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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Days Of Christmas: Old Dog Vestibular

There are always the things unplanned.

It was about 3:00 in the morning that we got our dog, Goethe, to the ER vet here in Chicago. This was last Friday. I woke to the noise of her falling - which isn't that odd since she shifts around in her bed sometimes - but this was just continous. At first we thought something was wrong with her back hips ... her legs are splayed out and she couldn't stand without leaning on something.

Then The Girl noticed her eyes - flickering back and forth with rapid succession and her eyebrows dancing to keep up. My first thought was a stroke and my heart sank. Just earlier that day I had ran with her in the park. It was hard to think about how this was going to turn out.

The ER vet was across town but it is definately one of those things you're glad you live in the city to have. Expensive, sure, but we could just get in the car and talk to a real vet without trying to wake anyone up or hold on the phone for an emergency line. Once in Bloomington, my cat had a bad reaction to some of her shots and ended up running around the apartment with one leg kicking in fits of spasms. I ended up calling the emergency pager number five times. I never got a call back, even in the morning. I never went back to that vet again.

At the ER, we got what was definitely bad news ... but not as bad as we had feared. Goethe had what is commonly called old dog vestibular disease, or sometimes just old dog vestibular or old dog disease. It's not uncommon. It's idiopathic - which means they usually will never find a cause. Essentially something happens in the brain between the ear nerves and central processing which result in the poor dog's world turning into a combination of a merry go round and one of those evil spinning car on an arm things. And they can't get off.

As bad as this sounds, the silver lining is that it is generally self-recoverable. Treatment is rest, making sure the dog is hydrated, and trying to get them to stand and walk on their own so that the brain attempts to sort everything out. My instinct would have been to put a towel over her head and keep her in a dark room - but that's apparently precisely what you shouldn't do.

The problem here was that we had nothing to do but wait. The self-recovery bit is nothing but probabilities. Some dogs recover fully in 24 hours. Some recover partially in 72 hours. Some recover somewhat in three weeks. Some never really recover. And all you get to do is wait to see if you get your dog back or you'll be setting up the IV at home. We spent Friday afternoon at the vet's congratulating Goethe on standing and leaning. At one point Goethe tried to kiss The Girl on the cheek and ended up toppling to the ground.

Thankfully by Saturday her condition had gotten better and the vet was comfortable with releasing her. She had eaten some wet food from someone's hand - she was still to not able to navigate a bowl just yet. She could walk a little. The Girl was uneasy putting her in a car in this state, so our holiday weekend ended up getting split as I drove down to the homestead to catch my brother while he was still in town, and then looped back up with my dad the next day to pick her up, if she felt the puppy was up to the task.

Fortunately it seemed like time favored the good dog. Her recovery was in degrees, but we took every step we could get. Once down in Decatur, she was treated to a wide variety of holiday food and for a few days we were happy she was just eating anything at all. By the time we left on Tuesday, our concern was mainly that she wasn't drinking any proper water. My worry was that we had gotten this far only to need to worry about dehydration in a hurry.

The three and a half hour car ride seemed to convince Goethe that water was a good thing, though. She's back to drinking normally and eating pretty well at this point. Her head is usually at a slight tilt when she walks - and that might never go away. She's shy about stairs and when she's excited she forgets all about how to walk in a straight line. Yesterday, though, she chased down two squirrels in the park all on her own and gave them a good chase in the process. She can give puppy kisses any time she wants without so much as a stumble.

It's hard to keep a good dog down. And while our holiday week was strewn with worry and watching over her, I can only imagine the trip back that Goethe took to return home to us. Superstition says that one should take care of all leftover business before the new year. I think her timing seems like it will be pretty good.


Anonymous said...

I... words fail.

I can only imagine what panic and fear you must have been dealing with. I'm glad to hear she's back to mostly normal. I think I'll be extra extra patient with (T.S.) Eliot's tummy troubles from this point on.

Josh said...

And if I had to make a PSA (a very sad one) as a footnote ... it would be this: one of the worst things about old dog vestibular is the number of dogs put down because a vet mistakes it for a stroke and the owner doesn't allow it the month of recovery it sometimes takes.

Strokes are actually pretty rare in dogs - vestibular problems are not. If a vet tells you the dog has had a stroke - always get a second opinion.

Thomas said...

Good to hear that she's doing well. What always breaks my heart about sick dogs is the confusion as to why they can't behave normally.

Josh said...

Yeah, I hear ya. I get the shock at times, because now I realize just how fast things can change - but (not to sound cliche) sometimes you have to look at things from the dog's perspective.

Josh said...

Since this post, for the record, Goethe has made an almost complete recovery. Day to day you can hardly tell anything ever happened to her. At times, like when she first wakes up, it seems she doesn't always have her balance as before. She seems more timid around stairs than before.

But if you didn't know she had undergone this ordeal, you wouldn't even think to look for it. She runs, she plays, and she lands kisses with deadly accuracy.

Tink said...

This has happened to my dog twice now, within a 4? month timeframe. He's a 14 yr old cocker/beagle mix and both times he has recovered fully within 4 hours. It's very scary. With the last one I think he knew it was coming because he came to me and tried to crawl into my lap, he was so scared.