Some pets like to spin. Bull terriers are famous for their obsessive spinning and tail chasing. Other pets spin when excited, like my terrier, Buster. It’s fun to watch him chasing our labs and adding two or three spins into the game for variety. Everyone has seen a dog or cat circle to get comfortable before they nest in their bed. But the spinning in this story was a whole different matter altogether.
I was boarding a 13 year old lab named Candi who we had looked after throughout her entire life. She was an absolutely wonderful dog and a pleasure to take care of. However, Candi was starting to show her age, although she was still eating well and was fairly active.
When I came down to let her out of her kennel one morning, I was surprised and troubled to see Candi stumble out of the run and into the yard, circling, with her head tilted to the side. She was off-balance and appeared very distressed and confused. This looked bad and the first thing I thought of was that she’d had a stroke sometime during the night. I quickly made a vet appointment for her and tried to get in touch with the owners, thinking this could get worse very quickly.
I put Candi back in her kennel until her vet appointment, but she continued to circle and wasn’t calming down, spilling food and water everywhere. I had never seen behavior quite like this before and it was quite disturbing to watch. She was obviously agitated and I was worried about the stress this was putting on her elderly body. At this point, it was clear she couldn’t be left alone.
I called my husband, John, to sit with her until it was time for her appointment, as I still had other dogs who were impatiently waiting to be fed. While he watched her, iPad in hand (I swear it should be surgically attached!), he started goggling her symptoms and quickly came up with “Idiopathic Geriatric Vestibular Disease”, a inner ear imbalance common in older dogs. (Try saying that medical condition quickly ten times!) One unusual symptom was a strange back and forth wobble to the eyes, as well as the head tilt and circling. As he observed her more closely, John was surprised to see Candi’s eyes react exactly as described. Bingo! In all our years of running the kennel, this was a new one to us. Our next challenge was to convince the vet, as everyone knows medical professionals hate self diagnoses, especially from the world wide web.
At the vet, she was initially diagnosed with a stroke. Undeterred, John suggested the other condition he had researched (after practicing saying the name several times in the car on the way over), with the hallmark symptom being “wobbly eyes”. While checking her out, the eyes did the unusual movement again and John said, “That’s it!”. The vet considered this, and finally concluded that he could actually be right about his diagnosis. Dogs with this condition are normally nauseous from the imbalance and spinning they’ve been doing. She wisely prescribed a sedative and some bland food. Optimistically, we hoped the dog would improve soon.
I decided the best option for Candi would be to confine her to a small area, so I set up a crate at the house where we could watch her. She still tried to spin, but with the confined area and the sedative taking effect, she gradually fell asleep.
Walking her a few hours later was a bit of challenge, as she still wanted to circle, but Candi had certainly made an improvement.
When the owner finally returned my call from Hawaii, she was extremely happy to hear that things were much better then they had first appeared. Needless to say, so were we! When they picked her up a few days later, I was presented with two delicious bottles of California wine – much appreciated!
Candi boarded with us several times after her alarming incident, although she now had a definite head tilt and was more unsteady on her feet. Sadly, age eventually caught up with her and she passed away a few years ago. I’ll always remember her sweet demeanor and affectionate personality.
And I’ll never forget the day we learned how to say “Idiopathic Geriatric Vestibular Disease“.