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Canine Vestibular Syndrome

Happy New Year! We wish you and your current or future rescues a fantastic 2012!

Last month Petey gave us a bit of a scare. As I was walking through our front door, our eldest son let me know that “Petey was walking funny.” Now, this was a bit of a concern because Petey has a permanent limp, partly from his osteo-arthritis and partly from a bone infection quite a while back. I wasn’t sure what “walking funny” meant given his normal limp.

When I made it all the way through the door, Petey came to greet me as he always does when I come home. My son wasn’t kidding when he said he was “walking funny.” The best way I can describe it is that he was high-stepping with every step, his head was tilted to one side and he seemed to want to tip over. It was as though he didn’t have any sense of balance or perception of where the floor was. So many things ran through my head – did he have a stroke? Did he lose partial eye sight? Did he have an ear infection or something worse? I examined him and he was able to follow my finger so it seemed as though his eyesight was ok. His limbs all seemed to move normally so it didn’t appear to be a stroke.

Being a researcher, I went to my laptop and started the search. There were several posts from people that had a dog with similar symptoms.  After reading through several responses from vets, I started to feel a little better. The diagnosis of “canine vestibular syndrome”, “vestibular disease” and “old dog vestibular syndrome” seemed to come up time and time again. Our vets office had already closed for the evening and based on what I was seeing and reading, I opted to wait until the office opened. With Petey’s very long history, I felt more comfortable waiting for Dr. Slusser.

I called the office in the morning and described his symptoms – the initial thought was – canine vestibular syndrome! He was due for his annual check-up later in the month, so we decided to move it up a and check him out all at once.

I was able to make an appointment for later that week and by the time I took Petey in, he was almost back to “normal”.  I found out that in some dogs, the symptoms are so bad that they can’t even walk, they literally “roll over” to move.  The good thing about canine vestibular syndrome is that it typically resolves itself in approximately two weeks, and once they’ve had it, it usually doesn’t come back. In some cases, the head tilt can remain but it doesn’t seem to bother them.  If the symptoms are severe, your dog may not have an appetite – imagine being sea-sick and trying to eat. If this is the case, anti-nausea medication can be prescribed.  Hopefully your faithful companion won’t encounter this syndrome, it is difficult to watch. If the symptoms ever appear, please contact your vet for a full exam and proper diagnosis.

And now for the happy ending to the story – All of Petey’s labs came back as “normal”. No sign of his immune mediated hemolytic anemia, and his thyroid (T-4) levels are normal as well!


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