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I didn’t meet Frances and her dog, Juno, in an exam room. It was on the shores of a city lake, where she cradled her Border Collie on a park bench.
Something about the way Frances held her dog wasn’t right. When I asked if her dog was tired, she shook her head, and I could see the tears pool in her eyes. “Juno is 14,” Frances whispered, “and I think she had a stroke last night because she can’t stand. I have an appointment to put her down in 15 minutes, but I wanted her to see her favorite place one last time.”
The tears came hot to my eyes, too. I explained that I was a veterinarian and asked if I could take a closer look at Juno. If there was any comfort I could offer Frances, then I had to try.
Juno struggled to stand and then collapsed on the ground. With a closer look, I realized she had all the telltale signs of Old Dog Vestibular Disease: the head tilt; the dizzying loss of balance; the rapid, uncontrolled eye movement from side to side.
With this condition, an older dog can seem perfectly normal one night but lose all sense of coordination by morning. While the signs can mirror the devastating effects of a human stroke, the cause of the disease remains unknown. But with care, most dogs recover some, if not all, of their function in a few days.
I rubbed Juno’s head and said, “I don’t think you’ll need to say goodbye today. Keep your veterinary appointment to make sure there’s not something else going on, but I’ll bet she’s feeling better in a few days.” I wished Frances and Juno well and went on my way.
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