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Sudden Inability to Stand & Walk Straight in Older Dogs

Dogs don’t have strokes. Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome looks the same but resolves quickly.



I think my dog had a stroke. She’s an 11 year old Lab named Polly and she seemed like she was doing OK when all of a sudden this morning she couldn’t stand. Her head is cocked to one side and her eyes are rolling. But she still wants to eat and she still recognizes me and my family. We think Polly’s suffering. Do you think it’s time to have her put to sleep?


Dr. Nichol:

You sound worried about Polly. It must have scared the heck out of you when you found her like that. I will tell you right from the get-go that Polly will be fine. She has not had a stroke.


The name for Polly’s problem is Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome. It is seen in dogs of about her age and is so severe in some cases that dogs not only can’t get up but roll uncontrollably. Some of the senior citizens  with this disease can get up but  walk in circles. For a long time it was suggested that a brain lesion or hemorrhage was responsible for the sudden onset of these symptoms. But no evidence has ever been found to support this. Dogs simply do not get strokes.


I’m sure that, knowing that Polly is going to be fine, you would like a treatment that will help her feel better and speed her recovery. Despite medical advances in most areas, there is nothing that will make a difference on this problem. Polly will be improved in a few days and  has a strong chance of being totally back to normal in about 2 weeks. I can say this because recovery is complete is nearly every case. The only permanent problems have been minor head tilts in a few of these old timers. Even in these cases,  pets have gone on to live out otherwise totally normal lives.


So please don’t even consider euthanasia for Polly. Labradors  seem to get even gentler and more endearing as they age. I’ll bet that with the kind of love and care she’s had from you over the years that she has another 100,000 miles left on her clock. Give her a hug and a kiss. She’ll trust you when you tell her that everything is going to be OK.