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Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs


Vestibular Syndrome is one of the conditions I have the most experience of while working with English Springer Spaniels (it is not just springers that suffer). Most of them get it and it’s not unusual for them to experience an episode more than once or twice. It can happen and pass in minutes (rare) or it can spread over 10 days from onset to recovery.

What I wanted to address particularly in this blog post is how to deal with the first onset of the episode. The first symptoms of vestibular syndrome in dogs are without a doubt the most stressful for the inexperienced dog owner but the trauma your dog is experiencing is what you have to consider including:

  • Time to recover
  • Care from you to help with toileting, feeding – can you help them out to the loo physically? I made a strap to help with the weak rear end.
  • Accept that meds may not help, but time will
  • Above all do not rush to have your poor dog put to sleep because vestibular syndrome is not a killer, peoples attitude towards it is!

Vestibular Syndrome Symptoms

  • Walking in a circle, unable to walk straight
  • Loss of balance
  • Eyes flickering from side to side called nystagmus
  • Loss of appetite

How can I prepare?

Vestibular Syndrome can affect your dog in their senior years, in my experience with springers, it’s almost inevitable that they will experience it, I’d say 50%+ chance. What you must remember is you do not have to have them put to sleep!

  • Get a rear end support for your dog, I make them but you can buy them from any dog mobility store.
  • Have some meat in stock that can be had fed, not chicken, a proper complete meal like Pets At Home Wainwrights. This meat can be cut up into squares and be hand fed nicely, dogs like it and it is a complete meal (better for their bowels than just one type of protein)
  • If you need to address incontinence – for male dogs you can get belly wraps and then put incontinence pads in them – for female dogs you can get bitch pants and again use conti pads (incontinence pads can be bought from any food store like Tescos etc)
  • For pooping accidents, feeding as above will help you pick it up as poops should be solid, this is not guaranteed as there may be a disturbance in the bowel habits post vestibular syndrome until they fully recover

I always say ‘always consult a vet’ but do you really want a dog whose world is spinning to be travelling in a car when there’s nothing your vet can do anyway? This is just my opinion and they DO recover. What can kill them is the fact they were already weak (old) or are experiencing other illnesses that don’t make them as resilient to this disease. The only time this happened for me was with a very old girl springer and she was on her third episode.

Video of Buster November 2017

About Recovery

It is not unusual for a dog who has suffered a vestibular episode to be left with a head tilt and possibly a little more unbalanced than normal.

Expect more occurrences once they have had one. If you are aware you can be better prepared and less stressed thus focussing on your dogs’ recovery and not your own inconvenience! I’ve had many a people call me and say, we’ve lost so and so, oh what happened, oh she had a stroke. Too late to advise as they’ve already killed the dog. Just my opinion having dealt with more vestibular cases than I care to count!

Please feel free to add your comments and experience.

3 thoughts on “Vestibular Syndrome in Dogs

  1. My Prince had a vestibular episode for the fiirst time last year at thirteen, he couldn’t even stand up, it was so sudden and frightened me to death. Luckily the vet stayed late to see him and recognised what it was, he has made a good recovery, he has a head tilt and isn’t quite as steady on his back legs but can still do good walks and run about. He is on Vivitonin which is meant to help prevent a second attack or at least make it less severe.

  2. Busters was the worst I’ve seen Wendy, we are on day 5 now and he’s up and about, eating, toileting etc albeit a bit wobbly still.

  3. Good advise and something people should be aware about. I have had two dogs with Geriatric Vestibular, both at the age of 12. The more attacks they have the more it debilitates them, hearing and sight and balance of course. It is likened to a human stroke by people because it has similar characteristics. One of my dogs had two attacks and the other four but over 18 months. They need lots of understanding care, attention and they do recover enough usually to lead a normal life.

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