If you have a senior pet, you probably worry a bit. It is no secret that older animals need extra care. One thing you probably don’t think much about is your pet’s inner ear – but perhaps you should! Old dog disease is a disorder of the inner ear and is a frequently diagnosed condition at Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital

The symptoms of old dog disease can be similar to a stroke or other neurological issue, even to the point that pets are sometimes euthanized due to misdiagnosis. It’s important to be aware of what old dog disease looks like, and what to do about it.

The Basics of Old Dog Disease

Old dog disease, also known as idiopathic vestibular disease, commonly affects older dogs, often coming on quite suddenly. 

Vestibular disease occurs when the vestibular apparatus in the inner ear does not work appropriately. This organ allows us to know where our body is in space, orienting up from down. Without it, it becomes difficult to focus and control the body and can create quite a dizzying effect. Humans who suffer from vertigo have similar symptoms. 

Vestibular disease in pets results in worrying symptoms such as:

  • Ataxia (incoordination walking)
  • Nystagmus (fast back and forth motion of the eyes)
  • Motion sickness/vomiting
  • Difficulty with the nerves of the head and face
  • Holding the head in a tilted position

While there can be underlying causes of vestibular disease such as middle ear infections or brain tumors, in old dog disease the cause is idiopathic, or unknown. The good news is that the symptoms often resolve on their own within a week or so.

What to Do 

If your pet is having symptoms of old dog disease, it is important to make an appointment to see us right away.  We will want to do a physical examination and perhaps some basic blood tests to be sure that nothing else is causing the problem.

If no underlying cause is determined, we will likely decide to give the disease some time to see if it will resolve. In the meantime, however, it is important to:

  • Keep you pet in a safe location where he or she cannot get stuck or fall
  • Help your pet out to use the restroom
  • Help rotate your pet periodically to prevent pressure sores
  • Keep food and water close by 
  • Administer any anti-nausea medications as prescribed
  • Let us know if your pet is not improving

Thankfully, most cases of idiopathic vestibular disease begin to improve within a few days. If things are not improving, further testing may be recommended. 

When it comes to caring for senior pets, it can be a little nerve-wracking. Old dog vestibular disease can be scary, but many times things turn out to be okay. Someday we hope someone will find what triggers these terrifying episodes of inner ear malfunction. Until then, we can be thankful that things aren’t always as bad as they might seem at first!