When your dog cannot stand up or walk, it is one of the scariest things to witness.
I have been there. There are some terrifying diseases that can cause such symptoms including:
- immune-mediated conditions
- inflammatory conditions
- vascular conditions
Further information: Drunken Gait/Ataxia in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Stumbling Around?
The most common cause of loss of balance in dogs, though, while it looks just as scary, is relatively benign–vestibular disease. The way an affected dog feels is similar to vertigo on humans.
The affected dogs experience:
- loss of coordination
The symptoms we can observe include:
- loss of coordination or balance
- head tilt
- walking in circles
- rapid side-to-side eye movement
There is more than one potential cause of disruption of the dog’s balance system, but the most common one is benign and self-limiting. It affects especially senior dogs which is why it’s sometimes referred to as old dog vestibular disease.
Further information: Understanding Old Dog Vestibular Disease
Timmy is a senior mixed breed. He used to be an active dog but as he was nearing 12 years of age, he started slowing down. Timmy slowly changed his preference for long, energetic walks, for shorter strolls and hanging out at home. Going for a ride became his favorite activity.
One thing that has not changed is Timmy’s enthusiasm for food. When he hears his meal preparation, you can be assured he’ll be right there.
That morning, Timmy heard his food being prepared and eagerly jumped off the couch to take it off his dad’s hands. Somehow, though, he landed wrong and tumbled over on his left side. He tried to stand up but kept falling over, unable to right himself.
Confused and scared, Timmy tried to get back on the couch but his body was not cooperating. He gave up and laid there, panting heavily. His concerned dad, call their veterinarian.
At the clinic
When Timmy arrived to the veterinary clinic, he still couldn’t stand up and walk without falling over. He kept his head tilted to the left side, and with a closer examination the veterinarian discovered that his eyes were flicking from side to side.
All those are typical signs of a problem with the balance center–vestibular system. In the past, these signs were contributed to a stroke. However, the problem has nothing to do with the brain.
As veterinary medicine and diagnostic tools evolved, they allowed to understand what is going on–an acute onset of inflammation in the middle ear is what causes the symptoms.
The signs can be dramatic and scary but most dogs recover with no further problems.
However, because other diseases including an actual stroke or a brain tumor can cause similar symptoms, it is always essential to see a vet.
A week after his scary episode, Timmy was back to normal. Most dogs can improve after 72 hours. The full recovery can take up to two weeks.
What Is Old Dog Vestibular Disease?