Vertigo in Dogs

Pet Health and Safety  •   Pam Karkow  •   Jan 21, 2016

It was 3:00 in the morning.  She stumbled into our room, ran into the wall, and landed in a pile on her dog bed.  My husband flipped on the lights and we rushed to her side, thinking our 13 year-old golden retriever was having a stroke.  When she had settled down, we loaded her into the back of our minivan and my husband took her to the emergency vet.  My biggest fear was that she would not be coming home.  To our immense relief, the vet diagnosed Summer not with a stroke, but with vertigo.

Summer spent the next two days in the emergency vet.  She was dehydrated, since she was nauseated and didn’t want to drink or eat, so they started an IV to get fluids in her.  When we picked her up after the weekend, they rolled her out to us on a cart, since she was still unable to walk on her own.  We carried her out to go potty and hand fed her for the next week, and slowly, she made a full recovery.

What is vertigo?

If you have experienced vertigo, you know it is not a walk in the park.  Vertigo can make one feel like he/she is swaying or being pulled to one direction.  A friend who had vertigo once told me she was ok as long as her eyes were closed, but as soon as she opened them, the room started spinning and she didn’t know which way was up or down.  So, imagine a dog going through this type of sensation, not understanding what is happening.  It can be very scary!

Fast forward two years, and we knew our beloved pooch was showing similar symptoms of vertigo.  This time we knew what to do, and this case was not as bad as the first one.  Having been through vertigo twice, I’ve picked up a tip or two along the way.  Here are some common signs to alert you that your dog is experiencing vertigo, and a few things you can do to help him/her through it.

Signs and symptoms of vertigo in dogs

  • head tilting to the side (may not appear at first)

  • unsteadiness, possibly falling down

  • circling in one direction (inability to turn the other way)

  • eyes flicking back and forth, especially when lying on back

  • unwillingness to eat or drink (due to nausea)

  • vomiting

What to do if you think your dog has vertigo

If you suspect your dog is experiencing vertigo, it is important to have him/her seen by a vet to rule out other possible diagnoses, such as an ear infection, a tumor, or a cranial mass.  But if your dog suddenly starts turning in circles and refusing to eat, chances are it is a case of vertigo.  And this is a good thing--vertigo usually goes away on its own.  

How to help a dog with vertigo

  • your vet may prescribe you anti-nausea medication 

  • assist your dog when going out - we used a towel under Summer’s hips to hold her as she used the bathroom

  • hand feed and water your dog - we used a syringe to squirt water or chicken broth in Summer’s mouth

  • protect your dog from falls--restrict your dog from going up or down stairs

Understanding a vertigo diagnosis

Vertigo can be a scary thing for a pet owner, but the prognosis is usually good.  My vet told me he has seen young dogs rebound and make full recoveries in a few days.  When older dogs are diagnosed with vertigo (also known as “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease), the recovery period is usually more like 7-10 days.  Some dogs never lose the head tilt, even though their sense of balance has returned.

Let pet insurance help!

The key to managing vertigo is to get a handle on the symptoms.  Eventually, it'll resolve itself.  And if your dog is prone to vertigo, like ours, you'll be ready with your bag of tricks if vertigo strikes. As you can imagine, a stay at the emergency vet clinic can be expensive, which is why pet insurance is a great option for pet owners! Enroll in pet insurance before your pup isn't feeling well so that when an issue arises, you can choose the best treatment without worrying over the cost. Get a quote!

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