Special Needs Dogs – Vestibular Syndrome

Rehoming an older dog with Vestibular disease

    Lucy my collie came as an owner hand in to me in 2005 she was aged 7 she was a wonderful dog very timid to start with but as time went on she really turned into the most wonderful family dog you could have wished for. In 2011 at Christmas time Lucy became unwell I couldn’t put my finger on it to start with she almost appeared drunk all wobbly, circling and not quite with it, A day later and she was falling over unable to walk in a straight line and her eyes almost flicking and her head on one side. We raced her down to the vets fearing she’d had a stroke but as soon as the vet saw her she told me not to worry she said Lucy had a vestibular attack and that in a few weeks Lucy would be right as rain again.

So what is vestibular disease?

    Vestibular disease is the inflammation of the nerve endings connecting to the inner ear and the cerebellum which is the part of the brain that controls balance. It can leave the dog with the following symptoms
      • Flicking eyes where the eyes often flick to one side
      • Loss of balance
      • Circling – going round in a never ending loop
      • Struggling to coordinate the mouth to drink/ eat
      • Sometimes unable to stand
      • A head tilt – the head leant on one side

Treatment and on-going costs

    Once the dog has seen the vets often the treatment from there on is in a supportive capacity to the dog, sometimes an anti-biotic may be given just to check it’s not an ear infection but in most cases it’s just about keeping the dog in a calm, safe, quiet environment . If the dog is struggling to drink then you might need to hand feed for a few days and helping them out to the toilet. In most cases the main symptoms pass in the first few days and your dog will begin to get back to normal.

The Prognosis

    Lots of dogs only ever have one attack in their lives but some have more but they are usually a lot milder, Lucy had 3 attacks and at this stage some of the symptoms tend to stay for longer such as the head tilt which Lucy had all the rest of her life. Once the symptoms pass your dog will begin to be there old self and even if left with a head tilt and a bit wobbly most dogs tend to adapt well to this and carry on.
    If on-going attacks occur then your vet will possibly look for other reasons for the attacks such as further problems in the brain and ear.
    Please don’t be put off adopting a dog who has had a vestibular attack it may be the only one they ever have. The care costs are minimal for vestibular disease and the effects not long lasting. If they do keep a head tilt or other symptoms they will usually adapt well to it Lucy had a fun and active life even with vestibular disease it didn’t slow her down for long and she carried on as a normal happy healthy dog till her passing in October 2012 due to an unrelated illness.
    I would have no worries taking on an older dog with Vestibular disease again.
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