My lovely Border Collie bitch, Cara, suffers from vestibular syndrome. She had her first attack a year ago, followed by two in quick succession. She was put on vivitonin, which, has kept her symptom free until a couple of weeks ago when she had another attack. She has recovered, but it has left her with even more of a head tilt and is wobbly on anything less than level ground.
The vet says there is nothing more they can do. My question is really to Richard Allport. Is there a natural or homeopathic remedy I could try?
By the way, she will be 15 at the end of May.
Phyllis Nottingham, by email
NB: please note only a qualified vet can give veterinary advice, but the sharing of experience by owners who have been in the same situation with their own dogs can really help
Richard Allport, vet, says...
Well now, the question is, is Cara suffering from VS (vestibular syndrome), or TIA (transient ischaemic attack) or CVA (cardio vascular accident)?
The symptoms of all these are so similar as to make a diagnosis difficult. In essence VS is a disturbance of balance - leading to such symptoms as a head tilt, nystagmus (eyes flickering to and fro), nausea, and falling to one side. Usually the cause is unknown, but it can be triggered by infection, or by an underactive thyroid.
CVA is a bleed inside the brain (essentially a stroke) and TIA (often called a mini stroke) is a sudden reduction in blood supply to one or more blood vessels in the brain .. and both give rise to the same symptoms as are seen in VS.
Interestingly when I was a young vet, we would tell clients that the problem was a mini stroke. Then the ‘experts’ said that no, dogs don’t get strokes, it’s always vestibular disease. Then, with the advent of MRI and CT scans, it was conclusively shown that dogs DO get strokes.
Whichever is the cause, most dogs recover spontaneously from the stroke/VS within a few hours or days, but the episodes tend to recur and can become more frequent and last much longer with time.
There is very little in the way of specific pharmaceutical treatment. Vivitonin works by increasing the blood supply to the brain, but there is little evidence it is of great benefit for dogs affected by TIA, CVA or VS.
So what would I suggest for Cara? First, ask your vet to consider testing for hypothyroidism, and possibly for high blood pressure, as either condition could contribute to the symptoms.
Secondly, for any patients that I treat with this condition I normally advise the following supplements and natural medicines:
Gingko – a herb that increases blood supply to the brain , as Vivitonin, but has other beneficial effects on brain circulation and function too.
Aktivait – a supplement containing various minerals, vitamins and amino acids that improves brain function in general in the older dog.
Homoeopathy – there are many homoeopathic medicines that can help, but which are most beneficial depend on the individual circumstances, and a consultation with a qualified homoeopathic vet would be necessary.
Acupuncture – sessions of acupuncture often help to minimize symptoms and speed recovery.
I do wish Cara well, do let me know how she progresses.