You are here:

Ask the Veterinarian/Vestibular Syndrome in dog?



I need some advice.  My dog is a Lab mix, 13 years old, and up until this past Sunday has been in relatively good health.  Except for about the past year she has developed some issues with her hips.  She stumbles at times and acts as if she is uncoordinated, weak, or possibly even arthritic, but only in her back legs. Another symptom she was showing is frequently shaking her head and scratching her ears.  She also would snore when she sleeps.  On Sunday all this changed.  

She was walking across the floor and suddenly lost her balance and fell over on her right side.  She started 'peddling' or swimming and having a seizure.  Since then she has been acting spaced out.  She is able to walk now but still acts weak and not very energetic.  But the most remarkable thing is that she no longer scratches at her ears or shakes her head.  Also she no longer snores. ?   I took her to see a Vet yesterday and they ran extensive tests, and concluded she may have Vestibular Syndrome.  They did the test on her back legs where they stood her up and bent her feet backwards to see if she would correct them.  She did not.  This is when the Vet concluded it was the correct diagnosis.  

In your opinion, if she had a growth in her brain could this have caused her to shake her head and scratch at her ears, or snore?  Also, after her seizure, could the reason she no longer has these symptoms be that she has brain damage?  The Vet gave me antibiotics and steroids to treat her symptoms but I am reluctant to give them to her.  Do you think these will be of any help?  I am very worried and feel helpless.  What are your thoughts on her condition?   

Thank you.

ANSWER: Dear Gary,
The symptoms are suggestive of advancing Vestibular disease. But these clinical signs are unfortunately not unique, or diagnostic for, idiopathic vestibular disease and other things can cause this same presentation. These can include a brain tumor, an inner ear infection, inflammatory disease or sudden bleeds into the brain etc. But with that being said, when the symptoms seemingly appear out of nowhere in an older dog, it is recommended for a  wait-and-see approach. Treating symptomatically and supportively, as there is a good chance of improvement. No vet can offer any other treatment than symptomatic therapy in these situations,that's for sure.
I think your vet suspects inner ear infection since he prescribed  antibiotics, as inner ear disease is one of the possible causes of vestibular signs.
I  cannot go any furthur since the diagnosis of such conditions are very challenging and I would request you to abide  by the therapy suggested by your vet who has physically examined you pet.

Wish you all the best in this regard.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you, Anand, for the fast response.  I wanted to send a followup to tell you what I should have mentioned in my original letter.  The Vet did check my dog's ears and she said they were clear.  If there was an infection or inflammation I agree that antibiotics or steroids would be the drugs of choice.  I was just wondering if giving those drugs to address something unknown is prudent?  I am taking a wait-and-see approach, as you mentioned, and hoping for an improvement of her symptoms.  Thanks, again, for your help.  


Dear Gary,
I want to make it clear that your vet is suspecting inner ear disease. From external examination , one can only find out otitis externa or media( ie inflammation/infection or External ear canal or the Middle ear,and not the inner ear).

So let's hope for the best.



Ask the Veterinarian

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dr S Bindu Anand


Large and Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, Farm Management,Preventive medicine


A Senior Veterinary Surgeon with more than 25 years’ experience in the field of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry. Mixed animal Practice that will utilize my skills in medicine and surgery, public health, client relations, and developing relationships within the community, such as humane society

Veterinary Consultant with Department of Animal Resources,Ministry of Environment,State of Qatar (Present). Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Kerala, India. Oakland's Park, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Severnside Veterinary Center, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Saud Bahwan Group, Sultanate of Oman. Trivandrum Regional Co-operative Milk Producers Union,Kerala,India.

BVSc & AH (Bachelor of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry) 1990. College of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, Thrissur, Kerala, India under Kerala Agricultural University. Certificates Of Accomplishments- Equine Nutrition- University of Edinburgh Principles of Public Health-University of California, Irvine. AIDS- Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. General Environmental Health – EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Food Protection-EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Zoonoses:University of Minnesota-School of Public Health online. Food Safety:University of Minnesota-School of Public Health online. Occupational Safety and Health-EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Rabies Educator Certified -Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Animal Handler & Vaccinator Educator Certified -Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Wildlife Conservation-United for Wildlife. Health Promotion & Disease Prevention-Boston University School of Public Health. Bioterrorism, Bioterrorism Preparedness-EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Good Clinical Practice-London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

©2017 All rights reserved.