This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
If your dog suddenly starts losing their balance, it can be scary. It can look like they are having a stroke.
While this sudden loss of equilibrium could be a symptom of many different conditions, one of the most common is Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, also known as Old Dog Syndrome.
This is a common, temporary, and non-fatal condition that often affects dogs, especially as they get older. It is something they can recover from fully and quickly with the right treatment.
If your dog does suddenly lose their balance, you should take them to your vet for a proper diagnosis. But if they do have Old Dog Syndrome, here is everything you need to know.
Our friends German Shepherd and our very own Lab mix, Linus experienced old dog syndrome in their later years. Check out our post on our sister site: my older dog is disoriented, unbalanced, and confused.
Contents & Quick Navigation
What Is Old Dog Syndrome?
The technical name is Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. Idiopathic means that the cause is unknown, while vestibular refers to the part of the body that is affected, part of the grain, ear, and other organs that control balance.
The syndrome presents as a “non-progressive” disturbance of balance, which means it happens suddenly and then improves rather than getting progressively worse.
It is also often called Old Dog Syndrome as it is most common in older dogs, seven years and older, but it can affect dogs of any age.
The most common symptoms to appear when dogs are affected by this syndrome are:
- A noticeable tilted head at about 45 degrees
- Standing with an unusually wide stance
- Unsteady walking
- Loss of balance and regularly falling over
- Rapid eye movement (Nystagmus)
- Loss of appetite
- Choosing to lie down on hard surfaces
Of course, these can be symptoms of a number of different conditions, including stroke, inner ear infections, brain tumors, inflammatory disease, or bleeds in the brain. So, if your dog does start to manifest any of these symptoms, you should take them to see their vet.
Another symptom we noticed with Linus were his eyes moving back and forth rapidly. I’m not sure if this is common, but something we observed before we brought him in to our emergency vet.
Because the cause of Old Dog Syndrome is unknown, it is also difficult to diagnose. It can be linked with ear infections, so examining the ears may reveal something, but this is not always the case.
The most common way to diagnose Old Dog Syndrome is to “wait and see.” If your dog is suffering from Vestibular Syndrome, they will generally start to get better by themselves within 72 hours.
So, your vet will probably recommend that you wait and see if your dog’s balance improves. If your dog doesn’t start to get better on their own, this suggests that their symptoms point to a more serious condition.
Your vet will then likely discuss a range of blood tests and MRIs to identify this other condition. These aren’t ordered earlier because they are generally quite expensive.
This doesn’t mean your dog is completely on their own during the “wait and see” window. If the symptoms are mild to moderate, your vet will probably recommend that you give your dog something like meclizine, an over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine.
If the condition is linked with an ear infection, they will also likely be given antibiotics to clear that up.
You will also be advised to make sure your dog has a comfortable position to rest, and that you baby proof your house. This means blocking off stairs and covering sharp corners, since your pup is much more likely to have an accident while their balance is undermined.
Also be prepared for some unpleasant doggy clean-ups, as they are unlikely to have the same control or aim when doing their business.
However, you should not spend a lot of time carrying your dog, as being on their own feet helps them recover their balance. If you coddle them too much, you may just prolong the problem.
If their case is more serious, they may need to stay at the vet, where they will be treated with an IV and anti-nausea medicine.
With this type of care, their balance should start returning naturally within about 72 hours, and they should fully recover from the episode within 7 to 14 days.
While the condition can be disorienting and scary for your pup, it is not particularly painful. As long as you give them the extra love and attention they need, you can rest easy.
In some cases, the head tilt your dog develops can linger, which will undermine their overall coordination, but this is relatively rare.
However, once your dog has had an episode of Old Dog Syndrome, their chances of having another one go up. Repeat bouts tend to remain stable, presenting similar symptoms of similar severity, rather than getting worse.
Since the cause of Old Dog Syndrome is unknown, there is no known way to prevent the condition from happening again. However, vets recommend giving your dog a lot of Omega-3 fatty acids and a good nutrient supplement during the recovery period to reduce the chances.
What Breeds Are Affected By Old Dog Syndrome?
While all dogs of any breeds may be affected by Old Dog Syndrome, some breeds are more prone to the condition than others. Those breeds most affected include:
- Doberman Pinscher
- English Cocker Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Tibetan Terrier
As I mentioned earlier my friends German Shepherd and Linus who we believed to be a Lab Australian Shepherd mix were both affected by Old Dog Syndrome.
This condition is not particularly common among Labradors, even though they tend to be susceptible to ear infections. This is why you should clean your dog’s ears regularly.
For the health conditions most common among Labradors, read our guide.
How Do You Deal With An Old Dog?
If your dog has lost their balance as a result of Old Dog Syndrome, you should take them to the vet to ensure that it is nothing more serious. It is then a matter of waiting for them to recover naturally.
During that time, you should protect them from hazards in the home, such as stairs and sharp edges, as they are much more likely to have an accident.
You can also give them over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine if vomiting is a serious concern.
If they don’t start to get better within the first 72 hours, return to your vet. If their symptoms do improve, monitor them closely for the next two weeks until they are fully recovered.
Why Is My Senior Dog Unsteady On His Feet?
If your dog suddenly loses their balance, they may very well be suffering from Old Dog Syndrome, as mentioned earlier this is a temporary condition and you should start to see improvement in your dog within 72 hours.
However, if it is a more lingering condition, it may be Ataxia, also known as Wobbler’s syndrome. This is a loss of balance as a result of a spinal cord lesion.
If you suspect your dog may have Wobbler’s Syndrome the peak to your vet about how your dog can be treated
If your dog suddenly starts losing their balance, it can be scary and you may immediately start to imagine the worst.
However, the most common cause of sudden, as opposed to gradual, loss of balance is Old Dog’s Syndrome, which is a temporary condition from which your dog should recover within the space of about two weeks.
But, the reality is that loss of balance can be a symptom of many different things from Old Dog’s Syndrome, to food poisoning, to brain tumors.
The best thing you can do when your dog starts to show symptoms of a loss of equilibrium is to take them to the vet so you can rule out anything serious and get them the treatment that they need.
Do you have any experience of caring for a pooch with Old Dog Syndrome?
Share your thoughts with the community in the comments section below.
Save To Pinterest
Top Picks For Our Dogs
- BEST PUPPY TOY
We Like: Snuggle Puppy w/ Heart Beat & Heat Pack - Perfect for new puppies. We get all of our Service Dog pups a Snuggle Puppy.
- BEST CHEW TOY
We Like: KONG Extreme - Great toy for heavy chewers like our Labrador Retrievers.
- BEST DOG TREATS
We Like: Wellness Soft Puppy Bites - One of our favorite treats for training our service dog puppies.
- BEST FRESH DOG FOOD
We Like: The Farmer's Dog - A couple months ago we started feeding Raven fresh dog food and she loves it! Get 50% off your first order of The Farmer's Dog.
For a list of all the supplies we get for our new service dog puppies check out our New Puppy Checklist on the PuppyInTraining.com blog.