Monday, November 21, 2011

It's Idiopathic

Lots of things happen in life that are unexpected.  And lots of times, there is an unknown reason for things that happen.  The most recent example:  Rosebud's adventure into the vestibular.

Just shy of two weeks ago, Rose awakened in the early morning and vomited some yellow foam.  Anybody who has ever lived with a dog has experienced yellow foam style vomit.  It's usually not a big deal.  You clean it up and everybody goes on with their day.  Alas, on this morning, Rose followed up the vomit episode with a distressing display involving staggering and peculiar eye motions.  In short, we feared that Rose had suffered a stroke.

Our veterinarian examined Rose.  It wasn't a stroke.  (There is some disagreement among veterinarians over whether or not dogs can even have strokes).  Diagnosis:  Geriatric Vestibular Disease.  The good news first:  Rose is expected to recover, if not fully, then nearly fully.

What is Vestibular Disease?

The vestibular apparatus is located inside the head near the inner ear.  The cochlea receives vibrations which are relayed to the brain by the vestibular nerve.  It is responsible for perceiving where the body is in relation to the earth.  (You know, up, down, backwards, forwards, stationary or moving).  The vestibular system helps us travel on uneven ground, follow moving objects with our eyes, navigate a staircase, catch a ball, and pirouette. 

When things have gone kerflooey vestibularly, the victim feels dizzy, disoriented, sick to her stomach, the eyes zip back and forth (nystagmus), she might fall down...AND there's the head tilt.  

Causes of Vestibular Disease

- middle ear infection
- brain tumor
- idiopathic (unknown)

Most cases are idiopathic and the dog recovers in a couple weeks, though the head tilt may remain.

Rose is doing better now.  She is eating, for one thing.  Not an enthusiastic eater under the best of circumstances, when she is nauseated, getting her to eat is no easy task.  For the first few days, she refused all food but did drink water.  Then I couldn't stand it anymore and pretty much forced finger fulls of baby food in her mouth.  (Dang, she has strong jaws!).

We still have to watch out for her on the stairs.  But she is able to navigate, more or less normally, everywhere else, in spite of the head tilt.  Yes, her head is literally tilted to the left and thus her body tends to move in that direction.  The first day she sort of walked in a circle.  She got the hang of things better with practice, now she can walk, pretty nearly, a straight line. 

Indeed, she is so much better now, that we've begun to make fun of the head tilt.

So goes things in life.  Trouble begets fear and worry, then action.  Before you know it, resolution, then back to regularity.  Sometimes it's idiopathic.

 Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, by James Giffin, MD & Liisa Carlson, DVM.
 Dog Anatomy by Robert Kainer, DVM and Thomas McCracken, MS.


  1. She must feel like she's been on the proverbial tilt a wheel.

  2. Glad she's better. Phew!
    Your analysis makes me think we put our dog down for no reason. Vet said a possible brain tumor... Oh well, too late now. It was three years ago and someday I'll get over it.

  3. Eve, I'm so sorry. There is no pain like putting a dog down.

    Please remember that veterinary medicine is still evolving. Three years ago, they may not have known as much about the condition as they do now.

    You did what you thought was best for your beloved dog. Nothing can change that.

  4. Poor baby! Glad she's feeling better. My Maggie just had surgery on her ear, but she had a hematoma. Get well, Rose!

  5. Glad Rose is feeling better! Thanks for all of the info, I had never heard of this before!

  6. Lynn--the depth of your knowledge here always impresses me. I grew up with a mother who could have been a vet. I think she would have loved your blog.

  7. Thanks so much, Norma. The topic is so fascinating and important to me, I can't help but want to learn more and more!