When my 15-year-old Sheltie collapsed in the yard, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to lose him that night.
That's because I knew there was a good chance that what he had was something called Old Dog Vestibular disease, or ODV and that chances were good he'd be fine after a visit to his veterinarian.
Which is not to say I was nonchalant about having a dog who couldn't stand without falling over. After all, Drew has been a "hospice dog" since last summer, when he was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease. Since then, though, he has been happily toddling along with daily doses of subcutaneous fluids, which I give him from IV bags that I hang from my dining-room chandelier.
But back to ODV or, if you will, a doggy stroke.
"There are few conditions veterinarians see with some regularity that really scare the pants off pet owners, but most veterinarians don't see them as major problems," said Dr. Tony Johnson, clinical professor of emergency and critical care at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. "One of these is indeed Old Dog Vestibular disease."
Johnson is a friend and Pet Connection colleague, which is why I already knew Drew might be fine. The board-certified emergency specialist had previously written about ODV for a book project that I edited, so I knew about the sudden-onset symptoms that include a loss of balance, head tilt and vomiting attributed to something akin to motion sickness.
To the dog with ODV, the world appears to be spinning, explained Johnson, which makes everyone feel a little queasy.
As soon as I got Drew to the hospital, our own veterinary team started eliminating other, more dire possibilities. In Drew's case, that meant a blood test for his kidney values (fine) and a check of his blood pressure (also fine). Because of his nausea, he was sent home with something to settle his stomach. That, and the tincture of time.
"The real cause of ODV has eluded science," said Johnson. "It may be a mini-stroke, like a TIA (transient ischemic attack) in people."
Less than a day after his initial collapse, Drew was able to stand a little and was interested in begging for a little toast. (He got what he wanted, of course.)
In the majority of dogs with ODV, most symptoms resolve within a couple of weeks, said Dr. Johnson, although TLC is necessary while the pets get better.
Some dogs need help getting out into the yard to relieve themselves, and some will also need to be hand-fed for a while.
For dogs that don't get better about a quarter of suspected ODV cases, says Johnson the true problem is typically a brain tumor.
While only an MRI would rule out that problem and I didn't opt for Drew to have one it'll be a while before I know if my little old dog will be back to what was normal for him before. In the meantime, he'll get all the TLC he needs along with the daily fluids he has had for months to keep his aging kidneys going.
With any luck, he'll be around and feeling just fine for his 16th birthday.