It’s 1 AM and I can’t sleep–I’m pretty wide awake, actually. The reason being that I’ve just returned from the emergency clinic at the Animal Hospital, after leaving one of my dogs there. He was fine last night, but awoke early this morning and vomited. I then noticed that his head was leaning seriously to one side and his eyes were darting back and forth rapidly. I hit the veterinary sites on the internet and discovered that this was most likely “Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome”–something goes wrong between the brain and the inner ear, causing loss of balance, nausea, nystagmus (rapid eye movement), and head-tilt. The sudden-onset is the primary diagnostic evidence.
The good news is that it almost always resolves itself and disappears within weeks. Dustin (my collie) rested fairly well for most of the day. I gave him mouthfuls of water with a syringe. Toward evening I noticed a rattling in his throat–as if he had a lot of phlegm. The rattle got worse as time passed, and he began to get upset. He’d tried to lift his head and the vertigo would flare up, then he would flail a bit and put his head down again and begin his difficult breathing.
I had planned on waiting it out, given the good prognosis, but I just couldn’t stand listening to his misery. I somehow dragged him out of my bedroom–he could not stand up at all and his head was lolling to the side–and got him into my car, which I’d backed up onto the front lawn. Then I drove him the 20 miles to the hospital, where someone came out with a gurney and took him in.
I was afraid he had pneumonia, maybe from inhaling vomit or water. He had it a year ago, after the bloat episode. I waited in the examining room and tried to come to terms with this: I was preparing myself to have him euthanized. I remember the harsh lights, and the deja vu of the place–I had waited in the same examining room last year after rushing him in. I am in such a different mental state this year. Last year it nearly killed me to leave him with strangers, even though they saved his life. This year as I sat in the clinic, I knew that at the first indication of undue suffering I would let him go. It would grieve me severely but somehow I have a different view of what I can control and what I must let go.
The doctor arrived, and he was refreshingly direct with me. First, though, he asked me to tell him what happened, and when it happened. Then he agreed with me that it was most likely Vestibular Syndrome, and–luckily–he could see no pneumonia. He thought that the stress of the condition was probably causing the congestion. He did, however, let me know that there are two Vestibular Syndromes: peripheral and central. The former is what is most likely to clear up on its own, the latter could be caused by something more serious within the brain.
“If you’re thinking of putting him down, I wouldn’t advise it. We’ll keep him for a couple of days, give him IV fluids and something to calm his stomach, and run some blood tests,” he told me. “If it’s peripheral, he will begin to improve by then. If he doesn’t, then you can decide if you want him to have an MRI. Even if it were to show a brain tumor, I would still suggest we try steroids for several days. They could slow the growth and make him comfortable without stressing him.”
My little sweetie is twelve and a half years old, and I don’t have any illusions. I don’t know if I’d put him through steroids, if the worst came to pass. Another thing I’ve gotten good at is taking each day as it comes.