Meet Barney - a beautiful 12 year old Border Collie. Barney has a history typical of many elderly, want-to-be-active dogs: he has arthritis, and as such we have had many conversations with Barney’s owners about massage therapy, laser treatments, correct feeding, and medications available such as cartrophen and pain relief. Barney was doing very well until one day recently when he collapsed. His head was bent to one side, his eyes were flicking around and he couldn't stand up.
We performed a full clinical and neurologic exam on Barney. Clinically he seemed well. Neurologically, we were able to localise the brain lesion to the part of the brain associated with balance. Tests we did included checking his ears to rule out the likelihood of it being otitis media / interna (infection of the middle or inner ear) that was causing his imbalance. We checked other nerves which control aspects of facial sensation and function (tapping eyelids, checking he can feel his nose, checking his eyes dilate and constrict when a bright light is shone in them), which in Barney's case were all normal. His gait (walking ability), although wobbly, was not lacking any sensation to his limbs, nor lack of function, it was just abnormal. Through these tests, we were able to diagnose with a high degree of certainty that Barney had Geriatric Vestibular Disease.
Geriatric Vestibular Disease has an unknown cause and is the most common cause of one-sided head tilt, nystagmus (eyes flicking side to side) and loss of balance in older dogs. The prognosis for recovery is very good; it can take days to weeks for full improvement, a minority of cases will have a head tilt long term. During recovery, the only treatment we can provide is anti-nausea medication and supportive care, as these dogs often feel dizzy and sick. Luckily for Barney, these effects were minimal. He has continued to steadily improve over the course of 3 weeks and now only has trouble when going up or down stairs. We are hoping that he will continue to improve steadily.