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Dog Vestibular Disease: What To Do If Your Pet Has A Head Tilt

By Dr. Andrew Jones

If your older dog has a sudden loss of balance, he may have a condition called vestibular disease. In this article I will go over the most common signs of dog vestibular disease, and the likely causes. Then I will cover the top 5 remedies that you can do to heal your dog’s vestibular disease at home.

The signs of vestibular disease all relate to loss of balance: stumbling and staggering, a head tilt to one side, an involuntary flickering of the eyes from side to side, circling, falling to one side, and possible droopy eye lids. In people you can liken this to Vertigo – you may lose your balance with a serious ear infection or head cold.

The Vestibular area of your pet is what controls balance. It allows your pet to walk without falling, sends the signals to allow your pet’s limbs and eyes to move correctly. The causes vary – it can be idiopathic (no known cause, only inflammation of the vestibular apparatus), it can be caused by a tumor, an inner ear infection, or an emboli (clot). Idiopathic or Geriatric Vestibular Disease is the most common cause.

If you have an older dog or cat which gets a sudden onset of Vestibular signs, then your pet most likely has Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. This condition will improve in 3 days, and likely fully resolve in 7-14 days. While the inflammation resolves, ensure that your pet is eating and drinking. It is a good idea to have a Veterinary exam. Your vet can rule out an ear infection, and discuss additional diagnostics.

Many dogs with vestibular disease lose their appetite, and can stop drinking. While the disease resolves, you need to support your dog ensuring they keep eating and stay hydrated. For water you can use a needle-less syringe or a Turkey baster. Insert the tip into the center of your pet’s mouth. Tilt his head back, hold his mouth closed and squirt in the fluid. If your dog is not eating, you can stimulate their appetite by warming the food, or force feeding a high calorie liquid nutrition such as ‘Hills Prescription Diet a/d’ or ‘Eukanuba Maximum-Calorie’.

A homeopathic remedy called Rhus Tox may be helpful in this condition. It is useful in geriatric conditions such as skin rashes, arthritis, and in vertigo too. Dose: 30C every 8 hours.

Herbs are often used in brain disorders, and the most important one in Vestibular disorders is called Gingko Bilboa is used for a variety of brain disorders, and may be beneficial here. It increases blood flow to the brain so may help in vestibular disease. The Ginkgo dose is 25 mg per 20 lbs twice daily.

There is a lesser known supplement called Vertigoheel which can also be used. It is useful for senior citizens with vestibular signs. It can be very helpful and has evidence in humans. A typical dog dose is 10 mg twice daily.

You should now have a good understanding of vestibular disease in dogs, and more importantly that it is usually a disease that resolves on its own. Don’t do anything sudden or rash, and give your dog time to heal himself. Consider supportive care, along with some of the holistic remedies such as Rhus Tox and Ginkgo Bilboa.

Heal Your Pet At Home!

Best Wishes,

Dr Andrew Jones, DVM


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Topics: Dog Care, Dog Health, Pet Care, Pet health | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Dog Vestibular Disease: What To Do If Your Pet Has A Head Tilt”

  1. Avatar CJ Jennings Says:
    October 5th, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Hi Dr. Jones:
    In regard to the Vestibular Disease. We have a 12 year old Siamese cat who seems to be affected by this. It came on suddenly, and we also immediately thought that “Silk” had a stroke. We rushed him to the Vet who said that she thought that he had an ear infection and NOT a stroke. She prescribed an ear wash. She also prescribed something called PBT Powder that was added to his food, (1/8 to 1/2 tsp. twice per day), to control his loose stools. He still has a tilt to his head but his balance has improved quite a bit. But he still is not quite himself and it’s been almost a year. Are your recommendations the same for cats as for dogs?

    Thank you,


  2. Avatar Karen W Says:
    October 6th, 2012 at 4:39 am

    My dog older dog once had a head tilt and wsa not eating. Afraid it was a stroke but also told the vet I thought it could be a tooth abcess. After LOTS of EXPENSIVE test the vettold me I was correct – it was an absecessed tooth.

  3. Avatar Kaz Says:
    October 7th, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Hi all, sad to say my collie X age unknown (rescue), had this.
    The first time he had an attack of it he couldn’t even keep water down, he kept vomiting it all back plus extra, so withdraw water too. Got him to the vet first thing in the morning, vet agreed with water as he was loosing more than gaining, give him an injection to stop him being & feeling sick, tabs to increase blood to brain. Recovered over a fortnight.
    Several months later had another attack took him to the emergency vet ( waste if time ) gave him tabs to stop him being sick. Took him to see my vet increased tabs to aid blood flow again but sorry to say while he was recovering he had another this resulted in affecting his eye sight I made the hard decision at this point to let him go, he lost confidence in going out, there was a football match about a mile away gone one scored the crowd roared my baby cowarded to lie on the floor, unhappy dog so did the best for him. Admit if another dog got this probably would not let him suffer as long. SORRY Murphi

  4. Avatar Marci Says:
    October 7th, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    My 12 year old Scottish Terrier had this-I went to the store and he was fine when I left, but looked like he had had a stroke when I came home. I called my vet and described the symptoms, and he said that is was most likely Vestibular. We watched him closely and he seemed to get a little better each day, and he lived for another 4 years, but always had a little head turn to the left. Other than the head turn, he was fine, active, ate, and did not have any other problems. I had never heard of this before his attack. Thanks for talking about this so now other pet owners will have a heads up, if it happens to their pet. Love your emails. Thanks!

  5. Avatar Tina Says:
    March 26th, 2018 at 9:01 am

    Thank you Marci for your post. My 14 year old Scotty is at the vets right now recovering from an acute vestibular attack. I have been very concerned and have considered preserving memories of all her good years by letting her go to a heavenly rest. After reading your post, I have renewed hope that we can bring her home and she can still have some good quality years ahead. Time will tell.

  6. Avatar Steve Says:
    April 16th, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    My 13 year old Italian greyhound was fine one Saturday and come Sunday late she had the head turn, stumbling etc. Vet diagnosed as vestibular. We have done 2 weeks of steroids and a antibiotic for any related ear issues. After 2 weeks a revisit where he had improved a little but not much. After a week on round 2 he still does circles but his point a to b movement has gotten a little better. Has continued to eat well and drink well. Barks a lot when he can’t get to what he wants and doesn’t seem to be in any pain. Sleeps well etc. But feeling dizzy isn’t the funnies thing. No throwing up either. Not sure after we finished this 2nd week of meds 🙁
    What is the right time with this disease and what is an acceptable life?? Thanks


Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM