told us as long as he pees once daily he is hydrated. Our poor guy had laryngeal paralysis and had the tie back surgery on June 19 so just recovering from that as well. Please Google it for more info. Common in larger breeds. VERY important to always start your dog out with harnesses NOT collars. Thank you for all entries. Helpful to read everyone’s experiences. Has anyone tried to blindfold them to minimize dizziness and stay with them for comfort? Think I read this somewhere but not sure if a good idea. Thank you, and look forward to responses.

  6. Our nearly 15 year old Golden Retriever had a sudden attack of Vestibular Syndrome last Sunday June 28th. We took him directly to emergency and was put on drugs to help with the side affects. Int he last 7 days he has improved about 60% but our biggest concern is that his lack of interest in food. he seems to eat his favorite fruits OK but we have tried a variety of foods plus we purchased 5 doses of EnTyce from the vet which helped for one day but not a significant improvement. We are getting concerned as he needs his nourishment to sustain himself. He does drinks enough water without hesitation. Anyone have any great suggestions as to how to get him to eat more food?

    1. Try unseasoned chicken breast with cooked rice. Mix 1 cup cooked chicken breast with 1 cup cooked rice. Keep it bland, onions are a definite no no as they are toxic to dogs and can cause renal failure. Nausea is frequent with this condition so bland is better.

  7. Carole elliott

    My yorky has had vestibular 4 times over the last year this time after a car ride. Vet gives steroids usually OK after 1 or 2 days but the first time took nearly a full week. Just keep pet quiet and calm. Try to get fluids down them. My pooch took 3 days to eat the first time he had it. Hope this helps

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience, it’s good to find some information from the the guardian perspective. Really good tips for providing support.

  9. I am about to take a labradoodle pup, he is 9 weeks old and has a head tilt and rapid eye movement. I don’t know if this means he will live for long or if I can treat him, or if it will be a life of suffering for him. Right now he is happy and behaves more or less like his siblings. I’m just wanting to know more about what his chances are of a good life or if it’s a bad sign that he has this so young.

  10. Sorry.. he came down with this on March 16..now March 19… decision day March 13
    so very sad… miss him so much.. he was a rescue stud from a puppy mill.. only had him for 6 months.. an amazing dog..

  11. My 12 year old German shepherd was felled with this on March 9.. we are not March 12 and he really cannot walk at all.. still at the vet. so very sad.. he may never run, catch a ball or really have those walks he loved.. I think about his life and do not want him to suffer. Will have to make a tough decision on Friday

  12. My 9 yr old Scottish terrier woke me up at 3am with this condition and I was scared out of my wits. I thought it was a series of seizures… she was incapacitated for five days and finally started walking on day 6. By day 7 – she was peeing and pooping on her own and walking for several hundred yards. Except for a slight head tilt and needing a little push to get up on the couch and up the stairs – she’s back to herself by day 10. My vet says vestibular disease comes on suddenly and there is no treatment or physical therapy needed post episode. And it’s unlikely for it to return. I’m so happy to see my dog resuming her barking at postman and begging for treats!

    1. Not sure why your vet says that it is unlikely to happen again. My vet says exactly the opposite. That they will most likely have repeated episodes for the rest of their life. Not constantly but hit and miss. For instance, my beagle just had what is her 4th occurrence of idiopathic vestibular syndrome. These occurances have been spread out over a 2+ year period. Most times it comes and goes in about 24 hours this past one lasted all weekend, with her falling over a dozen times in 48 hours. Everything I have read about this condition says that it is rarely just a one time thing with any dog.

    2. My 65 lb. 14 year old lab chow is on day 2, he eats and drinks but hasn’t pooped since. When should I take him back to the vet for constipation? I did give him about 1/4 cup pure pumpkin to lube things up.

  13. My pup Macy has old dog. It’s been 4 weeks and it is very difficult to get her to eat. I’m getting worried about her nutrition. Today I would be happy for her to eat anything. I’ve tried to make things either boiled or mixing things with the steak or ground beef, turkey, chicken. I’m not sure what else to do. Please if you have any ideas let me know.

    1. Hi, My little Chihuahua, Madison has Vestibular Disease. Last Sunday, I woke up at 5 AM to see her whimpering on the floor. I picked her up and her head went straight back, her body contourting, eyes going back and forth and she was screaming like crazy.
      We rushed her to the ER. They brought her out of it.
      The next day we took her to my Vet. She diagnosed her and said she had an ear infection and a ruptured ear drum.
      She is on 2 antibiotic, Dramamine, ear drops, plus she has between stage 2 and 3 kidney disease (Calcitrol, denamarin, standard process renal support and omega 3.
      Also found out she has a heart murmur.
      She has gradually started walking and the dizziness seems to be getting better after 5 days. She will be re-checked tomorrow.
      Any suggestions?

  14. my 18 yo schnauzer had this five days ago, won’t stand up, eat very little and drink water only with my help. vet gave steroid injections and anti nausea injections. she is laying down all day on one side, i pick her up from time to time to stretch a little but she’s so wobbly and fragile. she seems to be in no pain and serene most of the time, i am heartbroken and thinking that i will want to give her my best to help her, if this is something that she won’t be able to overcome, i’m thinking on helping her on giving her a natural dead instead of eutanasia… we’ll see.

    1. This just happened to our 13 year old pug too. She can’t walk or stand. We are heartbroken and don’t know what is the best to do. We are giving her water and food and just loving her. I hope she improves but it’s so hard to watch. How is your dog doing?

      1. Hi I was wondering how your pug is doing? My died 1 moth ago on Jan 23, we are devastated vet said was this syndrome and is nothing we could do to help him we have to take the hard decision to put him down she said his head was to tilt and will be impossible for him to
        Eat or drink he didn’t want to drink or eat at all and he couldn’t walk either also he start like weeks before to trip when he walk I took him to
        Vet and said was arthritis now I am reading they recover I feel horrible my heart is broken we love him so much we ask if we can take him home with treatment vet said nothing we can do please let me know

  15. My 13 yr old doberman just got diagnosed this afternoon. Will not eat or drink right now. Hoping tomorrow be better.

  16. Elizabeth Reed

    My miniature Schnauzer experienced this 4 nights ago. She scared me out of my mind. She was diagnosed at the emergency hospital at 3 am. She has improved so much since then but she hasn’t made a sound since it happened. Is this normal and will she get her bark back?

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