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.