It’s been a while….
It’s been a while since I’ve posted something. A big reason behind it is that it’s been a hell of a couple of months…. but the last two have been especially hard.
I’m only human so it’s normal I run into hurdles along the way. That’s been the case since February for me, but I’ll share more about that…some other time. What really made it over-the-top, glass-overflowing, la goutte qui fait déborder le vase… was Zeus’ health.
You know, if you’ve been here (to the blog) before, that I have two lovely, fluffy goofballs, Zeus and Achilles. Zeus, my black lab, has been with me for 12yrs, going on 13. Achilles is 8, going on 9. Needless to say, when you‘ve had a doggie companion for such a long time, they’re part of your life, your family, your very soul. So when they get sick (be it tummy issues, ear infections, etc.) I feel it deeply.
Zeus’ troubles… were a bit more than a regular ear infection. But I wanted to share our story to give hope to others, and also to share the fact that, sometimes, vets don’t know everything, after all.
Zeus has always been a fairly healthy black lab; prone to ear infections every season change, allergies earlier on in his life, and food allergies in general. The last few years he's had some arthritis kick in his back legs, so we got him on DGP natural supplements which have helped enormously. Overall though, he's been healthy and still kicking.
That all changed on May 24th of this year where, out of the blue, at 9am in the morning, he had a seizure. I was alone in the house when it happened and had never seen a dog go through this, so I was...in a panic. One moment he was pacing behind me in my office while I worked, the next he dropped to the ground, drooling, legs kicking like he was swimming, jaw clamped shut, eyes completely wild...and shaking. I dropped on my knees next to him, shaking myself, trying to figure out what to do to help. Crying, babbling, I dialled my vet and while on hold with them quickly googled what to do when a dog has a seizure. Good thing I did, because I'd been about to put my hand in his mouth, afraid he'd swallow his tongue (like humans are at risk to) and all articles said not to do that because dogs can bite. While I was still waiting on the phone, Zeus kept seizing, and finally, a raw, sort of guttural groan escaped him and he just...released. I don't know how else to explain it other than his entire body let go, and for a moment I was afraid I'd lost him. But then he took in the most painful breath and let it out, and I with him, and I knew he was alive.
The vet finally picked up. Frantic, I yelled that my dog had a seizure, that I didn't know what to do, that I needed to speak to a vet. The receptionist was annoyingly calm, asking me questions I was in no right mind to answer. She said, matter of fact, that the vet can't do anything on the phone (no shit! as if I didn't know that...) and then proceeded to ask me how long the seizure lasted, to describe it, and then bring in Zeus asap. I called my husband next, asking him to drop everything at work and come home (since he had the car). While I was waiting for him, I petted Zeus and talked to him, like the articles said, and he seemed to come to. The seizure had lasted a little under 2min, though it felt like forever. Already, in less than 15min, he was struggling to get back to his feet. He tried to go down the stairs and thankfully I had a lift/type harness so I was able to bring him down, to a space where he couldn't hurt himself.
When we brought him to the vet that day, his bloodwork was fine, and they couldn't pinpoint the cause of the seizure. They said to go back home and monitor him for another seizure, at which point they could get him started on meds, although they explained that epilepsy didn't generally manifest in dogs as old as him, and that it could be another cause. That day and half of Wednesday, he slept a lot. When he did wake up, he was almost back to normal--able to come down the stairs on his own, and although I noticed he bumped into a few things, he was drinking water and eating well.
By the evening, that was about to change. He developed a sort of restless pacing. Sounds harmless, but it's horrible to witness when it goes on for 3hrs without pause. It was always in a rectangle--left, up, right, down the living room floor--nonstop. On and on, he would pace, and everything I looked up online said dogs do this to calm themselves down. So I left him to it, baby-proofing the living room so he didn't bump into a table or a shelf corner, and just watched him, giving him water every so often. This only stopped when he exhausted himself and went to sleep. Then, an hour or so later, he'd be up at it again. He did it through the night, and continued on. Thursday, it got worse. He was bumping into things nonstop by that afternoon, and pressing his head against walls. He'd purposefully walk into corners (like a kid that's been punished) and just stay there, whining.
It broke my heart not knowing what was wrong, and the fact he was unable to communicate it. He started to eat less, but he was still somewhat eating. Walking up and down the stairs was a no-go, and he was extremely wobbly, acting as if he was drunk. We moved his bedding in the living room and took turns staying the night with him.
By Thursday evening, I got a call in from the vet. I'd called the clinic and asked to speak to him. Explained about the pacing, etc. Vet confirmed that it happened after a seizure and it would take Zeus a while to settle down. He prescribed Zeus some painkillers, so the pacing wouldn't kick up the arthritis pain in his back legs. When it was my turn to watch him, I spent my nights awake, unable to sleep and just watching him, crying, fearing I was losing him. Something in my gut was telling me something was very, very wrong. I researched nonstop when he was asleep, and fell on this article discussing canine seizures and epilepsy, and it somewhat gave me reassurance. Little Old Dog Sanctuary, the blogger who wrote it, was a gem when I contacted them over Instagram, answering my questions and providing hope.
Armed with some knowledge, back to life we went... Thursday evening into Friday morning Zeus didn't sleep much, and neither did I. Zeus was still pacing, still whining, still restless, still going for the corners. I barricaded more of the living room so he wouldn't hurt himself, and just sat...watching him pace, and crying because he no longer reacted to the sound of my voice. Nor did he recognize me, it was like he wasn't there anymore.
This continued into Friday, although thankfully he slept enough through the day for me to do some day job work. I noticed his legs were giving him a harder time, in that he couldn't get up as quickly. He was bumping into things even more. By Friday afternoon, I was a wreck, but I had hope. I'd found an article about ear infections!
See, Zeus is a lab and prone to ear infections because of floppy ears. Last year, he had a bad ear infection that made his eye go all wonky; vet thought he might've had glaucoma, then he realized it was a deep ear infection that was pressing on his optical nerve. This gave me hope, because if there was a chance the ear infection had gotten bad again and was pressing on his middle ear (the deepest part of the ear section for dogs), then it could've explained his seizure and it was a common cause as well for old dog vestibular disease--which accounted for all of Zeus' staggering, pacing, walking into walls, etc. I was relieved: I might've found the issue!
That night when Steven came home was the first night in a week I hadn't been crying. I told him what I'd found, and we both basked in the hope, even as we stayed with Zeus up through the night. We called the vet again and asked for another consult. He was free on Sunday evening. No problem, it was the weekend and we could both watch the dogs... Needless to say, Achilles was positively frantic in his own way, not understanding what was going on and why he was being kept apart from his brother (I was afraid of another seizure and how he'd react).
But then Zeus stopped eating on Saturday. And by Sunday afternoon, he was massively lethargic. The baby boy I'd known, who'd been my best companion and my best friend for 12+ years, wasn't there anymore. I could feel it, I could see it when I stared into his eyes. And I could also feel his pain.
When we drove to the vet, in the backseat of the car, Zeus put his head on my lap. He gave this tired sigh and a little tail wag and I started crying uncontrollably (even now, the memory brings tears to my eyes). So we drove to the vet...and they took him away and due to Covid regulations we couldn't go in with him. We explained to the vet technician that he wasn't feeling too well and to keep an eye on him. It broke my heart watching them take him away and knowing I wouldn't be able to sit with him while he was waiting for the vet.
About 40min later, the vet called us. His first words were "he's in rough shape, guys". While waiting in the vet room, Zeus hadn't been able to get up to go pee in a corner, and he'd peed under himself. He was a mess. The vet checked him for the ear infection I mentioned, and confirmed Zeus had 2 ear infections but that they weren't deep enough to cause any issue such as seizure. He said it was rare that they do, but not impossible, and that Zeus also had an eye infection. So he gave us antibiotics for both and sent us back home with him...after telling us that he's pretty sure the seizure is neurological at this point and that because of Zeus' age, any further action would only result in extra pain/stress for him (from being around strangers and without us) and wasted money for us. The money I could live with; the extra pain for him, I couldn't. So the vet said to bring him home, give him as much love as we could, and be ready to make the horrible call of putting him down in a week if he wasn't doing better.
Needless to say, I was heart-broken. I lost a dog, a gorgeous German Shepherd, when I was young and I felt that pain for a year after. I'd only had him for 5yrs. Zeus has been by my side forever, and I couldn't imagine being without him. I know it's what we sign up for as pet owners, but... it was hard (understatement of the year).
On the way home, we stopped by the grocery store and picked up some things for Zeus to eat. Canned dog food, every treat we could think of, hoping those would entice him more than his pebble food. We came home and that night, as I stayed up with him during his pacing, I tried to get used to the idea of a life without him. I couldn't. I managed to have him eat a biscuit here and there.
And then began the tug and war of my heart and my head. My heart, who wanted Zeus with me forever, at any cost. And my head, who was pointing out that he was probably in pain and I owed it to him not to keep him in pain.
Monday was, needless to say, horrid. I was sleeping 3-4hrs a night by that point, even when Steven was "on shift" to keep an eye on Zeus. Waking up to every noise, and trying to give Achilles loving too so he didn't feel neglected.
Monday, I made some fresh chicken breast and Zeus nibbled on some. I was desperate to get calories into him and water, knowing that so long as he was doing that (eating and drinking) there was hope.
And through it all, I researched nonstop. Vet had given us no hope, but there were plenty of dog bloggers out there who did. The research pointed me to a few natural remedies, one of which pulled my attention. See, the vet had repeated that he thought this was a neurological issue and potentially some form of cancer. I knew, from my own neurological issues (concussion + post-concussion syndrome) that the brain is extremely sensitive and needs rest in order to heal from any trauma. If Zeus wasn't getting the rest...and he had pressure in his head (as indicated by the head shoving in corners behaviour)...I needed to find a way to help relieve that pressure. And I ran into this article on cancer in dogs and holistic aids. One thing mentioned was a turmeric golden paste you make and another was hemp seed oil. Other supplements were touted to help with boosting his metabolism, providing him a chance to fight, etc.
Thank goodness for Amazon and their Prime delivery... I started him on the turmeric paste and ordered a hemp seed oil. It seemed to calm his agitation a little, though I knew it would take time. Through it all, I kept finding new ways to feed him food. I'd found a YouTube channel for a vet in the UK who spoke about old dog vestibular syndrome (Zeus' symptoms mimicked that a lot; the head tilt, walking like drunk, restless pacing, etc.) and how the onset can be sudden, but dogs can recover just as suddenly; the vet had been adamant Zeus' problem was neurological, but I kept hoping. One of his videos linked to a man and his dog, who'd acted like he was on his deathbed, and as his family struggled with the decision to put him down, the dog recovered... Their story was so inspiring, that I closed off the tabs of 'at home euthanasia services for dogs" I'd been torturing myself with and went back at it.
I don't know what did it. I don't know if it was my husband's unwavering belief that would Zeus get better because his time with us isn't over, if it was my half-assed prayers in the middle of the night, the natural remedies, some doggie voodoo Achilles did, or a combination of all of them... I'm not a religious person so throwing around the word "miracle" is, well, weird. But Thursday evening (a week and a half after the seizure), amid Zeus' pacing that had become a little bit less frantic, Zeus stopped. Looked at me. And walked over and nudged me with his nose. It wasn't much, but hope flared inside me with newfound energy.
Saturday, he started walking better and staggering less.
Sunday, he could find the water bowl by himself, and climbed on the couch in the middle of the night.
And Monday, two weeks almost after the seizure, he walked down the street and sniffed everything and everyone while I tried not to be a blubbering mess of tears.
He started eating better, drinking better, asking for walks every night at 9pm... And although one eye was still recovering (the eye infection) and his depth perception wasn't 100% back, he recognized us both and he was answering to old commands.
My baby...against all odds...survived.
That same week, we had another vet come by on a house call. For once, I was able to have a professional next to me and ask all the questions I wanted while he gave Zeus a physical. Zeus was chilling in the backyard, sniffing the grass, and finally plopped down to pant at us in a "why the long faces, humans?" way that made me want to both laugh and cry.
Anyway, the second vet checked Zeus over, I gave him the full history, and he provided a lot of information. Like the other vet, he agreed that Zeus' ear infection probably didn't cause the seizure or what I'd seen as he recovered. Unlike the other vet, he thought Zeus' seizure might have been a mild stroke, rather than something neurological like cancer. It could happen again, it could not. If it does, his body might recover again, or it might not. A CT/MRI scan at this point would be useless because the seizure is long and gone, but he did recommend it if it happens again, to get it done immediately. In short, the vet said the best we can do right now is love him and enjoy all the time we have with him, for as long as we still have him... so I plan to do that.
Anyway that's the long, heart-wrenching, miracle-ending story. If I had listened to the vet and put Zeus down, I wouldn't have had him with me for all this extra time and made new memories.
Update July 10:
On July 2nd, 43 days after his first seizure, Zeus had another seizure at 2:47am. By 2:53am, he’d recovered. I was deathly afraid we were about to enter the same cycle of his recovery, but he looked at me and other than being confused and a bit restless, he recognized me. Licked my hand. Pawed me. And then cuddled up with me on the couch.
The vet was closed so we had to wait until opening to call them. At which point, they said to bring him in. Again, they took away, and again, they said there's no much they can do. Because Zeus' seizure was more than a month after the first one, it doesn't fit the epilepsy pattern. They said to wait for a third seizure... And the vet, again, mentioned euthanasia (which surprised and pissed me off, because this time around Zeus was perfectly "there" when he was checked over).
This time around, I've taken matters into my own hands and sought out a holistic vet. It's obvious that because of Zeus' age, he's a lost cause to every regular vet... But there's a clinic that's promising with great reviews. I have an hour booked with that vet on August 24th, and I'll post an update here afterwards.
In the meantime, thank you to everyone who sent over prayers and wishes for getting well for Zeus. He's up and at it, my boy :) (although currently getting over a bout of kennel cough)