This is an especially long post,sharing information with others who may have experienced this with their dogs.
A week ago Darwin was hit with an especially bad case of idiopathic vestibular syndrome. On Monday morning, he threw up. Since he still looked nauseous, I rushed him outside, then rushed back in to clean up. Rushed back out and saw him walking stiffly, staggering slightly. He looked “off” enough that I took him to the vet’s, by which time he was recovering.
There’s a complete blank in my head where I’m trying to remember where and when the second, worse attack occurred. Later on Monday? During the night? I took him to the vet Tuesday morning, an awful trip because he was so difficult to pick up and get in the car. He’s not a big Airedale—50 lbs at his prime-but he twisted and thrashed so hard that I couldn’t keep a grip on him. That part I remember—his eyes wild and flickering back and forth (nystagmus), body twisting like a large fish and legs clawing every which way.
The vet described the syndrome as feeling as if you’re spinning in space, with no way to know what’s up, down, or sideways.
Darwin was too nauseous to eat or drink and couldn’t stand up. He spent several days at the vet’s where he could receive sub-cutaneous fluids and lie on a towel in a stainless steel hospital cage with a tray below to catch the endless diarrhea. For a couple of days there was no change, although most dogs begin to recover in the first 48 hours. The vet said that if this wasn’t vestibular syndrome, then the other possibility was a brain tumor or lesion, in which case he’d need an MRI to confirm. But there would have been no point in locating a tumor, no point in performing brain surgery on a 12-yr-old dog who also has a mass on one kidney.
So we had some suspenseful days, with me visiting him at the vet’s, sitting with him inside the cage, grateful for once that I’m short enough to do so, and crying when the assistants weren’t looking.
Then he lifted his head. His eyes were still flickering back and forth but he was gaining some stability. He started to eat a bland food called EN, mixed with water. Because his head was—and still is—tilted to the left, he only ate from the left side of his mouth from a shallow dish held up in front of him. He still doesn’t have the muscular control necessary for eating kibble.
On Thursday, the vet tech carried him outside. The vet described it this way, “He stood there for a few minutes, then thought, ‘Oh, I’m a boy,’ and he peed on a bush. You should have seen his tail wagging, he was so happy. He’s a very proud dog and you could see him light up at being able to pee outside.” (She also said at one point, “You shouldn’t have to go through this, not after having just lost Keeper. I know this is really hard.” I’ve never heard anything even remotely resembling that from the veterinarians at the specialty clinic.)
On Friday, he could totter for a few steps, leaning to the left (politically appropriate). I took him home. For the next 36 hrs., we went through a lot of towels, as his diarrhea hadn’t entirely cleared up. I got up so many times during the nights that I felt as tottery as he. I also discovered that if you have to pick up a now-45 lb dog over and over and carry him outside like a lamb, he gets heavier and the floor gets farther away when you’re lifting him.
I had thought to keep him in the bottom portion of a plastic crate to keep him confined in a safe area and to make it easier to clean up accidents. He settled into the crate but, for some reason, thrashed and slipped around in the crate when I tried to pick him up, as if he had regressed to the way he was days earlier. Now the living room is carpeted with dog beds, the largest being one I made out of the foam used to top mattresses.
On Monday he could stand up. As I led him to the car Monday afternoon for a recheck at the vet’s, he was so happy that he tried to dance around but would have fallen if I hadn’t caught him. When I got him out of the car in the clinic’s parking lot, he was so eager to go in that he walked in a wandering, staggering way, all the way into the clinic, the first time in nearly a week that he could take more than a couple of steps. He had received a lot of attention at the clinic. The techs and assistants would spend time petting him and talking to him. No one knows how to work a crowd like an Airedale. Even sick, he charmed all of them.
I overheard a woman at the front desk telling how she had had to bribe her Golden Retriever with ground beef to get him into the car and out again for his trip to the vet. Ha!
This is Wednesday. He still eats four small meals a day, food mixed with water because he rarely wants to drink water. He walks slowly, staggering. A couple of times outside, he has fallen. He does not like being left alone in the living room when I go upstairs to work—the short, sharp bark again that acts on me like an electric shock.
One of the times I was picking him up and he was struggling, he must have hurt a muscle because he’s limping on his left front leg. Or maybe it just happened from his lying on it wrong, for yesterday he was able to walk down the block to the mailbox and back.
He’s recovering but he is not himself. He walks outside and stands, four legs planted for stability, a blank look in his face. Then he remembers why he’s out there and finds a place to pee or poop. Or he starts walking across the yard and suddenly veers in another direction, forgetting his original intention. His head might always have a tilt or it might straighten out, given time. If we’re given time.