Canine vestibular disease is characterised by the inflammation of the vestibular arrays that give a dog its sense of balance. It can occur unexpectedly, but it is generally not a very serious condition.
Veterinarians often describe canine vestibular disease as "idiopathic," which means that it comes from an unknown cause. Older dogs have more of a chance of contracting the disease, however, so it is clear that its causes at least sometimes relate to age. Despite this, some dogs exhibit symptoms of the disease when they are very young because it is congenital. While some causes of the disease are more serious conditions, such as the presence of tumours or polyps, the cause of the disease's inflammation is often seen as simply a response to the presence of infectious microbes in the body. Most dogs do not experience a relapse, but when they do, the relapse is usually more severe than the initial occurrence.
When vestibular tissue becomes inflamed, this harms the dog's sense of balance, which causes the dog to tilt its head, walk in a clumsy manner, or lose the ability to walk altogether. Many dogs who recover from the disease exhibit a slight tilt of the head for some time afterward. Upon relapse, some of these will actually have this head tilt switch sides.
People often mistake canine vestibular disease for a stroke, because the leaning of the head and staggered walking are symptoms that are very similar to stroke symptoms. This is also because the disease so often appears in older dogs, who are at high risk of experiencing a stroke anyway.
Though the disease seems serious because it can seriously impair mobility, it is not life-threatening, and even though relapses are usually more severe than the original situation, they will still usually pass within days. However, if relapse does occur--especially within a few weeks of the first occasion--this may be a sign of a more severe underlying condition, such as brain cancer.
Care for your dog by providing food and water and by keeping it clean, as it may not be able to walk at all. For minor causes of the disease, such as a common infection, this may be all that is necessary. In cases with a more severe infection or tumour, you will need a veterinarian to diagnose and treat the disease.