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Who knew YouTube would be such a depository of vestibular videos?
They aren't kidding when they say, "Canine idiopathic vestibular disease begins acutely and resolves acutely." Let me back up a bit: it began acutely. I hope it resolves acutely and completely. In any event, she's much better now [huge sigh of relief].
Last Tuesday evening my thirteen-and-a-half-year-old border collie was motoring around the back yard, keen, cheerful and busy, a tad stiff but nothing that herbs and acupuncture couldn't help, and it was a beautiful evening and everything was good.
Half an hour later she was flailing panicky-eyed on the kitchen floor, all sense of balance gone.
I helped her to her feet, but she couldn't stand. And then she could, but she was unsteady as a new calf, and when she tried to walk she staggered and would have fallen if I hadn't been there to hold her. Her eyes weren't focused on anything. Vestibular? Wouldn't her head be tilted? My little dog looked old, frail and very frightened.
There are times you say to yourself, "Eh, I'll watch her for a while, maybe take her to the vet if it doesn't get better in a day or two." This was not one of those times. We headed for the emergency vet hospital.
In my mind, or heart, there are a thousand images of my good girl at the farm moving sheep across the pastures, sometimes barely visible through the summer dust or winter rain, working or waiting to work. She was a great partner. Did I think of those times on the drive to the vet's? You know I did. I should have petted her more often. She was never a demonstrative dog, but last year she began sitting next to me each night when I took the pack out. She'd tap my leg with her paw to get attention, and if I stopped petting her she'd tap my leg again. Silly animal, so different from her younger, fiercer self. Her last surviving littermate died of a brain tumor in October. My girl was one of three pups, and she was born smiling: I told her she was mine before she was out of the sac.
The emergency vet seemed far less anxious than I felt. Temp was normal. A tech carried my little dog away for bloodwork, and those numbers were perfectly normal, too.
"Brain tumors, strokes and vestibular disease can share symptoms," said the vet, "but I think it's vestibular. An MRI would tell us more, if you'd like. Keep her on a well padded-floor where she won't hurt herself if she falls. Be sure she gets enough to eat and drink -- the vertigo often makes dogs too nauseated to show any interest in food. She can stand on her own: that's a good sign. She's already compensating for the loss of balance."
By the time we got home the head tilt was pronounced, and her eyes were flickering, slow to the left, fast to the right, constant, involuntary movement.
"Vestibular," said my traditional vet, watching my dog's eyes on Wednesday. "Once they've had it, they usually don't get it again. Keep me posted. If she isn't showing some improvement by the end of the week, it might be something else. Be sure she gets enough food and water. If you're on the computer [who, me?] go to veterinarypartners.com -- they'll have an article or two."
"Her ears and her facial nerves and reflexes seem fine," said my holistic vet on Thursday. "I'll fix some herbs for her after I put the needles in."
I won't bore you with my views on [amazing, wonderful] acupuncture. I will tell you that my good girl slipped past me and navigated the back stairs by herself on Friday morning, and managed just fine. I caught a glimpse of her tail as she trotted off with the other dogs. Yesterday, Sunday, she ate her first full meal in days, and ate it on her own -- no hand-feeding. She's on the mend.
My first bit of advice for anyone whose dog is suffering from vestibular disease: leave a light on 24/7. She can't maintain any kind of balance if she can't see.
Also: don't carry her unless she is quite small and you can put your hand under one or two of her front feet. Web legend, perhaps, but it really does seem to give the dog a "grounded" feeling. Losing contact with solid earth is frightening when you have no other reliable means to tell which way is up. If a dog is too big to be carried easily, use a padded harness to help her move around outside so that the dog can keep her feet on the ground. This will be easier on her and much easier on your back. Target, Home Despot and other stores have cheap, non-slip floormats that provide secure footing.
My girl was never so incapacitated that I needed to dribble water into her mouth with an eye dropper or turkey baster, and she never completely lost her appetite. If she had gone a day without eating I think I would have called the vet for a consult.
If you google dog + vestibular you'll probably read about someone's pet that recovered completely in 72 hours and someone else's that was still unsteady on his feet a year later. Many dogs are left with a permanent head tilt. My holistic vet said that three to four weeks is the average recovery time, based on the cases she's seen in her practice.
Another thoughtful YouTuber has posted several videos of her miniature schnauzer's experience with vestibular disease. Here's the first one:
Here is the VeterinaryPartner article on vestibular disease.
And here's my girl. Suffolks feared her: