Vertigo is a syndrome in elderly dogs that affects balance. Symptoms usually include staggering, a tilting of the head to one side, nystagmus, a rhythmic flicking movement of the eyes, nausea and vomiting. Occassionaly the dog may be unable to standand or most uncommonly roll over and over. Vertigo is not caused because of a stroke as most people assume, but rather is due to an abnormal flow of fluid in the semi-circular canals of the inner ear.
Vertigo is more common in older, medium to large breeds of dogs and is rarely seen in cats. Although the symptoms are alarming and often incapacitating to the dog, the disease is very treatable. Improvement starts within 48-72 hours and most patients are back to normal within two to three weeks, even with no treatment, but a mild head tilt may persist. A veterinarian should be consulted because the symptoms can also be caused by ear infections, foreign bodies in the ear, or tumors. The vestibular system may need treatment either with motion sickness drugs or intravenous fluids if the nausea is severe or the dog is unable to eat or drink for a few days.