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Ask a Vet: Think your older dog's has a stroke? May just be a drunk-looking syndrome
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I may be too old for the spinning apples. I rode them with my son at a fair recently, and when we got off, I was ready to be put out of my misery.

True, I’ve never been too good with the round-and-round movement. Plus, I was battling a sinus infection, which isn’t a good idea for rotational recreation. It also felt like it was 140 degrees inside the ride, with three screaming kids. But at least I think I understand what my problem was.

When you, or your dog, try subconsciously to estimate where up and down are, you combine inputs from your eyes and ears. Your eyes tell you where the horizon is and tiny hairs in your inner ear detect movement of microscopic crystals floating in fluid.

Normally, the two inputs agree. But when they disagree, you tend to feel nauseous. Therefore, dad takes time out of the fair ride schedule.

In older dogs, a syndrome very similar to this occurs. It is often referred to as “old dog vestibular syndrome.” The apparatus becomes inflamed, either the inner ear itself, or the sensitive nerves that relay the information to the brain. Suddenly, your older dog looks completely drunk or maybe seem as if he’s had a stroke.

“My dog had a stroke” is probably the most common way it is presented to vets.

The good news is twofold.

First, true strokes — as we think of them in humans — are incredibly rare in our companion animals.

Second, the most common reason is the aforementioned old dog vestibular syndrome, and it usually passes in a week.

Depending on how the dog is affected, supportive care can vary in intensity, from just helping walk to use the potty to hospitalization.

Of course, with biology, giving a 100 percent or zero percent definition is asking to be made to look silly. So if you see these signs in your pet, consult your veterinarian, but don’t panic. In some cases, something more threatening may be afoot, but with old dogs, the “stroke” is often only a passing worry.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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