What is Canine Vestibular Syndrome

When an owner finds his dog unable to stand, head tilting to one side and disoriented he may assume the dog has had a stroke. But Vestibular Syndrome is more likely.

Despite Stroke Like Symptoms,The Dog’s Health Prognosis May Be Good

When an owner finds his dog unable to stand, head tilting to one side and disoriented he may assume the dog has had a stroke. But Vestibular Syndrome is more likely.

Canine Vestibular Syndrome occurs frequently in older dogs and may affect middle-aged dogs as well. Because the symptoms include a head tilt and/or disorientation, with the dog either walking in circles or unable to stand, it is often assumed to be a canine stroke or other neurological disorder. And, while it is hard for both dog and owner in the early stages, this canine health problem often resolves completely within a few weeks.

Understanding Canine Vestibular Syndrome

Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome is now the preferred name for this canine health problem. The symptoms occur when there is inflammation of the nerves connecting the inner ear and the cerebellum, where balance is controlled. A history of chronic ear infections may increase a dog’s chance of developing canine vestibular syndrome.

Other possible canine health issues that should be considered when a dog has these symptoms include stroke, tumors of the cerebellum, inner ear infection, trauma to the head and meningioencephalitis. An exam by a veterinarian should be the first step in dealing with canine vestibular syndrome. Because this condition is common and usually improves very quickly, the veterinarian may suggest a watch and wait approach, saving expensive diagnostic tests for those cases where there is no improvement in 72 hours.


  • Sudden Loss of Balance: The most common finding
  • Head Tilt and Circling: This commonly occurs when only one side is affected. The dog’s head will tilt in the direction of the affected side. Your canine friend may circle for the same reason.
  • Nystagmus: The official term for steady side-to-side or up and down eye motion. As with the head tilt one or both eyes may be affected.
  • Facial Nerve Problems: This is a symptom which often leads owners to assume a stroke has occurred. Muscle twitching or sagging may be seen

Secondary Issues: Many dogs will have trouble eating and drinking because of the dizziness. Or they may refuse to eat because they are nauseous. They may not have the coordination to eat as normal.

Helping the Geriatric Canine Through Vestibular Syndrome

While it can be heartbreaking to watch a canine companion in the early stages of vestibular syndrome, there are things that can be done to help the dog manage until the symptoms subside.

Hand feeding small amounts of tasty things (baby food, canned food, cat food or ‘human’ treats) may be necessary if the dog is having trouble eating. Soft foods that don’t require lots of chewing will make getting calories into the dog much easier. As the dog recovers elevating food and water dishes so that it isn’t necessary to lower the head will make eating and drinking easier.
Massaging the neck from the head to the shoulders will activate acupressure points that may help the dog regain mental and physical control.

Although Canine Vestibular Syndrome is frightening to the owner when it first occurs, it often resolves within a few weeks and dramatic improvement may occur within days. Helping the dog to cope during the initial phases of the illness is often a matter of assisting with feeding and mobility until those symptoms resolve.

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