Old age vestibulitis is a syndrome where the dog is suddenly afflicted with a balance problem. Vestibulitis is seen in the older dog. They are usually staggering, or walking like they are drunk. Occasionally, they are unable to stand, or more rarely, actually rolling over and over-which can be very frightening for you to watch.
Usually, there is tilting of the head to one side and nystagmus, a rhythmic flicking movement of the eyes. Nausea and vomiting may also be present. Contrary to what most people assume, this is not due to a stroke. It is thought to be due to an abnormal flow of fluid in the semi-circular canals of the inner ear. Often the owners find it necessary to hand feed and even raise the water bowl to the mouth as their lack of balance just won’t let them find the food or water.
Although the symptoms are alarming and often incapacitating to the dog, the prognosis for recovery is good. Improvement of clinical signs usually starts within 48-72 hours and most patients are normal within two to three weeks-even with no treatment. A mild head tilt may persist. You should still bring your pet in for an examination, however, because the symptoms can also be caused by ear infections, foreign bodies in the ear, or tumors.