A Man’s Best Friend {What I learned from our dog}

Do you ever have a week where you just need to wake up in reality? Where your work consumes you? You talk on the phone with friends and family but you’re half listening because the next deadline is running through your head. Stress. Worry. Anxiety. Deadlines. Data. Research. You get the point.

This week was one of those weeks. Or rather, it was…until Wednesday night.

I was playing the single “fur-baby” mom role with Matthew out of town. Which meant waking up earlier, going to bed later, and more chores with the dogs and chickens. Since we both work from home, except the days we’re “in the field”, the dogs are quite used to us being around them all.the.time.

Our “girls”, Jordan, Maggie & Nike, are 5-7 years old, and our old guy, Thunder, is 15.

It had been a long week by Wednesday, and I was so ready for it to be Friday. After work I went to run errands and  came home around 9pm. First things first, I go to the dog’s room to let them outside. The girls ran right outside, but Thunder needed a bit of help standing up. He has arthritis and even dog bootiesdon’t always help. I lift him to stand, and he tips right over. I try again. He looks like a drunken sailor. Lay him down. Check his mouth. He can breathe. Check his eyes. Uh oh. This is not good. Nystagmus, or involuntary eye movement. Then his head starts swaying back and forth. Crud–this really isn’t good.

I carry him outside so he doesn’t have an accident inside. He can stand with assistance, but certainly can’t walk. And good news–he can potty!

Bring him inside. Call Matthew. Realize we’re not sure what we’re dealing with. Ear infection, stroke, tumor??? Call my dad, a physician, who is amazing at diagnosing humans over the phone. His thoughts–inner ear issue, tumor on cerebellum or stroke. Okay…what do we do? Hook up Skype so Matthew can see what Thunder looks like. Start googling for 24 hr vets in rural Iowa County. Matthew googles the symptoms while I comfort Thunder. His head is swaying with a tilt, his eyes are twitching, he can’t stand up straight (Thunder, not Matthew). Matthew googles the symptoms and I check the Merck vet manual. Inner ear, tumor, stroke, vestibular disease all roll off our tongue. But we don’t know what to do if that’s happening. Matthew remembers that our vet has an after hours number. Call that. Talk to person on call who will let the vet know. Vet calls back within 2 minutes at 10pm! {We seriously have the best vet in the area. Thank you Dr. Holter!} Dr. Holter confirms what we had googled. Most likely, idiopathic geriatric vestibular disease. Most commonly affects male dogs over the age of 12. Thunder fit all the classic symptoms.

Good news: we have a diagnosis.{& he’s not going to die when Matthew is gone}

Bad news: there’s no treatment, except time.

So begins my fur-mama duties. Help him eat and drink, carry him outside to potty, lay with him on the floor so he’s not scared until 1am, sleep right next to him, wake up at 4am to check on him again, and up at 7am to start the process all over again.

Luckily my Thursday was a home office day, so he laid right under my feet while I worked. And within 12 hours of clinical onset of symptoms, he even stood up on his own (but promptly tipped over). Thursday night Matthew made it home and we noticed Thunder’s eyes weren’t twitching quite as much. By Friday morning he stood on his own and even took a few steps. He still had his appetite, but did go almost 19 hours without drinking water when his symptoms first started.

For anyone who reads this, and has gone through it or is experiencing it, be encouraged that it does seem to resolve. It might take time, but your dog can come back from this.

It may sound cliche, but I realized one of the most important life lessons this week–life is precious. {One of my dad’s favorite sayings to his “girls”} Be it human life or animal life. We take so much for granted and nothing is guaranteed.

Thunder, thank you for showing me what really matters in life.

At the end of my life, I don’t want to remember the deadlines for work or the stress. I want to remember…


{The beauty of nature. Instinct. The competitive drive. And in Thunder’s case, barking up trees and winning awards for squirrel and coon hunting.}


{The beauty of the first snowfall. How each and every snowflake is unique, just like us. If you push through when you’re chest deep, it will be easier the next time.}


{That it’s fun to play dress up.}

{That it’s okay to ask for help.}

{What it feels like to stop and feel the sunlight on your face.}


{To cherish time with your best friend. The feeling of unconditional love. The sloppy wet kisses.}


And at the end of my life, I hope I can hold my head high, just like Thunder.

Must Love Dogs » Driftless Living Photography | Southwestern Wisconsin Lifestyle Photography | Annika Swenson - September 2, 2011 - 7:15 pm

[…] Thunder, our 15 year old Mountain Curr, developed vestibular disease, which you can read my post here. As an update on his health…he is able to stand and walk on his own, but due to his […]