Ask the Vet
Q: My Golden Retriever, “Rosie,” was just diagnosed with Geriatric Vestibular Disease. I’ve had dogs all my life and never heard of this. I thought your readers would be interested to hear more about this disease. W.R., Farragut
A: Absolutely. Geriatric Vestibular Disease is an uncommon but interesting condition, and thankfully has a good prognosis.
As the name implies, this condition generally occurs in older dogs (rarely cats) with the vestibular part of the brain being affected. The vestibular apparatus is located in the middle ear, and it is what allows us to balance and orient ourselves. It allows us to walk on uneven surfaces without falling and lets us know up from down. Dogs with vestibular disease have a head tilt, often quite severe, to one side. Some dogs will walk in circles and occasionally fall, while others have involuntary eye movements called nystagmus. Affected pets often have difficulty with simple tasks: walking or eating, as their balance and spatial orientation is abnormal.
The most common cause is idiopathic, which simply means the cause is unknown. There are no breed or sex predilections, and symptoms typically come on suddenly. Middle or inner ear infections could also cause these symptoms. Stroke or brain lesions are less common, and an MRI can be helpful if those causes are suspected.
There is no specific treatment for Geriatric Vestibular Disease. Occasionally, a pet may have slight residual head tilt, but most resolve completely with time. Most dogs will require medication for nausea, secondary to dizziness (like motion sickness). General nursing care may also be needed, such as hand-feeding or assistance with walking. Affected pets should be restricted to a safe area in the home, away from stairs to prevent falling.
The good news is that most pets will make a full recovery. The long-term prognosis is good. Hopefully, Rosie will continue to improve as well.
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