Q: My 12-year-old German Shepherd dog suddenly developed a tilted head, has difficulty standing and was initially vomiting. His eyes are "swimming around" in his head. What could be the problem?
A: The most likely diagnosis is Idiopathic Peripheral Vestibular Disease. It is also referred to as Geriatric Vestibular Disease. Even though the dogs are acutely, adversely affected, most of them recover over in one to two weeks. It can be quite alarming to witness, and many clients think they will have to euthanize their pet.
The dog’s eyes often show a nystagmus, which is a rapid involuntary movement of the eyes. The dogs can have difficulty with their balance. A small percentage will have nausea and vomiting. We don't know the cause of this disease, but there are multiple theories. The possibilities include a mini-stroke or immune-mediated disease, but the true cause is still being investigated. There has been no evidence that specific medicines might be a direct cure.
In most cases, supportive care is appropriate to help them adjust and heal over a week or so. This may require initial hospitalization, intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medication and good nursing care. The most important thing to remember is that the vast majority of dogs do completely recover, as the prognosis is excellent.
Paws and Claws Column:
By Dr. Frank Lavac
MS, DVM, VCA
He can be reached at his office at VCA Wilshire Animal Hospital, 310-828-4587.