Canine Vestibular Disorder
Answered by: Kerry Hackett
Question from: Gina Morgan
Posted on: September 15, 2006

My lab, Maggie is 13 years old. I took her to the vet this morning because she has had such "anxiety" lately. She stopped eating her chewy rawhide sticks about 5 days ago which she has always loved and eaten right away. The doctor this morning said her teeth look good. She is eating her normal meals plus her dog biscuits. She has no loss of appetite. A couple of months ago she was afflicted with Canine Vestibular Disorder for 3 days and then about 3 weeks ago, she had it for 5 days, but it seems to have gone away. I don’t think her balance is totally back but part of that could just be loss of muscle in her hind legs due to her age.

She does like to go for short walks (a round trip of about 1400 feet) and I even see her run a bit with excitement to go to the beach. I took her and our younger 4 year old lab to the beach on Sunday (yesterday) and while the younger dog swam, Maggie did wade around (walking) in the water with me enjoying it for about a half hour. But then during the day, she gets panting and walking around and trying to cling to me or an employee (we have a home office). When she goes outside, she is walking inside the bushes as if to hide in there which is totally abnormal for her. At first I thought it might be due to bugs, but actually the bugs are far less than earlier in the summer.

She takes a low dosage of arthritis medication so I don’t want to medicate with something that will knock her out and have possible liver side effects. The vet said that can be a problem with what he would prescribe.

I’m hoping you might have a natural remedy for my dog to help her calm down and reduce anxiety, but not necessarily knock her out. It’s okay if it makes her a little sleepy. I just don’t want to drug her to change the quality of her life.

Could she need more attention from me than earlier? I’ve always loved her, but she seems very needy right now. What should I be doing to help her?

It could possibly be that your dog is quite (literally) off-balance by the affects of her vestibular disorder. Imagine if that happened to a normally self-sufficient human. Suddenly their whole world has changed and they can no longer trust that their body will function the way it always has in the past. Much like a stroke victim, she has to re-learn how to control her movements. I suspect that walking near the bushes or people gives her an understanding of boundaries, of where she can place her feet, of safety, if you will. And, along with all of the above, I suspect she is scared and is naturally turning to you for comfort, love and again, safety which, from a human point of view, translates to neediness. Remember, she has no idea that it’s "Canine Vestibular Disorder". To her it’s new and frightening.

Her general health and thus the health of her inner ears may be helped by a good, homemade diet. Please see the works of Richard Pitcairn, "Natural Health for Dogs and Cats", "The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat" by Juliette de Bairacli Levy and "The Barf Diet" by Ian Billinghurst for further information and recipes. In addition, Bach flower remedies may help: Cheery Plum, Chestnut Bud, Olive, Scleranthus, Star of Bethlehem and Walnut would be appropriate. To use flower essences, put two drops of each essence on a 50 ml dropper bottle filled with spring water. Put one dropperful of the diluted essence in each of the dog’s food twice a day. Take care to keep the dropper clean as the mixture is not preserved. Flower essences should be available at any good health food shop.

And don’t forget love. Never underestimate its role in the path towards health.

As a postscript, you may also want to look at the data safety sheet on your dog’s arthritis medication. Given in "Post-Approval Experience" "vestibular signs" are included and "incoordination" is listed under adverse reactions in the "Information for Dog Owners" section, you may want to speak with your vet about alternative treatment for your dog’s arthritis. Please see:


for further information. In addition, there are many herbal and diet-related supplements that can help with the pain of arthritis.

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