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. We are having a very hard time with our 2 year old pit bull his head is tilted to the right and he is falling around like he has no balance also does not want to eat or drink without me feeding it to him the vet said after a very short visual exam that she thought he had marijuana poisoning ???? I’m a little pissed because even after explaining that was not possible she still said that was her diagnosis what do we do it’s been 2 weeks and I hate to see him so sick

    1. See another vet. That is absurd… especially since it’s going on for so long. Please don’t wait…it could be a stroke and perhaps there is medication that will help. Good luck!

  2. To anyone reading this site whose dog is showing these horrific symptoms, I just want to assure you that it GETS BETTER! It was about a year ago that my (then) 13.5 year old cockapoo went through this – twitching eye, head tilt, vomiting, refusing to eat, inability to stand up, etc. – and I honestly thought it was the end for him. After reading the comments on this site I felt a bit better. Brought him to the vet where he received an anti-nausea shot which helped with the vomiting. If you’re going through this, don’t despair, you just have to wait it out. My dog experienced a short bout of it, seemed to get better, then it came back for about a week and a half. He’s been clear since then and I’m proud to say he’s now 14.5 and doing amazingly well! I hope my writing this brings a little bit of comfort to anyone going through it now.

    1. fantastic Lauren!

      Im sitting her in australia searching on google and thanks to all of these mosts am armed with more information and question to ask my vet.

      I have a blind Springer spaniel who lost her hearing quality over the past couple of years.

      Over a year ago I noticed her leaning to the side and scratching at her ear, got ear drops and over time it went away.

      Just the past month or so she has been more disorientated (13 year old) and running into everything inside the house, she normally is so aware (even being blind).

      The past week I have noticed when she goes outside she starts moving in circles to the right and can’t find her way back to the back door to be let in. She has been an inside dog for over 6 years now due to increased anxiety.

      I have been so sad this morning, but after reading these posts, spanning over 4 years you have all given me some hope. I will exhaust all options and would love any input or advice.
      x
      trace

  3. On occasion my two year German shorthaired pointer will be lying down happily chewing his toy and then will begin nursing his paw and acting like he doesn’t know who I am. I had put it down to a cramp of some sort and him not being able to understand what the problem is. Distraction has been the best way to get him out of it, like calling him playfully or getting another chew toy etc etc.
    Ge wakes frequently during the night and looks around the backyard then returns to his bed after investigation.
    Tonight while watching a movie with my partner he was asleep on his bed next to the couch, he was having a general small what we assume is a dream / nightmare and normally we just call his name and he looks up disgruntled and goes back to sleep. It’s usually very cute, like a grumpy little kid 🙂 however tonight he awoke and looked at me like I was a stranger and it took a good fifteen minutes to convince him that I’m ok and his dad.we’ve been outside and played with his ball and now his back asleep. Just the strangest thing. He felt like a stranger for the duration of it but now seems ok.
    Anyone else experienced this or have an answer for why or what causes this?

    Thanks

  4. I let my 10 yr old fila mastiff in this morning and before she came in she did about three circles on the deck, with her head lowered. As she came in she seemed dizzy and disoriented. She dizzily went to her food and ate just fine. After she ate, she seemed okay, but still not right. Some of the above posts mention vomiting and not drinking symptoms, of which she doesn’t have. Other than her being a little slow and ‘off’ … she is no longer wobbly. With her having an appetite, I’m confused about what might be going on. Thanks

    1. I just thought I would add this so hopefully it can help some of you. My dog had more symptoms in Sept., and again in Oct., and long story short, after nearly having to put her to sleep, it turns out that she was slowly being poisoned by heartworm plus medicine. She was so ill this last time that the dr. gave me the choice of putting her down or trying a strong liver medicine . Her blood numbers were off the chart and her urine was brown so dr. diagnosed her with liver cancer. After bringing her home basically to die, little by little after a rough period, she started to improve. After several weeks now, she is seemingly back to normal. She is off the heartworm medicine for good. Please be cautious of what you put in your dog, that is intended to kill fleas, ticks, heartworms… it’s all toxic and almost killed my sweet girl.

      1. i have heard this before Paula, my friends dog was very sick and yes it was a flee/tick treatment called Advantix (or something like that)

        thanks for your advice!

  5. I found out that my boxer Abby dog has this problem and i have been struggling with
    how to help her. I have a wood specialty friend that made me a chair for
    her. It is adjustable to any size dog, a hole for the tail to stick out, a
    whole for a dog food tray which tilts upwards or down. He has custom made
    this just for my Abby dog. mrbrawnwhite@gmail.com His name is brown white and he will make
    them just will have to pay for shipping. He is excellent at what he does,
    he built me this chair in 2 days.

  6. Hi
    My name is Clare, from Devon England.
    Thank you all so much, my 13 year old rescue rottie bitch I have had for 11 years, displayed the signs and symptoms you have all described, I thought she had had a stroke or other serious problem, thankfully I googled something like “old dog keeps falling over” I found this information and it gave me hope, I carried my beloved Ebony into the vets, geriatric vestibular disease was the first thing the vet said.
    She is on anti biotics and steroids, plus an anti sickness injection.
    Great to find such great information, for such a dramatic display…she looked terrible.

    Thanks again

    Clare

    1. Hi Clare,

      I’m glad the information and stories on our site helped you out with Ebony. I hope the antibiotics and steroids plus anti sickness injection are helping Ebony.

      Take care,
      Coby

      1. Hi Coby

        Thank you again, it was really helpful to find so much information on the condition from other people kind enough to offer there experiences and support, without which I would have had a much more stressful week.
        In the last 7days Ebony has improved so much, she is almost back to her old self!
        She is eating and drinking properly,and this morning ran over with great enthusiasm even if it was a little crooked. Also my daughter gave her a treat which she ate happily.

        All the best

        Clare and Ebony

  7. My 1.5 year old, male, miniature schnauzer has some problems. He looks malnourished though he eats plenty. He continually circles to the right and barks for no apparent reason. He still does not respond to his name.

  8. For about an hour every day my black lab will start stumbling and walking into dressers and into my closet and just stands there then it looks like his back legs give out and he struggles to stand and he breathes real heavy and twitches. It looks like its starting to get worse when it happens but an hour later he is completely fine running around I don’t understand what’s going on any thoughts anyone?

    1. John,
      My collie cross Max is showing similar symptoms – not every day, but 2/3 Times per week he goes outside and stumbles around the garden for up to 2 hours looking very confused and his legs look like they’re really struggling. He then lies down outside and won’t come in. We’ve found if we give him metacam straight away he recovers more quickly, but it still takes him awhile to return to normal. Did you find out what the cause was?
      Thanks,
      Lucy

  9. my cairn terrier “peanut” was walking real slow having a hard time getting up she looked drunk
    and hard time coming up the stairs, not drinking. can anyone tell me what might be wrong?

  10. My dog started acting the same way about 30mins ago. She’s 10 years old. I’ve been searching everywhere for answers and i can’t get a hold of a vet right now because it is 1:00am. I’m going to wake up and see if she is still the same and if so I’m going to take her to the vet. Thank you to everyone for leaving such helpful comments. I will let you know how it goes

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