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

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

A good friend of mine gave me a call today to wish me a 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.

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

Fortunately, their dog was diagnosed and treated for a disease known 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.

A 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 year 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 at 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 dog’s health you should take him to your local veterinarian for treatment.

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283 Comments

  1. I have 10 year old Maltese, I took him in last night because he was showing these sign, along with labored birthing. We found out that he was in cardiac arrest,which they were able to treat and that he has heart disease. He is on medication now for the remainder of his years. I thought he wouldn’t be disoriented, acting like he is trying to locate us, and walking in circles to the left once we got home, but he is still doing it. I was thinking he may of had a stroke too and we didn’t catch it with heart issue being the main concern. After reading these post I am feeling b e otter so when I call Monday for his follow ups I can have them check him for this as well.

    I am glad there are sites like this that help put us pet owners at ease.

    Thanks

  2. My dog woke up this morning, very confused. We think he can only see out the left side as he is always ping big circles to move. He is very confused, sleeps all day, we also think he can’t hear.
    Took him to the vet and they believe a brain tumour but how as there were no prior signs. All his bloods came back completely normal.
    Should we look for a second opinion?

  3. I realize that this will probably not be read as the article is so old, but I wish I’d found this sooner. Our dog was an 11 year old black lab/border collie mix. She couldn’t walk, eyes glassy, seemed like she didn’t’ hear us or see us anymore. Peed where she slept (sometimes as she slept). A few tests ruled her “normal” but she did have a urinary tract infection. Two days on amoxicillin and she was no better. She was put to sleep on Oct. 12th, 2017. I now wish I’d seen this as we can’t (including the Dr.) figure out what was wrong with her and knowing this could have been the case, we feel like we were horrible owners.

  4. This morning, I was awaken by our 14 year old shih-poo who was making an awful gurgling sound. I jumped out of bed thinking she wanted to go out. Initially, I put her on the bed to get my glasses on, and noticed she was holding the bed for dear life. All 4-paws were grounded, her body lowered and she fell to her left side. I picked her up and gently put her down on the carpet to walk, but she couldn’t walk. The first thing that came to mind was that she had a stroke in the middle of the night. I carried her out to the back yard where she peed, but her head was still tilted to the left and she was walking in circles… still very grounded, looked dizzy and eyes glazed. Her tail was wagging and she tried to take more steps, but she kept falling over. I carried her back in the house and called the vet, but the earliest appt is at 4:00 pm today. I kept the appt, and she seems to be slowly less dizzy…she vomited clear substance (usually yellow, but not this time), and that seemed to make her feel better.

    It’s 3:00 pm now, and her appt is in an hour. I made a note of everyone’s suggestions (i.e. geriatric vestibular disease, and to request for the possibility of getting anti-nausea meds or steroids, etc).

    Thanks everyone for detailed posts. After reading your comments, it actually calmed me down. I was seriously already in tears when I picked her up this morning, and her head fell into my chest like dead weight…. hoping she will get better within time. I will be willing to do anything to ensure she’s able to eat, drink, and enjoy the rest of her life…. thanks!

  5. Hello, I have, currently my puppy is a 15 year old Australian Terrier. A year and half ago and right before our eyes he went from perfectly “sober” to staggering, stumbling, only walking towards his left. In five minute increments it was getting worse. We have a fabulous relationship with our Vets and we got him in and seen within 1 1/2 hours of the onset of the symptoms. I thought at first, as did the Vets, he was having a stroke. After 24 hours that was ruled out, but he got much worse. They feared he may have a brain tumor if not vestibular disease. After three days he still had not made much progress and was only 2% better by day four. Since they were seeing signs of upward progress, even though slow and small; the Vets felt he didn’t have a tumor and a severe case of vestibular disease. We took our sweet Jaxon home on day five. He couldn’t walk, lift his head, was completely disoriented still. He finally stood on day seven!! He just stood there! Then he sat in the yard with my husband for a while enjoying the afternoon. His little head tilted far off to one side. He finally started wobbly walking on day nine. He lost his hearing in this and can no longer handle even one step (stairs have been gone for a while for him). His head tilt is much improved. He is still somewhat wobbly, but he still loves walks. Vestibular disease comes on quickly. Much care and love is needed to get them back on their paws!

  6. we have a 15 year old Maltese (he used to model our dog clothes) and he is experiencing the same problem. I think we need to REALLY STRESS taking your pet to the doctor/vet when ever there is any kind of problem. We love our dogs – they are our children, we all need to be responsible and get the dog medical attention for these types of issues.

  7. Hi, I’m writing because I’m having a problem with my older dog ,she is 10 years old and keep panting, sneezing, and she’s acting like she’s having a problem walking(moving very slow) and standing, and she will no longer jump on the bed or furniture. first I thought the sneezing was because I just moved and because we’re in a new environment it’s causing her allergies to flare up. but then I started noticing her panting more severely, causing her to breathe more harder. I’m praying it’s nothing serious but I know she’s getting old. So can u give me some pointers on what could be bothering her.

  8. We have a apple head chihuahua who is 12 years old and we believe he is blind. This dog out of all dogs has always been the easiest most laid back dog you would ever want and not a mean bone in his body. But in the past 6 months he has become a biter and a screamer. You would think that we were abusing him. He will walk for hours in a circle till he is exhausted. Now that I have read some things on here I understand more of what is going on with him. He eats and drinks very well. But when he is not walking he is sleeping. Thanks for the information.

  9. hi my diogie and i were going to bed last night and walking into the room he was fine. when we got into the bedroom he became very disoriented, couldn’t quite walk on his own and was running into my nightstand and wall and bed. he then walked to the open space in my room and just started spinning around. that only lasted for about 5 minutes then he jumped up into bed and slept fine all night. ive been keeping an eye on him today and hes not showing any symptoms or any behavior like last night. he scratches his ear all the time and the vet has checked and said he didn’t have mites. could he be suffering from this disease? he turned 7 this spring.please e-mail me with an answer. thank you very much

  10. 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

    1. update…..been to vet twice…tried vivitonin 50 (1 1/2 tablet twice daily) for 2 months….no major improvements…she is happy, eating…drinking etc…still turns in circles at times when outside….i have a specialist appt in april which will cost plant, chiro/osteo/arternative vet but still a vet who is known to get great results…will keep you posted!

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