Wednesday, January 2

Vestibular Disease and French Bulldogs Part Two

Many adult dogs experience an episode that looks like a seizure or a stroke, and we are concerned that some Frenchies are being euthanized needlessly due to misdiagnosis.

Vestibular disease presents suddenly. One minute your dog is running around or chewing a toy, and the next minute she can't stand up or remain standing, or she can't focus her eyes, and they are moving back and forth quickly in a motion called nystagmus. Her head may tilt either immediately or sometime later in the hours or days following the initial event. She may drool. She may panic. If you are like most people, you will almost certainly panic.  Try to stay calm and take her to the vet as soon as you can.

Deo suffered from vestibular disease.  In this photo you can see his head tilt and his left eye is a little less bright because of facial paralysis on that side.

Here's what is happening: your dog has lost her sense of balance. She can't figure out her relationship to the ground and that's why she's staggering. Most episodes are "idiopathic" which means nobody knows what causes them. Some speculate that there is a tiny blood clot in the area of the brain that affects balance, and as it dissolves, the condition resolves. But there is no agreement about what it causes it, and there may be a number of possible causes that result in the same set of symptoms.

FBRN grad Eva had a bout of vestibular disease, too.  She's not suspiciously squinting at you in this photo.  Like Deo, she had some facial paralysis on the left side of her face.  She's much better now. 

Vestibular disease, stroke, and brain tumors can share symptoms. Vestibular disease is a far more likely diagnosis than the other two, which is very good news. Your vet may suggest an MRI to rule out a brain tumor, but most vets will suggest you take your dog home, be sure she's eating and drinking well, and watch for signs of recovery, which should happen in a few days or a week.

Frida's experience with vestibular disease was very helpful to Eva's owner as she navigated the diagnostic process.  Did you know there are Internet support groups for virtually every medical condition a dog might have? 

In the days following the initial event, some dogs also experience facial paralysis, and the paralysis can be either obvious or subtle. Many dogs develop a head tilt, which may resolve in a few days, or a month, or never. Most dogs do recover within a month or so.

As the days pass following the initial event, you may find that your dog is not interested in eating. If you had the spins, you probably would not want to eat, either, but some dogs respond well to anti-nausea meds or to hand-feeding. Some people suggest that while your dog is recovering from the worst of it, you leave a light on, so she can find an object and orient herself to it even in the night.

FBRN grad Maxwell Smart had a vestibular disease episode.  His family wrote to us and asked us to do this report on VD.

Vestibular disease happens most oftens in dogs who are 6 years old and older, but some young dogs have had vestibular disease--Deo and Maxwell Smart were on the young side, while Eva was a senior dog when she had it.

Watching a dog have a seizure or experience a stroke or the symptoms of vestibular disease is very frightening, and it can be heartbreaking. Try to keep your head, and try to remember that what looks like a stroke or a seizure may well be something far less worrisome and will often resolve completely or nearly so.

 A New Year free of emergency veterinary clinic visits, that's the wish we wish for you, from

The Frog Princess

(This material originally appeared on FBRN's home page.)


Two French Bulldogs said...

Very interesting and good to know
Benny & Lily

Sharon Paine said...

It must be frightening to see, but information is always welcome. Sharon

Anonymous said...

My Frenchie is currently recovering from VD. He is 3.5 years old and yes, it was heartbreaking to see him struggle in the first days. What I am concerned about is that even if he has been receiving treatment for about a month now, he is still keeping his head leaning on the side, especially when he looks above his eye line. Can you please recommend a support group where I can ask more questions and hopefully find a way to make him better? Thank you!

Frog Princess said...

We don't know of a support group, but you could try searching YahooGroups. There are support groups there for virtually every ailment and malady you could imagine. Remember that VD can take months to fully resolve, and some dogs always retain a tilt.

Anonymous said...

Hello, thank you for sharing this information about french bulldogs with Vestibular Disease. My dog is 3 years old and has had 2 attacks. The first he got over within a week. The second one, which happened 2 months ago, he has had lasting effects including a head tilt. We have taken him to 2 different vets, one is still trying to treat his ear infection, which won't go away. The other vet suggested we get an mri and see if there is something causing it in his brain or possibly a mass in his inner ear. I was wondering if anyone has had any good treatment for their dog that helped treat this disorder? I was able to stop a third attack from happening when I noticed his nystagmus starting, I gave him meclizine (motion sickness meds) and antibiotic. I'm not sure where to go from here. I would love to hear what has worked for other dog parents. Thank you. -Allison