Why Foxy Woke Up With a Tilted Head

Long haired chihuaha tilting head

Foxy was perfectly fine when I put her to bed the night before, but when I went to get her the next morning, she could barely walk, and kept stumbling and falling down. Her head was cocked at a 45° angle and she had pooped and thrown up in her bed.

My first thought was that she had had a stroke or perhaps a spider had bitten her. My next thought was to call Marc. He knew what it was just from my description of her symptoms and a trip to the clinic only confirmed the diagnosis.

Foxy had “Idiopathic Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome”

a disease found primarily in dogs seven years and older. It comes on suddenly and dramatically with ‘idiopathic’ meaning ‘arising spontaneously’ and ‘from an unknown cause’.

Telltale signs include:

  • Loss of balance – stumbling, staggering, even falling down or rolling around
  • Head tilt
  • Nystagmus or erratic eye movements, where the eyes have trouble focusing and can’t stay still
  • Loss of appetite due to nausea and/or vomiting

Now there could be other reasons for these ailments such as an ear infection, a perforated ear-drum, a virus or an adverse reaction to a medication. It could even be something really serious like a stroke, polyps, a tumor or brain damage.

But since my 12 year old dog was normal and healthy only the day before, odds are it’s a vestibular problem. The vestibular system is comprised of parts of the brain and ear and is responsible for maintaining a sense of balance so when something goes wrong the dog experiences vertigo where everything is spinning.

Marc assured me that while the condition is frightening (both for me and Foxy) and there’s no specific treatment or cure . . .

Most Dogs Do Improve.

Meanwhile though, I had to help Foxy get around since she could barely walk or even position herself to go potty.

It took a few weeks but Foxy did get better, and while she’s left with a bit of a lingering head tilt, she can run and jump again and her quality of life has not been affected.

Marc did warn me however, that it is possible for dogs to have more than one episode of idiopathic vestibular disease. If it happens again at least I’ll recognize what it is.


Have a question about your pet or its behavior?
Contact us at Johnson Ranch Animal Clinic by
texting or calling 480-987-4555.


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270 East Hunt Hwy, Ste. #4
San Tan Valley, AZ 85143
480-987-4555