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Neurology & Neurosurgery FAQs

Geriatric vestibular syndrome in dogs

What is a geriatric vestibular syndrome?

Geriatric vestibular syndrome, or idiopathic vestibular syndrome, is a common neurological disorder of elderly (8 years plus) dogs, causing a sudden disruption of the animal’s balance. The disorder arises from an abnormal function of the peripheral portion of the dog’s balance system which consists of the inner ear and the peripheral vestibular nerve. The animal’s brain in these cases is not affected. This is a benign condition of unknown origin.

What are the clinical signs?

Clinical signs vary from mild to very severe. Typically, the dog exhibits head tilt, spontaneous movement of the eyes (nystagmus), circling to one side and balance problems while walking. Animals tend to drift and fall towards one side of their body. In more severe cases, the dogs are not able to stand up or they can constantly roll to one side. Dogs can also show nausea and/or vomiting.

How is geriatric vestibular syndrome diagnosed?

Geriatric vestibular syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion. First, the neurologist performs a neurological examination to confirm that the neurological localisation fits with the suspected diagnosis. Secondly, all necessary blood tests and blood pressure measurements are performed to exclude potential causes for the balance problems. Thirdly, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examinations may be performed to rule out possible brain diseases that could cause very similar neurological signs. In case of geriatric vestibular disease all diagnostic investigations show normal results.

Can geriatric vestibular syndrome be treated?

Geriatric vestibular syndrome is managed with supportive treatment, which includes hospitalisation for few days if the animal is not able to walk, supportive therapy with intravenous fluids, medication against vomiting and walks with support.

Quality of life and prognosis?

Geriatric vestibular syndrome has a good prognosis. Dogs usually spontaneously recover from this balance disorder within a few days. However, full recovery might sometimes take a few weeks. Sometimes mild neurological deficits (such as mild head tilt) might remain for the lifetime, but they do not interfere with the dog’s quality of life.