January 21, 2008

Vestibular disease: Leave a light on

UPDATE: This thread now has over 100 comments. On some computers [that is, in some browsers] the comment form no longer functions, so please post new comments at Vestibular Disease II on this same blog. Thank you!

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.

Seizure? Stroke?

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:


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Anonymous said...

Day 3 of Vestibular symptoms but not seeing any change. Head still tilted way to the left, stumbling walk and falling to the left. How long does it take to see any improvement? I can't imagine leaving him like this for weeks.

Anonymous said...

How do you handle leaving your dog alone with this? I do have to leave the house at times to work a 4 hour shift or buy groceries etc. I've set up what we call a safe room with blankets to soften the floor and pillows up against any hard furniture. He seems very comfortable when I'm around but even if I leave the room he gets anxious and tries to get up and follow me. I have to close the door and leave him if I have to go upstairs or into the kitchen because he will try to follow me upstairs and stumble and slip on the hardwood floors outside his safe room. I feel so bad leaving him!

Kim said...

Thank you for this information. A lot of good points to consider.

Unknown said...

wayne smith tow boat us lake George n.y. 518 644 9129 im in the first 12hrs of this horafying event our emma lou is 15 we thought we were going to have to put her down .do not fite with your partner over your dog some people cant watch a love one suffer so the strongest one is the one that will be up all nite with her I drew that straw .but my dog is worth it I pray we both make it threw it.be saportive they don't want poop in side but they will be prepared and tell them its ok lites help and they want you neer them.if you got cry do not do it with the dog it upsets them I for one pray .il keep up with this your not alone I posted my number feel free to call.. she was a stray and filled my life with joy and love il give her the day to day care as long as she don't suffer.

wayne/ema lou smith said...

good morning wayne sith tow boat us lake George .,well we all made it threw the nite my wife is a little upset directing it toward me again saport each other the dog knows when you fite just like the kids and they don't like it.emma lou smith finaly feel asleep at 2 am after she poop we were ready for thay,up at 7.30am I slip upstairs at 5am after the nite watch I guess I slept after yester day my first thought was to get to her I foung my wife culed up with her both sleeping .xo xo .ema lou seems a little better head tilted to the right eys are not flickering as mutch and she wants to gey up I would say she improved 2% .need a pray from you all this easter thanks wayne smith 518 222 8160

Unknown said...

My almost 15 standard poodle had an episode Saturday night. She came home from emergency vet on Sunday afternoon in much worse shape. She's already very, very thin, but until today (Wednesday) didn't eat more than a tablespoon of food. She has never vomited. She was so non-responsive yesterday that I wasn't sure she would last another day. So, it is diapers around the clock, lifting and carrying a big poodle, giving water In a turkey baster (her efforts to drink water were not getting much at all), and trying every possible food to interest her. She's no longer interested in the roast beef we made for her yesterday. But she is favoring the aged English cheddar...I'll try anything it she will eat it.....this dog has high standards! Hoping she will be able to stand or walk soon.....my almost 60-year-old body can't do this much longer.

Anonymous said...

My almost 13 year old collie mix Penny suffered from this about two months ago. Her symptoms were a bit different, as over the course of 5 or 6 weeks she had about 4 or 5 very small/short 'episodes' that lasted less than a minute and resolved by themselves. She was wobbly/drunk walk, nystagmus, completely unstable. Took her to vet after the last episode, as she did not recover from it. We are new to the area, no vet, so took her to the local vet. He was of the impression that she had a brain tumor, due to the small episodes, recommended seeing a dog neurologist. Did tests, all came back normal. We helped her to go out to potty, helped her drink, the second day she started eating (eggs, chicken), slowly got better. By the end of the third week she was mostly back to herself, although slept a lot for another 4 weeks or so. The only reminder of it is that we think she may have had some hearing loss, as we have to call her over and over.

Jean said...

Hello, Barbara, if there is any chance you see this or another person - what Homeopathy remedies did you use, the potentcy, and the frequency? We saw your note in October that your dog made a full recovery. Thanks!

Joan said...

MY Penny had this a year ago... and is now exhibiting the same problems... drunken walking, circling, and all the typical signs. She didn't have another episode that I saw.. if just seems a gradual thing. She is 17 years old... and if she can't walk she will sit on her butt and turn it around with her front paws to circle... she needs to do it so bad. thinking about using a small dose of dimenhydrinate to see if this will help..any help I can get would be appreciated...great blog!!!

Unknown said...

Our 16 year old border collie is showing some of the same signs. We where told that we could get MRI and bllod work done and get him some antibiotics but he has lost so much weight that he is really just skin and bone. That we would maybe give him another 6 months. Wd thought he was going to pass 2 years ago because he was lookong really bad but as of now he looks like death. As much as i want to keep putting it off we will have to put our boy to sleep next week. He has lived a very good life, but i feel like its cruel letting him go the way he was before he was sick. He still wants to play but cant. He has vwry bad eye boogies that we clean every day. Hearing is almost gone. And going blind. This dog has gone through so much. Still acting like a pup until a few week ago.

Unknown said...

I know this thread is old but I've come across it and reading all the stories is helping me cope a bit. It's 11:30 pm (Toronto time) I've been researching and reading for the last 3 hours.
Bear my 12 year old JRT has been acting strange (all the symptoms of the disease)
He is also blind in his left eye, can not walk straight on that side and bumps into everything (I have to carry him at times to keep him safe) started a few days ago but today it was worse so we went back to the vet. Vet says he is unsure of what it is and said it could be brain tumour.

He is eating and drinking fine, but I read somewhere online that appetites can increase with brain tumours, and not decrease. I also read that tobramycin is a possibility of playing a role in vestibular syndrome (which he has used not too long before this all happened)
Also read that the bumping into things may happen on the opposite side of the tumour. I guess my question is, does anyone know the difference and signs to look for when distinguishing a brain tumour vestibular syndrome? We have another vet appointment (going to a different vet for a second opinion) tomorrow, but reasons about experiences from people who have gone or going through something like this helps ease the pain a little.

Thanks for reading.


Unknown said...

Hi Vanessa, there is a somewhat standard case of vestibular to show with eye movements in one direction, and brain cancers cause eye movement often in the opposite direction ( sorry, I cannot remember which, but your vet will know). It's been just over a year (Aug. 13h since we lost our big poodle Lola. Miss her so much, but knew she was really struggling. We were able to teach her to walk again (with a little assistance), she continued to lose weight and suddenly went blind in one eye only. We also noticed that her impulse control was off...like she would grab food out of our hands (not like her usual self). Then, she started falling again with more frequency. After trying to support her in all ways for 3 months, she suffered her 4th bloat episode!. I knew she was too weak to make it through this time and I could not bear to leave her in the emergency vet office all night. Her pain was clearly very great and, given that she was on the decline again over the previous week, we put her down. When we described her recent symptoms, the emergency vet felt sure that she had a brain lesion, so that helped us make the decision to put her down. Possibly, your dog's one-eye blindness might indicate a brain tumor. But, if he is happy, not in any apparent pain, and still finding a little joy in life, just keep doing what you're doing. We could have opted for. A $2500 MRI to confirm a brain tumor, but we thought "what would we do differenty?" Nothing. Just keep her comfortable and happy until we had a sign that it was time. So, keep on loving him if he's comfortable. Every good day you have with him is a gift. <3

Anonymous said...

Some truly nice stuff on this website, I love it.

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