Doodle, our beloved little dog, gave us a serious health scare a few days before Christmas. Picture this: we were sitting on the couch playing a video game and she was tucked betwixt me and The Dude (that’s what the cats call him, so I’ll go with it.) Doodle started panting and I noticed from behind that her head was tilting to the left repeatedly. I hopped down in front of her and looked into her eyes and noticed that she was completely unable to focus. Her eyes were flicking back and forth. She tried to stand but her legs slid right out from under her. I called the GrandFODs up and they came rushing over, but by the time they arrived about 4 minutes later, she was ok and walking again. Based on the way her eyes were moving and my own previous experience, I wondered if she had possibly had a bought of vertigo. Of course, I was also terrified she was having a stroke. I booked a vet appointment for the next morning.
Our vet, Dr. C. , said that based on the description, it seemed like Doodle had come down with a case of “Old Dog Vestibular Disease.” We were told that many dogs of age (Doodle is over 13) develop this problem out of the blue and the only real option is supportive care. Dr. C. mentioned that if Doodle had had a small episode, she would likely have a longer one, and she was not wrong.
On Christmas day, Doodle got very sick. She was lethargic, her eyes were floating back and forth, and she threw up from queasiness.
Here’s what you might notice if your dog has vestibular disease:
A rapid flicking of the eyes back and forth
A slow movement of the eyes towards one side, as though they are being pulled
Unable to eat or drink on their own
Drooling (From queasiness) or vomiting
Walking in circles
Running into walls or leaning while they walk
I put Doodle on 5 days of 25 mg per day of Meclizine, an anti-nausea medication that you can get over the counter. The doctor can also prescribe it. You may also find it as non-drowsy formula Dramamine. This enabled her to eat and drink, though I had to assist her because her depth perception seemed to be off and she was unable to get at the food and water without help. I also carried her down and up stairs and did not let her walk alone. I brought out her new Ikea pet bed because it’s low to the ground. I did not leave her alone on the couch or any elevated furniture and kept her away from any stairs or drop offs.
Humans who have suffered vertigo may be familiar with the Epley maneuver where your head is rotated into several positions to assist in moving inner ear crystals to maintain balance after an attack. The vet did not recommend this, but I noticed that Dixie was lying on the side to which her eyes were being pulled, so I worked her through the Epley maneuver (Again, this was not vet-recommended) and she seemed to get better shortly thereafter. After five days, Doodle was her self again. She is now handling everything like a champ and is no longer on medication.
If your dog goes through this, some remember that they need supportive care:
Assist your dog with eating and drinking
Do not leave your dog alone for long periods. Considering confining them to a small room or crate, if they’re already used to being crated.
Give them a comfortable place to rest
Provide anti-nausea medication, if vet-recommended
Get a vet checkup if your dog has never experienced this before. We also did a full blood workup and know that Doodle has no other underlying problems, which was worth the peace of mind.
Seeing Old Dog Vestibular Disease in action for the first time is a very scary event. Hopefully, this will help any of you feel less frightened if it happens to your dog. Senior dogs do require some extra care and this is just one of the many things that we can prepare ourselves for ahead of time to better assist our aging friends. Remember, they can get through this with your help!
Happy New Year!