Golden retriever is very lethargic and is falling over

Our question this week was:

Several days ago, my golden became lethargic. Will sleep for long hours and when gets up, paces constantly for about 10 minutes. She is also losing her balance as if falling over. She is eating and drinking water. Two accidents in the house which she has not done before. Took her to the vet, they are doing blood work and said she has a low heart rate of 64. She weighs 90 lbs. Saw online (vestibular syndrome?) She was on 2 Benadryl tablets a day for allergies, which we have now stopped. Any suggestions as to what is going on? They suggested we see a vet cardiologist.

Thank you.

Nancy Burke


Hi – thanks for your email. It sounds like you are dealing with several problems with your Golden. Sleeping and abnormal behavior that includes pacing and loosing her balance.

I should start by saying I think that the two diagnoses that your veterinarian considered sounded very reasonable- Vestibular disease or some type of heart arrhythmia.

The vestibular system is a portion of the brain that keeps the body balanced and allows us to sense if we are standing, sitting, lying down, falling, spinning in circles, and keeps the body balanced. Vestibular disease commonly affects older dogs with an average age of 12 to 13 year and causes afflicted dogs to become suddenly very dizzy, loss of balance, falling over, a head tilt and an abnormal movement to the eyes. The symptoms can be very drastic and frightening to the owner. The symptoms generally gradually improve with time.

Another reason for dogs to loose their balance and appear weak can be heart arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm to the heart. During the periods of abnormal rhythm (depending on the specific abnormality), inadequate blood is circulated throughout the body and can cause fainting spells, loss of balance, and collapse. Generally, dogs with this problem will be normal between bouts. Dogs with Vestibular disease will continue to be abnormal with gradual improvement.

An article that might be helpful to you is on our is "Vestibular Disease in Dogs".

If your dog is continuing to have problems, I'd recommend discussing this with your veterinarian and considering referral to a cardiologist or a specialist.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

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