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Published: Jan 05, 2012

When your dog looks up at you and cocks its head, it can be an adorable gesture, but it may also indicate a health issue in older canines if they fall in the direction they're tilting their heads.

A dog's vestibular system is responsible for keeping the animal on its feet, and vestibular disease can cause sudden difficulty with balance, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Dogs suffering from vestibular disease may be unwilling to stand or walk. If they are willing to walk they may be very unsteady on their feet, list or fall to one side. They may experience rapid jerky eye movements and may seem disoriented or even nauseated by the lack of balance.  Vestibular disease typically affects older canines and sometimes there is a medical condition which triggers the imbalance—such as high blood pressure, an ear infection or possibly tumors, but sometimes there is no underlying issue connected with the disease. It is easy to mistake the symptoms of vestibular disease for those of a stroke, according to PetSide.com.

The clinical signs of vestibular disease are worse in the first 24 to 48 hours when the animal's balance begins to be affected. When this occurs, the canine should be taken to a veterinary hospital for a complete examination, blood pressure evaluation and appropriate blood and/or urine tests to determine if vestibular disease is the cause of the problem and whether an underlying disease condition is present.  Treatment may involve giving shots to dogs –such as anti-nausea medication, antibiotics or other medications to help support the ailing dog.  In dogs where an underlying condition is not found most will recover within one to several weeks.  Occasionally dogs will be left with mild residual signs—such as a mild head tilt or a slightly wobbly gait.

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