Just about a year after her first attack of vestibulitis Nala has had another attack.  Paula was at home this time when it happened and it was nowhere near as bad as the first attack.  This time she didn’t have the obvious eye twitching (horizontal nystagmus) and didn’t get sick.  I took her out first thing in the morning yesterday before going to work and she showed no signs of any distress.  A few hours later, however, I received a call from Paula letting me know Nala had another episode.

Paula took Nala to the vet as a precaution and all the blood tests came back negative (as expected) but we wanted to be sure.  One test the vet performed on Nala was to roll her onto her back and check her eyes.  As soon as Nala was inverted the horizontal nystagmus presented immediately (a sign that this episode was indeed a recurrence of the “old dog vestibulitis”, also called “old dog vertigo”, “Idiopathic Peripheral Vestibular Disease” or simply “vestibular disease”).  The vet said it’s extremely rare for a dog to have multiple attacks, so I suppose we can be proud our dog is so “special”. 🙂

Nala’s first attack was 5/30/2004.  I’d say it took Nala a week before she was walking on her own last time, but she fell down often.  After a couple weeks she seemed pretty steady but it was a few months before she could shake her head without falling down.  Her second attack happened yesterday, 6/7/2005.

Some tips:
Get a comfortable harness for your dog that wraps around your dogs chest  Having something that can help you to lift and support your dog “luggage-style” gives the animal the ability to move around.  Physical therapy is great for dogs as well as humans.  The more the dog is able to get the sensation of walking upright the more it will be able to learn where its body should be.

To help your dog eat straddle them with your thighs holding their mid-section in place.  Nala is able to stand on her own but has trouble eating because anytime she puts her head down she looses her balance.  By standing over her I can prevent her from swaying side-to-side, allowing her to eat comfortably.  Some dogs may be defensive about their food, so be aware that being close to your pet may make them uncomfortable, you may be able to help them relax by facing the opposite direction, supporting them but have your back to their head.

The slick floors that are funny when your normal dog is chasing you are an absolute ice rink for a dog with vestibulitis.  Your dog can slip an go down very hard because they don’t know which way to twist.  It’s important you help the dog balance, especially in the first few days of re-learning to walk.  Putting down old towels or blankets can help your dog to keep its footing.

With the loss of the inner ear for balance your pet will be relying on muscle memory and eyesight for balance.  This means when it’s dark your dog will be more off balance.  Leaving a night light on will help to stave off confusion and be sure the area you take your dog out to go to the bathroom is also well lit.  Your pet has gone from using muscles, eyesight and inner ear for balance down to just muscles and eyesight.

Make it a point to walk your dog over to the water.  You may not notice your dog periodically wander over to take a drink during the day, they get thirsty and do want to get a drink.  If they can’t walk over on their own, they’ll really be parched.

Finally: don’t panic.  As doting “parents” Paula and I are both very protective of Nala and it pains us to see her out of sorts.  Remember that your pet is uncomfortable, but probably not in tremendous distress (esp. if they are still eating and drinking).  As our good friend Tom pointed out last night: “it looks like the tail’s not broken.”  Nala responded with an enthusiastic tail thumping on her bed.

Would that be considered a hardware or a software problem?

A friend e-mailed me…

[My Wife’s] crt stopped working so I took a look around making sure everything was still plugged in, etc., Then I took a look on top where the cat likes to sit on the cooling vents to keep warm and found a pile of cat barf. After removing the monitor I found liquid had traveled from the top to the bottom, shorting out the crt.

I would have sent a picture of the problem but the dogs ate the barf.

Don’t give my those puppy dog eyes, private! Drop and give me twenty!

I’m as big an animal lover as the next guy… but this is just… well… odd.

“Imagine: your dog, cat, or other pet in full military regalia. I make this fantasy a reality. Using the latest digital techniques, I combine a photo of your pet with the uniform and background of your choice.”

Fantasy?  You mean like: “I love a man in uniform, now lick my boots Sgt. Spot!”?  Ewww!!!

Get your freak on at

Worry is subsiding

Nala is very thankful for all the well wishes (Nala can’t read so I simply give her a dog biscuit every time someone posts a get well wish, she seems thankful).

I took Nala to the Vet again Tuesday morning (our normal vet, not the emergency vet) and the doctor gave me a little more information.

Her condition isn’t uncommon, especially in older dogs.  We should expect her to recover almost entirely.  Nala has essentially lost the user of her inner ear for balance (temporarily or permanently wasn’t clear).  Animals (dogs and humans alike) use multiple inputs to establish balance: inner ear, visual queues and muscle position.  Take away one of the inputs and things will be wonky at first, but the animal will learn to cope.

It will be a few days before she’s able to get around well on her own (she’s already managing pretty well, but does tend to go bump in the night).  The doctor said to expect her to be unsteady for a few weeks or longer… especially since Nala is shy one leg.  Many dogs never get back to 100 percent and will have some minor symptoms.  The most common vestigial symptoms being a tendency to fall down when shaking dry and perpetual head tilt (which is actually kind of cute).

For now we’re continuing to baby her, more for our own sake than hers.

… and how was your weekend?

We had a bit of a scary weekend.  We went out for a hike on Sunday and came home to find our dog Nala hiding in a corner and a lot of vomit on the kitchen floor.  She came slinking out of the corner when we came in. 

Initially we interpreted her posture as shame for having gotten sick in the house (though she’s never been punished for doing so) but we quickly realized she was staying low to the ground because she was having a lot of difficulty standing.
We watched her for a little bit, then, like any good, overprotective parent, we went straight to the emergency room.  At this point we weren’t sure what had happened… how sick is she?  Did she have a stroke?  We were both terrified we’d have to put her down on the spot.

The doctor told us Nala most likely had “old dog vestibulitis”, not uncommon, but also not very well understood.  There could be a number of different causes for Nala’s vertigo and some blood tests would hopefully rule out some of them.  To be sure she was getting enough fluids and to allow her to be watched Nala spent the night in emergency veterinary clinic Sunday night.

Monday morning the doctor called us to let us know she could come home to recover.  She’s still not able to walk on her own and has difficulty standing to eat.  The doctor said she could be better in a few days, but it could be longer.
I’m not sure how much variation there is, but Nala’s symptoms are a rapid, side-to-side twitching of the eyes (horizontal nystagmus), a pronounced head tilt (perhaps trying to compensate for the spinning room) and a pronounced lack of coordination.  There are no warning signs and, from what I understand, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it (note: vestibulitis in general can be caused by ear infections as well, but for the “old dog” variety there doesn’t appear to be any cause).

My personal tip: get a dog harness, the kind that goes around the dog’s chest, and use that as a handle.  Nala now has a lot of trouble walking (especially because she only has 3 legs) and being able to grab the harness allows me to keep her upright but still allow her to walk roughly where she wants to go.  I’ve been using the harness to support her walking, eating and while she goes to the bathroom.

We’re off to our regular vet shortly… perhaps she’ll have more information for us.

Update: I found a note from the doctor with the technical diagnosis and am adding it so I don’t forget: Idiopathic Peripheral Vestibular Disease.

Some resources: