Home > Cupcake, Dog Behavior, Health Care - Dogs, Shelties > Cupcake has Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Cupcake has Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Just sniff 'inIt started three Saturdays ago.

I was cleaning the kitchen when I heard Cupcake fall in the living room. I thought maybe she had slipped on the wood floor and was having trouble getting up because it was slippery. I ran over to her and helped her to her feet. She fell over again. I picked her up again, and that was when I noticed her eyes. They were darting back and forth. Rapidly. I immediately thought it was a seizure, but before I could analyze her further,  it was over. It had only been a matter of seconds, and unlike most dogs coming out of a seizure, she was alert, walking around normally and acting like her usual self. I was stumped. It was was such a weird incident. I attributed it to standing up to quickly and getting disoriented. What else could I think?

Then it happened again. The following Friday. Cupcake stood up, started to walk, and then fell over. Her eyes were darting back and forth again. Just like before, it was over in seconds and she was acting normally. I made a note in my iPhone to record the date and time (as suggested by the vet’s office when I called them during the week).

On Saturday, the next day, Cupcake had two more incidents. Each time, she walked like a dog that was drunk and often fell over and her eyes would continuously dart from side to side.

After the second one, I started googling “dogs” and “darting eyes” and saw one thing come up again and again – vestibular disease. Cupcake had all of the symptoms – unsteady gait, falling down, and darting eyes. Based on everything I read, she had what feels like vertigo in humans.

When it happened a second time. I remembered to videotape it. I wanted to be able to show the emergency vet what was happening since she always seemed fine when it ended.

Unfortunately, the behavior did not end. Unlike before, Cupcake continued to have problems walking and kept falling over. Her eyes did not stop darting side to side, like they had before, and now she had a head tilt and would circle in one spot over and over again. It was really upsetting to see her like this.

The head tiltEverything I read said that there wasn’t much that could be done for vestibular disease, but I still felt a trip to the emergency vet was needed. Unfortunately, the ER vet was in emergency surgery with a dog hit by a car and would be in surgery for at least another hour, so I brought Cupcake home, contacted her vet and sent her the videos. After some consultation, she agreed that it was likely vestibular disease and got her some anti-nausea drugs until I could bring her in on Monday.

Cupcake’s Monday appointment confirmed it, she had Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. If you have not heard of it before, I recommend looking it up.

Here is what I know from reading up on it. Some dogs, often older dogs, get it and recover over a few weeks or months and never get it again. Other dogs get it once, recover, have a relapse, and recover again. Many times the cause is unknown (thus the term “idiopathic”).

Idiopathic vestibular disease can be caused by an inner ear infection, but it can also be caused by a brain lesion or hypothyroidism. Cupcake’s blood work came back normal so it rules out hypothyroidism. Based on her other behaviors, the head tilt to the left, the circling to the left and the eyes darting quickly to the right and then moving slowly back to the left, the vet thinks Cupcake may have a lesion on her brain. If it is a lesion, it is likely on her left side and pressing on her brain, which is what is causing the strange behaviors. If it is not a lesion, Cupcake may recover fully and never have it again (she is showing improvement every day).

Right now, we are in a wait and see mode. Since last Saturday, she has steadily improved in the walking department. She still has the head tilt, and will circle to the left, but now she is able to go outside and come back inside on her own. With the help of several new rugs in the house, she rarely falls down, and if she does, she gets back up all on her own. She even went for a very short walk today (she was not happy about being left behind when I took Daisy and Jasper to the dog park this morning, so a walk was a must), and tonight, she wagged her tail several times, squeaked her stuffie over and over again (which she does when happy and excited) and gave her brother some sass (trust me, he needed it).  🙂

Cupcake's third eye lid issueUnfortunately, she also has another symptom – her third eyelid is now showing in her left eye. It could mean the lesion is growing or passing in on her eye. I’ll be calling the vet about that tomorrow, but for right now I am focusing on the positive changes I have seen this past week. Cupcake is acting more like herself and her personality has returned (I sure did miss that speaking sound and her cute little wagging tail).



  1. March 27, 2016 at 11:25 PM

    OMG Mel, I’m so sorry to hear this! Hugs and kisses to her and you!!

  2. Linda Szymoniak
    March 27, 2016 at 11:27 PM

    My senior Coonhound, girl, Suki, has this, too. When she first started showing the symptoms, I was certain she had a stroke (I had a dog who actually had a stroke a number of years ago). There’s really nothing they can do for Suki, but the good news is that it tends to come and go, and mostly isn’t obvious. I’m trying to remember just how old Suki was when she had her first symptoms. She’s 15 now so she was probably 10-12 (I’d have to look at her records). I did want to mention that my dog who had the stroke, Misty, also had the darting eyes. She couldn’t walk, eat, or drink. Luckily the vet was able to pull her through it and she lived almost two more years (passing her 16th birthday). Now that I’ve had a dog with each, though, I think I’ll be able to tell the difference between vestibular disease and a stroke.

  3. March 27, 2016 at 11:55 PM

    Ike and Tina send her kisses, yips and play-bows

  4. March 27, 2016 at 11:59 PM

    Poor Cupcake. And poor worried you. I’ve seen quite a few cases of this with our older dogs adopted from the rescue. Most have recovered well. I hope the same for Cupcake.

  5. kenzohw
    March 28, 2016 at 1:23 AM

    That must be hard to watch. I really hope you and cupcake are lucky and this goes away by itself, or something can be done about the lesion if that’s what causing it ….
    Thinking about you!

  6. March 28, 2016 at 5:44 AM

    I’m so sorry… and how fearful such a moment must be when we see our beloved furkid on the floor …. we send hugs and power to you…

  7. fredrieka
    March 28, 2016 at 5:53 AM

    this is sad and scary hope cupcake will be okay.

  8. gahlearner
    March 28, 2016 at 5:55 AM

    My first dog, Spot, had that too when he was fourteen. The vet told us there wasn’t much we could do but that she could give him infusions. Since we didn’t want the old boy be extra stressed by being alone at the vet for hours we went with him, spent the time reading, talking to the vet, just quietly watching etc. He got the infusions daily for two weeks, the syndrome went away eventually and didn’t come back. Spot lived to 16 3/4. He had to pee a lot though, so lots of emergency papering was necessary, we weren’t always fast enough to get him outside.
    This was around 2008/2009… maybe vets know more today. Wouldn’t hurt to ask.

  9. March 28, 2016 at 5:56 AM

    That would be so scary to see and experience. We sure hope she can get past it. You are right to take it one thing at a time. The entire health picture can be too much as we see with Katie. Be thankful for the little things and take everything else slowly. So sorry to hear this.

  10. Tina
    March 28, 2016 at 6:24 AM

    Poor Cupcake. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  11. ejarolim
    March 28, 2016 at 7:53 AM

    Sorry to hear this; that’s tough. Since you are so vigilant, I’m sure Cupcake will get the best of care. I’m hoping for a full recovery.

  12. Sue
    March 28, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    Oh no! This must be heart wrenching to watch and know there’s really nothing you can do. I hope it passes and never returns. Hugs to all of you.

  13. March 28, 2016 at 9:26 AM

    I hope this is one of those where Cupcake recovers on her own. We’ll be thinking of you!

  14. Sue Lucas
    March 28, 2016 at 9:58 AM

    My first Sheltie Keeley O”Hara did have this and I also thought it was a stroke. I called the ER vet and thought this was the last time I would ever hold her and love on her. But after about a half hour it settled down. We had to leave her for observation and at 8:00 te next am we had to take her to her regular vet. By 5:00 that afternoon she was fine but was diagnosed with thyroid and ear infection. It never happened again and she lived to be 13 this was when she was 11. Praying for you and your beautiful fur baby !

  15. March 28, 2016 at 12:04 PM

    Being on top of things really helps! Is there anything like Bonine that you can give her, or is that what the anti-nausea meds are for?

  16. March 28, 2016 at 1:34 PM

    So sorry to hear this Mel. Sounds scary and heartbreaking. So glad you are seeing some improvement

    Hope you find some answers. 🙂

  17. March 28, 2016 at 4:16 PM

    I have never heard of this. I hope you are able to manage it.

  18. Lynne Wyre
    March 28, 2016 at 5:12 PM

    Thanks for sharing this so that if we ever experience similar we might know what it is. I surely hope Cupcake continues to improve! I have had vertigo myself so I can guess how this must feel for poor doggies. Our sheltie is soon to be 15 and I watch for changes in her.

  19. March 28, 2016 at 6:35 PM

    Coincidentally, Tom Ryan’s dog, Atticus, just had the same symptoms about two weeks ago; prior to that I had never heard of it. Atticus is recovering and hopefully will be back to his normal, senior self.(By the way, if you haven’t read “Following Atticus”, it is a wonderful book about an incredible relationship between a man and a dog). I am so glad Cupcake is showing those positive signs of recovery. I pray she makes a full recovery and is back to her old self in no time.

  20. March 28, 2016 at 6:40 PM

    It is tough watching a pet suffer and know that there is not a whole lot you can do. Hang in there Cupcake and good luck.

  21. March 28, 2016 at 8:28 PM

    Sorry to hear. I went through it last year with my Tucker. Here’s my blog post about it (misery loves company, eh?) . Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery! http://lifewitholddogs.com/2015/08/11/an-optimistic-update/

  22. BJ Pup (Lynda)
    March 28, 2016 at 11:00 PM

    I’ll pray for Cupcake and send positive thoughts. I had the same problem and at times had to balance against a wall so I wouldn’t fall. There were exercises that the doctors gave me. It stopped as quickly as it came on. I hope they find something that will help Cupcake.

  23. March 29, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    Aw nuts. So sorry about this development. Paws and fingers crossed she improves. Healing pup energy flowing to Cupcake.

  24. March 30, 2016 at 8:24 AM

    My border collie, Tilly, and I send Cupcake best wishes that she recovers soon. I’m glad she’s seems to be getting better. I bet it must have been a big shock to find her like that. I suppose it is any dog owner’s worry. Hopefully, she will continue to improve.

  25. March 30, 2016 at 7:59 PM

    So sorry to hear this, sending thoughts your way.

  26. Randi Woods
    April 1, 2016 at 9:18 PM

    You are so good to share this information with us during a difficult and emotional time. Thank you. I wish the best for you and Cupcake.

  27. April 1, 2016 at 11:49 PM

    Thank you for writing such a comprehensive post. I feel for you – it’s so hard to watch our dogs go through these things. Positive thoughts coming your way….

  28. April 4, 2016 at 3:37 PM

    What a frightening thing to witness. Paws crossed Cuppy gets over this and it never ever happens again.

    • Mel
      April 6, 2016 at 6:45 AM

      Thanks Groovy Goldendoodles. She has adjusted to the head tilt and eye thing. I am happy she can at least enjoy life and have fun. Seeing her personality come back was the best part. I love her sassy self. 🙂

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