- 4.1 First aid for vestibular syndrome
- 4.2 Stay calm and try not to panic
- 4.3 Schedule a visit with your veterinarian
- 4.4 Monitor improvement
- 4.5 Administer essential supplements
- 4.6 Pain control, steroids, and NSAIDs
- 4.7 Detox
- 4.8 Swap a collar for a harness and use the Gentle Leash
- 4.9 Body work
- 4.10 Food
In life, we all like to strive for balance. We talk about a balanced diet, balance between work and pleasure, and exercise and rest.
A good example of balance is also the simple act of standing without falling, or moving in a straight line, and this is what I will focus on today. Your dog’s balance is a result of very complex nerve and muscle coordination that is governed by the vestibular organ of the inner ear, and the cerebellum, which is a small section of the brain located at the rear base of the skull.
The purpose of this article is to give you a complete overview of vestibular syndrome, a condition that frequently affects aging dogs. I will also provide you with natural and holistic treatment options to ensure that your dog can walk without falling and stumbling again.
And if your dog is lucky enough not to be affected by loss of balance, you may want to read on and learn about how to prevent this upsetting condition rather than waiting until it materializes.
My experience is that this syndrome occurs sometime between the ages of 11 and 14 years, but this may vary depending on your dog’s genetics, nutrition, and general health.
PART ONE - HOW TO RECOGNIZE A STROKE FROM VESTIBULAR SYNDROME
The onset of the condition can be very scary for most dog lovers. People usually worry that their dog has had a stroke, and fear the worst. Fortunately a stroke in dogs is much less common than vestibular syndrome, and most dogs recover when they receive appropriate support and care.
How to recognize a stroke from vestibular syndrome:
VESTIBULAR SYNDROME SYMPTOMS
- Horizontal, side-to-side eye flickering movement (nystagmus)
- One-sided head tilt
- Loss of balance and wavering
- Inability to assess the speed of movement
- Loss of appetite because of vertigo
- Peripheral nerve reflexes are usually normal
Stroke Symptoms in Dogs
- Erratic, vertical and diagonal eye movement (as opposed to horizontal movement only)
- Stroke resembles alcohol intoxication
- Peripheral nerve reflexes are often abnormal with loss of muscle strength and paralysis
- The vestibulum is intact and loss of balance is only a result of faulty brain interpretation of the positional signals coming from the inner ear’s vestibulum
A stroke is usually a result of lack of blood flow to a certain portion of the brain. This results in the brain cells in the affected region dying off and loss of brain function. The symptoms vary based on what region of the brain is affected and the size of the affected area. A stroke can be also caused by trauma and hemorrhaging (bruising) of the brain tissue.
What happened to my first dog Skai
When Skai turned 13, he was still a happy, healthy, and boisterous dog enjoying his walks and many adventures. It caught me by surprise when one day, I woke up and found Skai lying on the bathroom floor looking distressed, as if he was pleading for help.
At first, I attempted to help him get up, but he immediately crashed back to the floor, his eyes flickering from side to side. From the professional point of view, I knew Skai showed clear symptoms of vestibular syndrome, however, as a dog lover, “his dad” I was so upset to see him in such a state.
Tears started rolling down my face and I did what my clients commonly do, I thought the worst possible diagnosis despite knowing that a stroke was a much less likely diagnosis.
It took a few weeks for Skai to recover and he did lose some sure-footedness in general, however, he lived three more healthy, happy, and mobile years. He also gave me the gift of understanding not only the medical perspective of this health problem, but also a personal perspective of what my clients and patients go through.
THE ESSENTIALS OF UNDERSTANDING VESTIBULAR SYNDROME
Anatomy of the vestibulum
The organ of balance, the vestibulum, is found within the inner ear, a space that is located and protected by the scull bones adjacent to the ear.
It is composed of three semicircular canals that contain fluid, which moves when your dog’s head moves. The fluid movement “tickles” hair-like receptors that register the fluid movement and signal the position to the brain.
The vestibulum also contains calcium carbonate crystals that float in the inner ear, these register the speed and direction of movement.
What causes vestibular syndrome?
It’s not easy to determine what exactly causes vestibular syndrome, however, because it usually affects senior dogs, aging, inflammation, chronic head and neck injuries, toxin build-up, lowered metabolic efficiency, and sudden head movement are the main causes.
The local causes are related to reduced blood and nerve flow to the ear and neck region, which may be caused by neck trauma, head injury, tightness of the jaw muscles, and sudden head movement.
Skai’s situation was rather unique. It happened right after we were in a restaurant and a person at the next table accidentally dropped a fork on the floor. Naturally, he got spooked and jumped up quickly, and the fast head movement most likely displaced the little calcium carbonate crystals (otoliths) in the vestibular organ, which triggered his condition.
Eventually the brain readjusts to the new otolith position, however it usually takes a few weeks or even months for some dogs to recalibrate.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR DOG HAS VESTIBULAR SYNDROME OR A STROKE?
FIRST AID FOR VESTIBULAR SYNDROME
Stay calm and try not to panic
It’s natural for us to worry about the worst-case scenario, but it is much more likely that your dog has vestibular syndrome.
The way your dog feels is similar to what you perceive when you spin around fast on a carousel. They are dizzy and unable to hold their balance. Here is how you can help your dog with vestibular syndrome:
- Help your dog lie down
- Offer them water
- Do not give any food for 12 to 24 hours to prevent vomiting
- Use homeopathic remedy Cocculus Indicus (in 30 or 200 C potency). In some countries, this potency may be labeled 30 or 200 CH.*
*If the homeopathic pellets are the size of BB gun pellets, give about three. Crush them between two spoons and give one dose every one to two hours for the first three doses, then give one dose twice daily for three to five days. If the pellets are the size of poppy seeds – give about 20 to 30.
Schedule a visit with your veterinarian
Schedule a visit with your veterinarian to get your dog examined and have a blood test and a urine test done to assess their general health.
There are also some tick-borne diseases of dogs and toxoplasmosis that are worth testing for if ticks are present in your area, or your dog has a habit of eating cat poop (the transmission pathway for toxoplasmosis).
You can also request a test for infectious encephalitis, just to be safe.
If you see your vet or an animal neurologist, he or she may suggest an MRI to rule out a stroke, however, it’s much better to give your dog a few days and see if there is any improvement. You can always do an MRI later, it’s better to wait because an MRI can only be done under anesthesia and will put your dog under additional stress.
Usually, dogs start improving noticeably within a week or so, which was what happened in Skai’s case. His blood tests made me very happy as they showed him to be in very good general health, which is quite rare in a 13 year old dog. These results provided me with additional reassurance that he was otherwise healthy.
Administer essential supplements
Skai’s vestibular syndrome was caused by a sudden movement, however, it is important to provide your dog with essential supplements to increase their chances of good and speedy recovery.
The body requires essential nutrients that the body cannot make, and their food is deficient in.
Here is a list of the essential supplements (click on the links to learn more):
Pain control, steroids, and NSAIDs
The use of pain control and corticosteroids in medicine has been on the rise, and side-effects are often ignored or downplayed. Some veterinarians have been trained to believe that these drugs are necessary for the treatment of vestibular syndrome, however I find them unnecessary and contraindicated, as they hinder the body’s ability to recover and thrive in the long-term. Click here for more info.
In addition to providing your dog with essential nutrients, helping the body rid itself of toxins after many years of accumulation is another important step to take.
Detoxing can be done as a part of the treatment protocol for vestibular syndrome, but also as a preventive step every 6 months, which is what I do for my dog.
Swap a collar for a harness and use the Gentle Leash
I mentioned that many cases of vestibular syndrome, or even a stroke, may be the result of a neck or head trauma that is often missed or not acknowledged by a vet.
The vestibular syndrome itself can also cause muscle strain and spasm, if a dog has a head tilt.
Collars, pulling on the leash, and retractable leashes, are also a common cause of injuries.
There are several ways to help the body on the physical level. I suggest you find one of the following: a qualified animal chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherapist, massage therapist or acupuncturist, and see them at least twice the first week and then weekly for the next two to three treatments.
In general I suggest a monthly tune up for any middle-aged or senior dog. This can make a huge difference in your dog’s long-term health, longevity, and also vestibular syndrome prevention.
As your dog ages, their metabolism slows down, and the body becomes less functional, more inflamed, and congested. While this is a common sign of aging, I have observed that a raw or cooked homemade diet with the right supplements increases the life span of different breeds, not just by months, but by years. It is very common to see a dog on a raw diet live into their mid to late teens.
Here is a link to the Healthy Dog Food Recipe Maker, which you can use to create meals for free.
PART FOUR - REHABILITATION AND PROGNOSIS
If your dog has been affected by vestibular syndrome, time is the main ingredient. Most dogs recover within two to three weeks, however, even after that time period you may see the odd stumble and less surefooted movement.
I also see a huge difference in dogs that are nourished well, get the essential supplements, and have their skull, neck, and back regularly adjusted.
There is no need to rush your dog back into doing the same tricks and level of activity as before. Twice daily dog walks and a gradual increase in exercise is the way to go. I suggest you let your dog decide if they want to run, and how much, without pushing them.
The good news is that while the vestibular syndrome looks dramatic, the prognosis is usually good and the condition doesn’t appear to effect lifespan.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM