Last Wednesday, I returned from running errands, uncrated the dogs, and went to go make myself some tea. I didn’t even pay conscious attention to the dogs as I did this (“Good boys, who are my good boys? Who smells like boxfarts? You smell like boxfarts!”). Shima the Puppy followed me to the kitchen, like usual. Zu the Dog…didn’t.
I went back to the crates to see what the problem was, and Zu was falling all over himself. I laughed: I assumed he had slept on his front paws and they were asleep. It’s happened before, and it’s hilarious.
He hadn’t slept on his paws.
Over the next five minutes, I waited to see if the situation would get better. It didn’t. Then, I called our vet’s office. The vet tech said the vet had stepped outside for lunch, so I should take him over to the emergency clinic. Zu moved as quickly as usual, even stopping by the bushes for a pee break, so I was worried/not worried. By the time we reached the EV, he had gotten somewhat worse, and then I was just worried-worried.
The part that had me freaked was the look on his face. He’s an ear-talker: everything Zu thinks is in how he holds his ears:
His ears were flat, his eyes were round–he was terrified. He knew something had happened to him, but he had no control over it.
The vet took him to the back for a thorough examination, and I spent the next hour watching elderly dogs come in, sniff each others’ butts, and collapse in sun puddles for naps. Then, the vet called me into her office for an introductory session in fibrocartilaginous embolisms (FCE). Simply, it’s a stroke-like event that is more likely to affect younger large-breed dogs. It’s also thought to be brought on by activities such as rough play.
(The vet asked me if Zu was active; I just laughed. This dog has been a real labor of love. He’s gone through two windows, eaten a chair and a couch, accidentally bitten a mailman, pulled down a chain-link fence, and continues to leave a sitcom-level trail of destruction in his wake. I worked with an international competition Schutzhund trainer for three years before she gave up and said he’s got serious impulse control problems and there’s not a lot you can do for that besides medication. So he’s on a lot of medication. And we finally found another dog who’s scrappy enough to give back what he gets, so he’s got companionship, too. The last six months have been almost peaceful, relatively speaking.)
I brought Zu to our regular vet for a second opinion–if it was a stroke, I wasn’t going to take a chance on a misdiagnosis and blowing those critical first few hours–who concurred with the FCE diagnosis. He even called a specialist in canine neurology, who did a phone consult: most likely FCE.
Which is great. If you’re a dog, this is the type of stroke-like event you want to have. There’s usually no neurological damage, and partial to full physical recovery is typical. Over the past five days, Zu’s been making strong progress. He can stand unaided. He’s able to walk around, and just yesterday he’s started climbing the stairs to the front porch again. (This is a huge deal for me, by the way. Zu is almost as heavy as I am, and moving his weight up and down each individual stair every time we go outside has been…unfun.)
He’s on a physical therapy (?) regime that seems to be working.
- 90 minutes of bedrest, followed by 10 minutes of walking. NO running.
- Passive range of motion exercises, at least six times a day.
- Aggressive barbecue chicken bribery for task completion.
It’s too soon to tell if he’ll make a full recovery, but he’s definitely better. (He might have recovered completely by now except he slipped the leash on the first day of bedrest and tried to run down the neighbor’s gardener you stupid shitbeast argh). And he’s also gaming the system: Brown left Zu all nice and comfy on his dog bed, stepped outside to dump the trash, and saw Zu at the window, watching him. By the time he got back inside, Zu was all nice and comfy on his bed again.
Real labor of love, this dog.