Features May 2008 Issue

Canine Vestibular Disease

“Vestibular disease” can affect any dog; old dogs are more vulnerable.

Aside from some stiffness and a little arthritis, Emma, a 13-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever, had always been a happy, incredibly healthy dog, welcoming each new day with delight and bounding enthusiasm. One evening, though, things changed suddenly and scarily. “I was at a friend’s house when, after laying quietly in the corner, Emma stood up and came into the room stumbling. She was staggering, panting, and totally confused,” says her owner, Ici Schemm. Something was very wrong, and then almost as suddenly, it was over. After a visit to her veterinarian, Schemm learned that Emma suffered a bout of vestibular syndrome, a common condition in geriatric dogs stemming from inflammation in the nerves connecting the inner ear to the cerebellum, the control center for balance and spatial orientation. The duration of these incidents varies; so does the wide array of symptoms, with some dogs having relapses while others do not. Schemm describes the sudden onset as “very scary for Emma and me, too.” Emma, fortunately, has not had another episode or shown any residual signs; she could be a poster dog for the most transient and benign form of vestibular disease. Other cases, however, can be much more serious.

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