dogs,  seniors,  wellness

What does Vestibular Disease look like?


Photo by Fredrick Kearney Jr on Unsplash

On a Tuesday evening walk Deuce stumbled. The sidewalks are slightly slanted and she’s well into her 13 year (at least – after 13 I don’t like to count anymore). She’s had a partially torn CCL and has arthritis in her hips. I presumed the stumble was related to all that. (Isn’t that enough?!)

Returning from work Wednesday, I was surprised that Deuce wasn’t at the door to greet me with her effusive hello and head butts. As I moved toward her she started to get up and then she fell over. She tried again, and fell on her side. Tossing the bag full of eggs and juice and fruit aside I dropped my purse and work bag as I raced to her. Only a foot or two and it felt like miles before I got there. She tried once more to get up and fell.

My heart was in my throat and I picked her up, gently. I held her on her four feet and felt for injuries and tried to see what was wrong.

She stood, and I took a deep breath. We made it slowly out the front door where she proceeded to walk and lean over onto me. After a few feet she took care of business and came back to the house. She drank some water and then threw up.

Panicked I called my vet. They were closing for the evening and I explained the situation. I asked if she could be having a stroke. The beautiful soul on the other side said she couldn’t diagnose her but if it were her own dog she’d get her to an Emergency Vet right away. As an aside she said, “You could wait and see if she improves by morning,” knowing full well that I wasn’t going to do that.

By now Deuce was drooling profusely, her head cocked strangely to the side and her eyes rapidly shaking back and forth.

I called the clinic recommended and checked that there was availability before doing my best to pick up my 60 pound, nauseous and nervous dog to put her in the car.

If you’ve ever had something come up out of the blue for your dog, you know how scared I was. As we waited for the vet to call us Deuce paced and drooled. She couldn’t get comfortable and frankly neither could I.

The team at the emergency clinic was great – friendly and professional at the same time. The waiting room was large and there were plenty of treatment rooms. As the tech and vet tended to her, they explained what they were observing, what the next steps would be and how they wanted to proceed. The tech had said that she felt it was vestibular disease and when the vet came in and did her exam she concurred. While there was a chance of something more serious (oy! What could be more serious than what we’d just been through?) the vet told me that sometimes vestibular disease pops up in geriatric dogs as it does in humans. (I put that in the back of my mind for sometime in the hopefully distant future). Apparently, there are crystals in the ear that can get dislodged – through no fault of the dog – and then they are dealt a dizzying and nauseating blow. Over a period of time the crystals often right themselves and the dog goes back to normal. Sometimes the head tilt remains and some dogs have a slight imbalance but more or less the dog is cured.

There isn’t a cure for this but the recommended treatment included doggie Dramamine and rest.

Deuce stopped eating after this ordeal and that scared me. She’d been on the Dramamine for a day or two and could move without falling over, but she was completely disinterested in food. Aside from the fact that she’s a food-oriented dog, this was a problem since it’s hard enough to get her to take pills IN food – I was having a hard time getting her to take her pills without food.

After doing some research of my own I discovered that the medication was likely making her nauseous. Nice.

When she seemed to be stable on her feet and the drooling reduced considerably, I tapered her dose of medicine and fed her baby food (turkey was a favorite), yogurt, and even a puree of freshly boiled chicken breast.

I celebrated a bit too soon when I thought she was better. Deuce had a relapse about two weeks later, and I started the medication again along with the baby food. Within a few days she was back to her old self.

Three months later and I haven’t seen the same symptoms again, however she does drool more than she did before all this happened, and her head is cocked slightly to the side, as though she’s perpetually asking me a question which I’m incapable of answering! Other than that, she’s doing well and sleeping and eating and walking without incident.

I’m hoping Deuce’s story can help you if your senior dog ever has an episode like this. Of course, still get to the vet and if they’re not convinced it’s vestibular disease, work with them to find the cause so you can take care of your pup!

I wish I’d know this could happen to dogs before it did. As much time as I’ve spent caring for dogs throughout their lives, this is the first time this scenario has happened. Just a reminder, that when it comes to dogs, there’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Have you ever had a dog with vestibular disease? What advice can you share?

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Writer and dog lover, helping pet-related businesses tell their stories.

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