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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome - What You Should Know

Disclaimer: I am not a vet, nor do I play one on TV. This post is based on my recent experience with this frightening syndrome, and I hope it will help anyone out there who is going through the same thing.

I don't know about you, but my dogs are like my children. Actually, they ARE my children. Like parents of actual human children, I take my responsibility for their health and well-being very seriously. I'm sure very soon, my vet's office will dedicate an exam room to me and my critters...

I wrote in my last post about my Casey dog getting sick at the beginning of May. May 1st, to be exact. Casey is a 13 yr. old Golden/Labrador Retriever mix. She's losing her sight a bit and her little stomach sometimes gives her trouble, but in general she's in excellent health.

When I came home on May 1st to see her the way she was, I thought she'd had a stroke. Her head was tilted severely to the right and she couldn't stand up or walk without falling over. She had been fine just a few hours before - had gone outside with the other two dogs, done her business, and eaten her breakfast like always. Sometime in the few hours between my leaving for work and getting the frantic phone call from Sig at about 12, she had gotten sick. Sig said she had vomited and had a couple of accidents in the house, which is completely abnormal. She (Casey) was completely freaked out - and justifiably so. I noticed her eyes were moving rapidly from side to side, but didn't really put it together that her eye movement was making her sick and dizzy until later in the day.

She huddled miserably on the front seat next to me as I rushed her to the vet. I'm sure being in the car was only making things worse, but I had to get her to the vet. Once I got there, I was dismayed to find that the one vet I don't trust - Dr. Condescension himself - was on duty. Still, I had no choice but to let him examine her and try to figure out what the problem was...

Wait...did I say "let him examine her"? That's a laugh. One of the techs who works there very thoughtfully provided me with a blanket for her, so she wouldn't slip and slide on the exam table. When the vet walked in and saw me, bent over Casey, talking soothingly to her with tears running down my face, I was less than impressed with his reaction. He wouldn't even touch her. I explained her symptoms and he stepped forward just enough to be able to see her face, then instructed the tech to take her into the back and get an IV started.

He said he'd be right back and left the room, then was back about a minute later. Naturally, all kinds of scary thoughts were running through my head. When he came back in, he said, in his most infuriating and condescending voice, that she probably had a brain tumor. I was shocked. I've thought long and hard about this, trying to convince myself that maybe he really was gone longer than a minute, which would have given him time to actually examine her and formulate some kind of actual diagnosis...but no, he was gone for less than a minute. How he could determine she had a brain tumor without examining her or anything is beyond me. Maybe he's a super vet and I'm just not appreciating his x-ray vision.


I was devastated that I had to leave her there. She hates being there as it is, and to leave her there when she was so freaked out seemed cruel to me. He offered to let me see her, and as I walked back to the large cage where they had put her, I heard the most horrible sound. It was sort of a keening moan, and it sent shivers all through me. What made it even worse was that the sound was coming from Casey. My baby! I knelt down and spoke to her, and she seemed to relax a little when she heard my voice. I petted her as best I could through the cage, then the sedative she had been given started taking effect and she calmed down. I decided to leave before I had a complete breakdown.

I went to pick her up later that afternoon, and she had not improved. Her head was still tilted, she couldn't keep her balance, and her eyes were still moving rapidly back and forth. Dr. Condescension came in to talk to us (Sig came with me) and was still stuck on the whole brain tumor theory. As we both sat there, trying to take it all in, he hit us with the old "at some point, we will need to consider euthanizing her" line.

{Okay, here's the thing - I completely understand there are times when euthanasia is necessary. I've been through it with two of my cats, and it remains the single hardest thing I have ever done. However, I also believe it is not something to be considered lightly.}

After he said that, I was stunned. Sig was, too. We sat there and stared at him - his mouth was moving, but at that point I had no idea what he was saying. I just wanted to get Casey out of there and take her home.

When I got home, I decided to do some research online. I learned to my surprise that strokes are not very common in dogs. I thought back to how Casey was acting and realized all her body parts were working - they just weren't working together. I typed in her symptoms and boom! There were hundreds of links dealing with IVD (idiopathic vestibular disease, sometimes known as geriatric or old dog vestibular syndrome). I was stunned. The symptoms were EXACTLY what Casey had exhibited. I read story after story of people whose dogs had suffered through this and had later made a full recovery. I also read story after story by people who, to their eternal regret, had not known of this syndrome and had chosen to euthanize, when in reality the dog would have been fine had they only waited.

The more I read, the angrier I got. This syndrome is apparently VERY common, especially among middle age and older dogs and Labradors. How could the vet not have known this?? I mean, I'm not a vet but all it took was typing in a few words and there it was. Seriously, he couldn't have done that himself?

I had to take Casey in the next day for more observation, but I had already decided not to let Dr. Doom even touch her. There's a new young vet who works there whom Sig and I have grown to trust, and I was just asking the receptionist if he was going to working that day when he walked up behind me. I pulled him aside and told him about Casey. As soon as I listed her symptoms, he said, "Oh, that sounds like vestibular disease." I just stared at him, then hissed, "And why didn't those words come out of Dr. ****'s mouth yesterday??"

Naturally, he couldn't really respond without endangering his job, but the look on his face said it all. He made some recommendations and I told him I wanted him to take over her case. I didn't want to get him in trouble, but I have the right to choose which vet I want and clearly Dr. Death did not have Casey's best interests at heart. 

When I went to pick her up later that afternoon, she was still in the same condition, but talking with my vet of choice reassured me she would most likely be back to normal within a month. He told me he had watched her all day and had flushed out both ears to rule out an inner ear infection, but he could tell by the way her eyes were moving back and forth so rapidly that she did have IVD. It's called "idiopathic" because there's no known reason why it happens. It just happens. Your dog can be perfectly fine one minute then WHAM! The next minute they look like they're having some kind of seizure or stroke. He said she probably wouldn't eat because, to her, the room was spinning and making her feel sick. He prescribed prednisone to help take care of any inflammation in her vestibular apparatus, doxycycline to help with any potential infection, and an anti-nausea med and instructed me to make sure she was drinking water.

I brought her home and kept a close eye on her (well, except when I was in the hospital - talk about bad timing!). It did take a while for her eyes to stop the movement (called "nystagmus"), and once it slowed down she started eating again. Her head tilt is almost completely gone, and although she lost a lot of weight over the month, she is eating just fine and is running around like she always did. My baby is back!

So, if you're a dog owner and your dog begins to display symptoms that might look like a stroke, be aware of this strange syndrome! Don't be one of those unfortunate folks who didn't find out in time that, in most cases, this DOES go away.

Here are some links to some really good information about IVD. Please understand, I am NOT advocating self-diagnosis! Hopefully you have a vet you trust and won't need to look into things yourself - but a little extra information can't hurt. I'm just so glad I found these articles and was able to educate myself before it was too late!


(There are many more, but these are some of the better ones.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012


This is me.

Well, except that I don't have grey hair. And I'm not a man.

But the fluid in air sacs and coughing part is me. Or WAS me, for pretty much the entire month of May.

Yup, I got pneumonia. Not sure why or how, but it hit me hard.

Things started badly on Tuesday, May 1st. I was about to leave school for lunch when I got a frantic phone call from Sig, telling me to come home because something was wrong with Casey dog.

My heart stopped. Casey, in case you don't know, is my little 13 yr. old Lab/Golden Retriever mix. I adore her. She's my baby, and has had some weird health issues going on lately, so naturally I dropped everything and got home as fast as I could.

Casey was very sick. She had vomited and had a couple of accidents in the house, which she NEVER does. Her head was tilted severely to the right and she couldn't walk without falling over. She was freaked out - naturally - and it broke my heart to watch her try and get her balance. My first thought was that she'd had a stroke, so I scooped her up and put her into my truck, and off we raced to the vet.

To make a long story short, she did not have a stroke. She had what is called "Canine Vestibular Syndrome" or "Idiopathic Vestibular Disease". Sadly, the first vet I saw didn't even examine her properly to consider this possibility. I was the one who researched her symptoms and figured it out, and my amateur diagnosis was confirmed the next day by the "good" vet - the one I really trust. Good thing, too, because vet #1 was talking about putting her down, which completely shocked me - and here we are, a little over a month later, and Casey is almost completely recovered.
Casey dog home from the vet the day she got sick. Notice her head is tilted to the right. Riley is looking on, concerned.

Dog owners - BEWARE!! This weird thing hits without warning and many times the symptoms are misdiagnosed and the poor dog is put down!! I am so glad I decided to do my own research before anything drastic happened.

Casey with her IV catheter.
I had to stay home with Casey for a couple of days because she wouldn't eat (was too nauseous because her eyes were moving back and forth so rapidly) and still had her IV catheter in. I also had to make sure she was drinking plenty of water. On the second day of being home with her - Thursday - I felt awful. I ached all over, couldn't get off the couch without major effort, and felt like I was burning up. At about 3:45 I finally managed to drag myself upstairs to take my temperature, and it read 102.4. Yikes! No wonder I felt so bad. I also had a shattering headache and was having trouble breathing. Time to go to the hospital! :-(

To make another long story short, I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and after being in the ER for about 6 hours, I was finally sent to a room. It was a rough couple of days, especially since they couldn't get my fever down and I had a splitting headache the entire time. I couldn't sleep, coughed almost constantly, and the dang TV in my room wouldn't work. The woman in the next bed did nothing but throw up for two days - and let me tell ya, that is NOT pleasant to be next to!

All hooked up. NOT fun.
 After my release, I still had an awful cough that would not go away. The medication I was taking made me pretty loopy, so you can imagine how much fun my next few weeks of school were. I had a follow-up with my regular doc, and he warned me that pneumonia really takes a lot out of a person, and boy was he right. I was so fatigued it was all I could do do drag myself out of bed and get to work every day.

I feel much better now. I still have a little bit of a cough, but nothing like what I had before. I've jumped back onto the fitness wagon and have been walking for 2.5 miles every night and going to the gym every day. Next week, I'm taking my Lexa in to get her all tuned up so I can hit the road on my bike again. There's a ride in September I'm very interested in, plus my plan to run a 5K by December is still in place.

Casey dog is almost completely recovered. I'm so glad I didn't listen to that first vet! Pet owners, do NOT be afraid to ask questions or even get a second opinion - it could mean the life of your pet!
No more head tilt, yay!

Taken before she got sick, but she looks like this again. Sassy as ever!