Jump to section

What is Disorientation?

Disorientation can occur acutely, or develop and worsen over time depending on the cause. You may notice that at times, or consistently, your dog is developing what seems to be a struggle to maintain a balanced position, or perhaps all of a sudden his eyes cannot focus and dart back and forth. Disorders related to the vestibular system can be broken down into peripheral and central disease. It is a common neurological condition in dogs, with no predisposition to sex or breed.

Disorientation, head tilt, and loss of balance are all common to an upset in the vestibular system. This system is responsible for maintaining and stabilizing the position of the head (which thereby gives the body stability), and the eyes during head movements. Vestibular disease will interfere with your dog’s entire sense of balance. It is important to take your dog to the veterinarian in order to correctly diagnose the cause and rule out other conditions such as an ear infection, stroke or hypothyroidism.

Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

Save up to $273 per year

Compare plans
advertisement image

Disorientation Average Cost

From 67 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,500

Symptoms of Disorientation in Dogs

There are many symptoms associated with vestibular disease. Prompt attention by a qualified primary veterinary caregiver is the best course of action and will result in the most positive prognosis. Schedule a visit for your dog with the appropriate veterinarian without delay if you see any of the following abnormal signs:

  • Head tilt (this can range from mild to severe)
  • Darting eyes (nystagmus)
  • Eyes which are abnormally aligned and may be accompanied by a squint (strabismus)
  • Drooping eyelid or presence of third eyelid (Horner’s syndrome)
  • Facial paralysis
  • Head tremor
  • Circling
  • Falling or rolling to one side
  • Unsteady gait (ataxia) or inability to walk
  • Unable to stand, or uses a wide stance
  • Vomiting or Nausea
  • Development of motion sickness when in a vehicle
Types

Vestibular disorders are either peripheral or central. The vestibular system is an important and critical part of the central nervous system, coordinating an animal's vision (focus) and gravity (detected by skin receptors which pick up on external pressures). The sense of orientation experienced by your pet will be affected by the proper function of these neural systems.


Two of the more common causes of Peripheral Vestibular disease are:

  • Idiopathic vestibular disease

    - This is a peripheral disorder. It presents with acute onset and severe nystagmus (rapid, darting eyes), which causes extreme vertigo because the eyes cannot focus on the horizon. The episode lasts between a few days to a few weeks, and usually the dog can be nursed through the condition with favorable recovery (occasionally a dog will end up with a permanent mild head tilt).. Some owners have been known to confuse idiopathic vestibular disease episodes as seizures. This condition tends to occur in senior dogs and can be called 'The Drunken Sailor Disease' due to the way they walk. Importantly, symptoms should not progress.

  • Inner ear disease

    - Peripheral as well, inner ear disease has a slower progression and those affected may exhibit varying degrees of facial paralysis and Horner’s disease (drooping eyelid). The most common cause is otitis media (inflammation of the inner ear), with bacteria moving into the eustachian tube of the ear. Antibiotics can work well as a cure but may need to be given at high doses and for prolonged periods.


  • Central vestibular disease

    - The prognosis is less optimistic for this type of disorientation in dogs. There can be brainstem damage, leading to cranial, motor, position and movement difficulties. Illnesses such as Lyme disease and liver dysfunction can precipitate central vestibular disease.

arrow-up-icon

Top

Causes of Disorientation in Dogs

The causes for disorientation in dogs are not always completely understood; further studies will hopefully enlighten the medical field as to some of the mysteries of this condition.

Peripheral vestibular disease


When the ear and/or local nerve are affected, this is referred to as 'peripheral vestibular disease'. Potential causes include:

  • Idiopathic Vestibular Disease
  • Nasopharyngeal Polyps (more common in cats)
  • Neoplasia (growth of abnormal tissues) within the vestibular system
  • Conditions that cause a defect in chemical reactions in the body such as hypothyroidism (which can also cause central vestibular disease)
  • Ototoxicity due to antibiotics
  • Bacteria from otitis media
Central vestibular disease
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • Antibiotic toxicity
  • Neoplasia
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Granulomatous meningoencephalitis
  • Liver disease (with metabolic brainstem degeneration)
  • Lyme disease
  • Canine distemper
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Ehrlichiosis, which is a tick-borne bacterial infection
Vestibular syndrome / Idiopathic Vestibular Disease
  • Thought to be a complication of old age, but can be seen in middle-aged dogs
  • Studies show it may be related to inflammation of nerves connecting the inner ear to the cerebellum that controls equilibrium, spatial orientation and body balance

arrow-up-icon

Top

Diagnosis of Disorientation in Dogs

Prompt veterinary care is essential in order to diagnose the cause of the disorientation that your pet is experiencing. Having no balance, or having the sense of being unable to focus and walk will affect your dog in many ways. The veterinarian will concentrate on making your dog comfortable first and foremost. If the nausea and spatial disorientation are extreme, your veterinary caregiver will administer medication to ease the symptoms. Some pets, who have been too distressed and imbalanced to drink, for example, will be given intravenous fluids to hydrate them and improve their circulation.

The veterinarian will ask for a history of your pet’s behavior over the past weeks, and will want to know if you can pinpoint how and when the symptoms began. The assessment of the nystagmus (eye movement direction, horizontal or vertical for example) can help lead to a diagnosis. 

Ataxia (unsteady gait) may be difficult to interpret because of the stress that your dog is going through as a result of the imbalance issues, and the possible need of support for your dog to be able to walk. A non-slippery surface may be required because your pet will find any flaw in the surface difficult to navigate in his state.

Indications for the veterinarian may be facial paralysis (as in peripheral) or a change in mental activity or weakness on the entirety of one side (as in central). If your veterinary professional is unable to determine the diagnosis of why your pet is disoriented, she may choose further diagnostic tools.

After a complete physical and neurological examination, the veterinarian may decide to analyze baseline diagnostics by checking blood pressure, complete blood count, urinalysis, thyroid level and serum biochemical profile. Examination of the ear canal, or very careful removal of substances of the ear canal (for analysis) may be done.

If the veterinarian has a suspicion of a central lesion, or after a few days or weeks the symptoms are not ceasing, more intensive testing may be ordered. MRI (to image the brain or middle and inner ear) could be ordered to look for central or peripheral disease. If further testing is necessary, a further diagnostic option is a spinal tap to rule out meningitis or encephalitis.

arrow-up-icon

Top

Treatment of Disorientation in Dogs

It should be noted that some types of disorientation in dogs can clear up on their own while others may point to a more serious condition. A central vestibular disorder generally carries a poorer prognosis for successful treatment because the brainstem area does not respond well to neurosurgery. There are drugs currently under study with the hopes of offering a solution to the disease, as in the case of tumors for example.

In the case of peripheral disorders, the scenario is quite different. Please note the following treatment procedures that may accompany a diagnosis of a peripheral disorientation (idiopathic, inner ear or vestibular syndrome):

  • All treatments will be based on the underlying cause
  • Medication for nausea, vertigo and dizziness may be necessary
  • Intravenous therapy can be utilized if your dog needs fluid recovery because he has not been eating or drinking enough
  • Sedatives are sometimes used to calm dogs as a part of the recovery process
  • Idiopathic vestibular disease tends to resolve with time and the support of the owner
  • The inner ear responds well to antibiotic treatment but the duration of medication must be carefully monitored in order to fully treat the infection
  • Surgery and radiation can be an approach to resolve abnormal tissue growth
  • Complications due to antibiotic toxicity may be eradicated after the antibiotic is stopped
arrow-up-icon

Top

Recovery of Disorientation in Dogs

As is the case with any time that your pet is ill, follow up with the veterinarian is always part of the equation. The recovery process may be a challenge, but with your care and practical support, your dog can often resume a sense of normalcy. Your primary veterinary caregiver will remind you that patience as you await results is key with a diagnosis of any vestibular complication.

Remain calm and caring at all times. Offer comfort, warmth, and attention. Aid your dog as necessary with his balance needs as he navigates his new 'wobbly' life. Dietary changes might be suggested, as will a follow-up visit at the clinic a few days after the initial appointment. It should be noted that a head tilt may remain, even after your pet recovers. Relapse of vestibular disease may occur, depending on the underlying cause.

arrow-up-icon

Top

*Wag! may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Items are sold by the retailer, not Wag!.

Disorientation Average Cost

From 67 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,500

arrow-up-icon

Top

Written by hannah hollinger

Veterinary reviewed by: Linda S.

Published: 11/16/2015, edited: 03/05/2021

Disorientation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

question-icon-cta

Ask a Vet

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Corgi

dog-age-icon

Two Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

6 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Circling

My dog is walking around in circles as if he can’t see and is barking. Every now and then he loses his balance

Nov. 17, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

6 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It sounds like your dog may be having a neurological problem, a seizure or some kind of brain disease. It would be best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian right away, as they will be able to examine him, see what the cause of the problem might be, and get any treatment for him he needs.

Nov. 17, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Chihuahua

dog-age-icon

Two Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Disorientation

My Chi has shown signs of disorientation several times in the past week for no blatant reason. He seemed drunk the couple of times and this last time he got into a small quarrel with my other dog and he started breathing very fast and his body seemed to curl out from under him. Now I know he's a drama king to the MAX and he is the ONLY dog I know to milk a situation to be babied. But this was real.

Nov. 2, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Sara O. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

2 Recommendations

Hello, so sorry to hear about your dog. These events that you are describing could be seizure activities. They could also be him just being a drama king because he didn't get his way. If these continue, the best thing to do would let your vet examine him. The drunk walk and him appearing to be out of it could be the post-seizure phase. If you can take a video of these episodes, it would make it easier for your vet to be able to diagnose him.

Nov. 3, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Dachshund

dog-age-icon

Sixteen Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Panting, Wining And Disoriented. Walking Around Constantly

Came on suddenly. Will not stay still. Pants and whines along with walking around. I researched a little about CCD and also could be his food. Was boarded at our Vet for 2days this week. They didn’t mention anything different.

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this platform is not set up for urgent emails. Without seeing him, unfortunately, it is difficult to say what might be causing this behavior. If it is still occurring, it would be a good idea to have him seen by your veterinarian, as they can examine him and see what might be going on,and suggest medication if possible.

Oct. 10, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Labrador Retriever

dog-age-icon

Six Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing Loss Of Balance

He walks around constantly and won’t sleep he walks into walls and stands in corners.

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. That is very abnormal behavior for a puppy, and It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment.

Oct. 12, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Pit-bully

dog-age-icon

Two Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly

She was playing with another dog then after a few minutes she got wobbly and didn't want to move! Shes been sleeping since then!

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. If she is still having this problem, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 15, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Shylah

dog-breed-icon

Chocolate lab

dog-age-icon

13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Immobility
Heavy Panting
Lethargy Disoriented
No Food Or Drink

Looking for answers for help with my 13yr old chocolate lab. Unsteady gait, will not move unless I help her. Very lethargic with heavy panting. Very heavy breathing. Will not eat or drink. Help!!

dog-name-icon

Jessie

dog-breed-icon

Mini Australian Sheperd

dog-age-icon

6 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

No Balance
No Vomiting
1 Red And Extreaaly Dialated Eye
Shaking Constantly
Cant See Hearing Is Fine
Not Eaten 4 Days In A Row
Seizures On Tuesday
Walk Alittle Bit No Running
Blood Test Clean

hello i have a teacher in my high school, who has a dog named Jessie her symptoms listed below, the vet doesn't know what it is, my class thinks its a brain tumor, please help us, we are in a tough decision, and we just found out she had a blood test and it came back completely fine. WE NEED YOUR HELP. plzzzzzzzz

dog-name-icon

Micky

dog-breed-icon

Yorkshire Terrier

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Unsteady ;
Unsteady ; Off Balance

I have an almost 2 year old rescue which we think is Yorkie cross Jack Russell. Two weeks ago he starting stooping backward and was unsteady on his feet. This has gotten progressively worse and he cannot stand still without leaning backwards or having to site involuntarily. Otherwise he's 100%, eating and drinking and playing as normal. Initially the vet gave him cortisone thinking that it was meningitis but he's not responded to the medication at all and is still exactly the same. Very unsteady on his feet whilst standing still. Now they are suspecting a liver shunt but I do not have the funds for the blood test so am hoping we can treat him with diet and meds and see if he improves then we know.

dog-name-icon

Spencer

dog-breed-icon

Labrador

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Disorientation
Loss Of Balance
Face Twitches When Touched

My dog was fine a few hours ago. When I walked up on him, he acted surprised and confused about who I was. When I went to pet him, his face twitched and he acted disoriented. When I would run my hand over his eyes without touching him, he twitched or if anything got close to his face he would twitch. He acts tired and wants to sleep. He also has loss of balance when sitting, standing and walking.

dog-name-icon

Blue

dog-breed-icon

Pug

dog-age-icon

1 Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

thumbs-up-icon

2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Disorientation
Weakness
Imbalance
Loss Of Interest

Hi there, Today in the morning my dog [1 year old pug] woke up fine but suddenly started to loose control of his body. He will stand with disoriented legs and will not be able to maintain the balance for a long time.There is so much sadness I feel on his face. He is hyperactive dog, always so energetic but right now he is just lying and can't even stand on his own without help. He will not eat or drink anything. But at the same time, for a moment he will somehow will gain his energy back and start to run here and there but still when try to walk will find hard to get his balance. He went for a walk, with little imbalance he walked nicely but the time he came back from walk he started showing the same symptoms. I don't understand the situation, what is going with him. Please advise me, what to do? Thank you!

Disorientation Average Cost

From 67 quotes ranging from $300 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,500

Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

Save up to $273 per year

advertisement image
Need pet insurance?