My Older Dog is Disoriented, Unbalanced, and Confused – Canine Vestibular Disease

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My older dog Linus was feeling disoriented, unbalanced and confused.
My older dog Linus was feeling disoriented, unbalanced and confused.

Is your older dog suddenly disoriented, unbalanced, and confused?

A good friend of mine gave me a call today to wish me happy birthday. While catching up he told me about his thirteen year old German Shepherd.

Apparently while he was on vacation in Hawaii his German Shepherd became quite ill.

Fortunately, their dog was diagnosed and treated for a disease know as Canine Vestibular Disease also known as Old Dog Vestibular Symptom.

What is Canine Vestibular Disease?

Some commons symptoms of this disease are leaning toward one side, shaking of the head, and walking around in circles.

Vestibular means a problem with the connections between inner/middle ear and brain causing ataxia.

Dogs with ataxia stand with their limbs braced, they walk with difficulty and have a “drunk” type of motion because they have lost their sense of balance.

When the vestibular nerve, which travels from the inner ear to the brain, malfunctions. It disrupts the animal’s sense of balance and orientation.

UPDATE AND RECOMMENDATION: Unfortunately, in his final days Linus was having trouble walking and the vet diagnosed him with vestibular disease. We never had the chance to use them, but two things we thought might help him were these Pawz Dog Booties to help him better grip our concrete floors and the Gingerlead so we could support him when he was trying to walk around.

Read more about Linus in our updates below.

Can My Dog Be Misdiagnosed?

When Linus got older was diagnosed with Old Dog Canine Vestibular Disease
When Linus got older was diagnosed with Old Dog Canine Vestibular Disease

It has been suggested that there is a correlation between old dog vestibular syndrome and hypothyroidism so blood work should be done to rule out this problem.

The ears should be thoroughly examined because the same symptoms can result from a severe ear mite infection. Also certain types of antibiotics such as streptomycin and gentomicin can cause vestibular syndrome.

Please note that a serious inner/middle ear infection—which can occur without the customary smelly ear—has the same severe and frightening symptoms.

Because of the sudden nature of this disease it can often be misdiagnosed as a stroke.

What Should I do?

As in the case of my friend’s dog after a couple weeks the animal learned to compensate for old dog vestibular syndrome and began moving around the house like a normal dog.

Try and keep your dogs feet firmly on the ground and eyes facing the horizon to help the dog gain his/her orientation. This disease is not fatal and recovery just requires patience and tender loving care.

Story about our Lab Border Collie Mix

Back to my story…fortunately for my friend his dog received the proper diagnosis. After rushing back from Hawaii they noticed their dog’s head was cocked to the side, but after two weeks he was back to normal.

Now that I think back to our old family dog, a lab border collie mix, I think that he may have suffered a similar affliction.

We assumed he had a stroke (also the assumption of our vet) and he was disoriented, unbalanced, and confused.

He walked around in circles, but we think this was due to part of his body being partially paralyzed. Hmmm….but then again he did recover in about two weeks…

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Have you ever encountered this situation with your dog? Is your dog currently experiencing being disoriented, unbalanced, and confused?

If so, your dog may have Canine Vestibular Disease. Perhaps your dog is sick with other symptoms…if your dog is gagging and coughing then take a look at my article My Dog’s Got Kennel Cough…Now What?

Fortunately my two dogs are four and two years old so hopefully I won’t have to deal with Canine Vestibular Disease any time soon (if at all). UPDATE: I can’t believe this was originally written when Linus was only 4 years old.

My third dog is 1 years old and is in guide dog training (actually he’s technically not my dog he belongs to the guide dog school).

UPDATE #1: I’m amazed how long I’ve been writing to this blog. My two dogs are now seniors at 11 and 13 years old! I’ve been fortunate that neither has yet to experience canine vestibular disease, but they are slowing down and not walking as gracefully as they once did. As I mentioned earlier the Gingerlead is something that would be very helpful if your dog is experiencing vestibular disease.

UPDATE #2: I’m sad to say that at 13 1/2 years old Linus was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Less than a week later he was diagnosed with canine vestibular disease. And a few short days after that he passed away. I’ll have some more detailed updates when the pain of his loss has lessened.

UPDATE #3: It’s tough reading back through these old blog posts. I hope our experiences help others. I was reading through this post today and started feeling ill thinking about my Linus. I still miss him dearly…

Linus black aussie mix dog walking, disoriented, unbalanced and confused...old dog canine vestibular disease?
When we came home one day our older dog, Linus was disoriented, unbalanced, and confused.

Parts of this information were summarized from http://www.peoriahs.org/vestibular.html

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and would advise that anytime you notice symptoms in your dogs health you should take him to your local veterinarian for treatment.

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282 Comments

  1. I have a beloved Male pug approx 10 years old. He has had two episodes of lose o balance. First episode I had him thoroughly checked by vet, ears cleaned and flushed with medicated solution, blood work which the vet said was perfect. He was back to his normal self in approximately an hour. Same thing happened today 10/23/20 this time I just kept him quiet and he again was back to normal in an hour. Should I do anything further, confused because it clears up in such a short time. Jim

    1. I’m glad your dog got better in a short period of time. You should discuss with your vet to see what should be done if he has another episode.

  2. Our 11 year old German Short hair all of a sudden was looking disoriented. He swaggerd when walking. His stance seems different too. Head down. Shaking, trembling and rapid heart rate. He wouldn’t come down the stairs. Had to carry him down. Saw him staring at one point into a corner. Any thoughts? Thanks

    1. I would take him to the vet. It sounds similar to what my Linus had when he was diagnosed with canine vestibular disease, but you need to get a diagnosis from your vet so your dog can be properly treated.

      1. Thanks Colby. We researched Lyme’s disease. Similar symptoms. Another dog our ours had it. Got better on Antibiotics. But at times Max Walks better. But won’t stand for long. That’s why we thought Lymes. Any experience with that? Thanks, Kristin Maier

          1. Thanks. Max has completely recovered without any intervention! We have no idea what he had but in 2 days he was completely back to normal. !!!!

  3. my 19yr old female pitbull lab mix started stumbling around like she was drunk her eyes where darting and one eye brow twitched with the eye darting she is eating and drinking fine she does get stiff ness in her joints which the vet gives us cbd oil to give to her when her joints stiffen it is also calming gave her a dose and layed in bed withher softly singing to her and petting her till she fell asleep she is doing better but still a little wobbly gets worse the longer she stands it’s been about 2 hrs there are no vets available till morning what do I do

    1. Hopefully your dog is doing better now. We have a 24 hour vet we visit when we have an emergency. You might try doing a search for 24 hour vets in your area.

  4. Hi, just back from the Vet, my Roxy 12 years (Jack Russell) was diagnosed with Vestibular Desease. It happened suddenly she was good and played ball and the next day she started showing signs like keeping her head skew and being disorientated and off balance.
    She received an injection and medication so we will have to see how she will be doing the next few days. Needless to say I was in tears the whole morning and it is hard for me to think that she is not well. I thought I would share my story xx

  5. Thanks for publishing your insights into this. I came here researching a kind of clumsiness in my old street dog. She’s very old, way beyond her expiration date for a large one, and she’s recently lost an eye to a benign tumor. So she has every right to be a bit clumsy. Her recent behavior also reminds me a bit of dementia in humans – a kind of personality change that could be explained by forgetfulness.

    I haven’t found a satisfactory match and am wondering what you mean by:
    “… but they are slowing down and not walking as gracefully as they once did.”

    The odd unexpected rock gets in the way just like an excited jump up the stairs around a corner may result in an entertaining fail. Where does old age end and illness begin?

  6. Well, I thank you for this blog. I just let my dog out for her morning duties moments ago. I usually go back to sitting on the couch and wait for her to scratch lightly at the screen door. But about ten minutes pass, and nothing. I went outside and she wasn’t there! I searched the property but she was gone. I started scanning the street. Then I saw her trying to go into the house next door. Not understanding, I scolded her, but she didn’t acknowledge me, which was odd. So I yelled at her to come home as I walked toward her. She seemed confused. She began walking down the street in the opposite direction of home. She didn’t respond to my calls. In fact, she didn’t even acknowledge hearing me. I had to run to catch her as she was going further down the street now. I caught up to her. I’m confused. Yet and I spank her rear one tap, but she ignores this. Very unusual. I veered her toward the house (she doesn’t get what’s going on, didn’t seem to recognize me, and nips at me each time I veer her back on course) but she continues turning back toward the street. This continues all the way back to the house. Finally, she recognizes a piece of the yard and from there, she retraced her steps back to the house. But once she gets in front of the door, she looks confused again and starts walking backwards. Acting like she didn’t recognize where she’s at. I had to really coax her to get her to come back in.
    As soon as she comes in, she starts stumbling and walking drunk.
    I thought maybe she was having a sugar drop as she has diabetes, so I fed her.
    She stumbled about for about five minutes in total. After she ate, she couldn’t figure a way to get on the couch, so I lifted her up. She’s calm now and resting.
    I immediately turned to Google for answers. Your blog was the third site.
    This all just happened moments ago.
    I thought I’d share all the symptoms because of a symptom not really mentioned in the description of this or other sites, mainly that she didn’t seem to recognize where she was, or me.
    She’s fine now and seems to know where she’s at again and who I am as well.
    Thank you for having a place to share.

  7. My now 14 yr old kelpie cross had her first major vestibular episode 10 weeks ago and a seizure a few weeks later.. came out of the blue following cruciate repair 2 weeks before.. she recovered after intensive care and therapy and yesterday had her second vestibular episode and seemed to improve once steroids were give but today she has had another.. she is very frustrated and confused as to what is happening, unsettled and just trying to cope., no idea how many will come and how this will affect her life.. guess its day by day at the moment.. she is loved more than life itself and I am doing the very best for her that I can.. guess she will tell me when she has had enough.. hoping that day is later rather than sooner.. she is my world. .

    1. im going theough it this very minute .. my English B ulldog Reggie is my whole life for the past 14 years.. Been quieter for few days not wanting to play ball tonight he sits there not moving drooling with color of blood coming out This is the worst. He has always been non stop … 😭😭😭

  8. Hello and thanks for this information. . My dear Westie had a sudden onset of what I believe Vestibular. Although the vet. . (Treated my old dog roughly) . Didn’t think it is. His symptom
    Ms were fast panting, disorientated, I could tell the room was spinning for him the way his eyes we’re rapidly moving left to right. No balance, and finally legs splayed out because he couldn’t stand up.. . After an examination he gave my dog a sedative which helped immensely. At the moment he’s back to normal, it took a few days but I’m pleased to say apart from clinging to me which I don’t mind, he’s eating walking and generally happy…..

    1. my 17 y/o blackmouth cur had it, and the vet checked her eyes and told me that her eyes darting back and forth was another symptom of vestibular disease

      it’s also called “old rolling dog disease” because some dogs get too disoriented to walk and start to roll around (fortunately mine didn’t do that—it was scary enough watching her stumble….and it would be terrifying if she started rolling everywhere)

      1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hadn’t heard the term Old Rolling Dog Disease. I hope your dog is doing better now.

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