Tuesday night right after eating his 9 o'clock meal, Gabriel went down. He couldn't even stand up with support at both ends. He was flailing side to side and tilted. His panic relaxed when I spoke to him, and he was able to respond to my voice enough to stop trying to walk/crawl when I calmly said "Stay."
We rushed him to the veterinary emergency hospital. He couldn't be walked a step, so my husband had to carry him. He's a Belgian Tervuren, weighs 54 pounds and is 11 1/2 years old.
I bothered my vet at home by phone, because I was pretty sure he would want me to. One of the first things he asked was whether there was side-to-side eye movement. The emergency vet was thinking along the same lines, and Gabriel's diagnosis was vestibular syndrome.
Dogs who go down with this typically take from a few days to a few weeks to recover, and may have recurrences. They gave him valium and wanted to keep him overnight. I took a good look at his stress level and the chain link cage with concrete floor and a towel under him where he was confined.
I asked why he needed to stay, and they said to keep him from hurting himself flailing around. I pointed out that he's a skittish dog (very sweet--never, ever offered to bite anyone throughout this--but sensitive to movements, fear, etc.) and wasn't going to be able to relax there. They said they would keep him sedated. He's 11 1/2, and so are his liver and kidneys. Not a great idea to give him unnecessary drugs.
I know they thought I was just a clingy owner, when I kept saying he was my partner and I could keep him calm at home. But at the very beginning of the episode at home it had been clear that I could in fact instantly calm him. So we took him home. The emergency vet said to give him one drowsy-type Dramamine when we got home and 1-2 every 8 hours after that. And of course he needed to go to his vet in the morning.
At home he didn't want water and didn't urinate when we supported him outside on both ends, but he was able to stand with that support. I braced both hind legs with a hand in front of each one where it meets the body, and hubby held his front up with the padded nylon harness.
Hubby stayed with Gaby on the sofa keeping him calm until I got ready for bed, and then carried him in, settled him on the bed, and I attached his harness to my belt with a 4-foot leash so he couldn't jump off the bed. We've done this before for his bulging cervical disk, so he is comfortable with it, and slept like the sweet darling he is. He wasn't "out," but sleeping.
We got up at 5 and hubby picked him up and carried him outside. Gabriel could stand, and he urinated out there twice. Then I took the leash while hubby fixed dog breakfasts. Gabriel was pulling hard to get to his eating spot, walking fine. There may have still been a little head tilt at that point, but no staggering at all. This dog has both a bulging cervical disk and osteoarthritis in the hips, so clearly he was feeling okay. Hubby had been planning to come home from work to carry him into the vet's office, but obviously that was not likely to be necessary, so we left it that I would call and let him know.
I stayed up and kept Gabriel tethered near me until around 8. By then it was clear he could walk fine, so I left the harness on but took the leash off. He pooped outside, and I saw him lift a hind leg to urinate. His vet appointment was at 10, and he merrily bounced up the steps into the building. I had to be very careful to keep him from making the jump up to the exam table.
He has had a yeast infection in his ears recently, but the vet was able to view both eardrums and said both are intact and the ears look okay. I do have Desenex powder in there, which has cleared up the infection but kept the emergency vet from being able to see the eardrums. Possibly the ear infection triggered this. We'll probably never be sure.
The vet had me give him 1 Dramamine every 8 hours for 1-2 days, and then discontinue if symptoms did not return. They didn't. He stayed just fine. The emergency vet had prepared me for the typical situation with this condition, including a possible very long-term head tilt. Recurrence is certainly possible. My vet said it's unusual for a dog to recover this fast, but he has seen it happen before.
I can't lift Gabriel, and if I could at all, I probably couldn't with him all twisted up and his head waving from side to side like it was. Besides the side-to-side eye movement, he had side-to-side head movement, and we think perhaps that's because of his tendency to move his head rather than just moving his tongue (to drink or to lick a person) or his eyes when he looks at things. He moves his whole head, which may have contributed to his neck problem. He was curled in the direction of the bulging cervical disk and flailing the neck so much that I greatly feared a flare up of that problem, but it hasn't shown at all. One reason he is so used to the harness is that we attach his leash to that, never to a collar. He's so highly trained that he works just fine that way.
Hubby asked me that night how I would be able to handle it if Gabriel couldn't walk for a long period of time. I said, let's just take it one step at a time for now. And then he woke up fine. I feel like I needed a miracle and I got one. I'm grateful to God for his loving care of Gabriel and of us.
The other dogs were fine with it, especially Beevy (Believer). As I was calming Gaby, she was licking my ears. I didn't worry about that, just let her do it. I think it calmed her, and probably me, too! Maybe even Gabriel. She does adore him, and she used to regurgitate food and share it with him. I haven't seen her to that recently, but she is sweet with him and motherly with the whole family.
We've been through a lot with the two old dogs recently, and we knew it would probably be this way. I'm just so grateful Gabriel is still with us, and happy.