Have you heard of Vestibular Syndrome?

Tully’s Story told by his owner, Lyn Armour

On Saturday September 10th, one week after Tully had a ball at the Blair Atholl Beardie Bounce and one day before the Scottish Branch Open Show, I went to look for Tully in the garden. We were having boiled eggs and toast for breakfast and Tully likes toast, but very unusually, he wasn’t there. I followed an alarming trail of little pools of white froth and eventually found him, wedged in a corner by the shed, covered in drool and obviously in serious trouble.

When I tried to move him, it was clear that his body was rigid, legs splayed out on either side. I didn’t register the key points, which are a head tilt and something called nystagmus, the flickering of the eyes. I phoned the vet and was told to bring him in at once.

We are very lucky here, that our local vet, Thrums, has several practices in the area and provides its own emergency cover, with 24 hour care from their own staff.

Jeremy and I moved him the only way we could, we lifted him onto a blanket and carried him between us into the car. Poor boy, it must have felt awful, because we now know that when there is a vestibular disturbance, it makes you feel extremely giddy and travel sick. We left him at the vet, where they put him on a drip to rehydrate him and also gave something for the giddiness.

The following morning, I had promised to steward at the Club show, so I headed off to Alva with my fingers crossed. It was the day Queen Elizabeth’s funeral cortege was travelling through Scotland, so some roads were closed. I got there, but a very short time later, the emergency vet phoned and told me that he thought Tully’s condition was deteriorating. He thought we should be prepared to let him go.

Liz Gault very kindly agreed to take over stewarding, and I headed home to pick up Jeremy and go to the vet surgery. When we got there, Tully was lying propped on his elbows in a kennel, looking quite normal, so we turned to the vet for his explanation.

Apparently, there are two types of nystagmus, horizontal (sometimes almost circular) and vertical. The two types indicate which part of the brain is affected. Horizontal is normally peripheral brain, vertical is central brain, much more dangerous. The vet thought he had seen the vertical type, although he wasn’t absolutely certain that it wasn’t circular. But his main concern was that, even though Tully was no longer drooling, no longer had the nystagmus and not even much of a head tilt, he was still unable to move. His legs were still splayed and not responding to contact with the ground.

The vet was very concerned that either the central brain or the spinal column was involved. He advised us that we were unlikely to see much more improvement if that was the case and that, if there was no further improvement within 24 hours, we should ‘consider his welfare’. We all know what that little phrase means!

So we took Tully home, still with the line attached to his right wrist, ready to be pts if necessary on the following day. Here’s when the everyday miracle happened!

Because I had left the show to go to Tully, several people got in touch to ask how things were. When I told them, I was advised to contact Shelagh Walker (Douglasdale), as one of her dogs had suffered this during lockdown. I messaged Shelagh and sat by the phone, postponing that fateful call to the vet as long as I possibly could. And then the phone rang and it was Shelagh.

I’m still in tears remembering that call. Shelagh told me the story of her own Hayley, then fifteen years old, but thirteen when she had her episode. She told me, so calmly, to “just give him time”. She also put me in touch with a Facebook group, which has been wonderful.

So we were able, with greater understanding of the different ways this syndrome can present and be interpreted, to give Tully the time he needed to make a recovery. We got hold of a LiftEmUp harness, which let me get him outside to toilet. We made him bone broth, which he lapped up, when he was still unwilling to eat.

By Wednesday, he was able to lift a leg to wee. On Thursday, we took him up to Stonehaven to meet Agnes Campan of Canine Pawsibilities. Her physio and massage techniques were mind-blowing! Within the space of that hour, and with the help of a packet of Co-op cocktail sausages, Tully went from taking a few wobbly steps, to managing circles in both directions, to coping with a couple of cavaletti within a large figure of 8. Even to doing some straight trotting with a blindfold! Agnes has studied the condition with specialists in Europe and her treatment left me stunned and eternally grateful.

From that day on, Tully has gone from strength to strength. There may be some underlying condition, after all he is thirteen and a half; but he is a happy boy, enjoying life to the full and we treasure each day. He’s on his third life now and we couldn’t be more grateful.