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Brutus, a 14 year old, 110 pound (!) German Shepherd came into the clinic last night looking frightfully weird. His huge neck was corpse-stiff, and his neck was craned way over his left shoulder in a most uncomfortable-looking way. When the three people carrying him laid him on the floor, he rolled over with legs just as stiff as his neck. He rolled onto his feet until he was almost standing, flopped back down on his right side, rolled aver again...boom, on his side -- he had absolutely no control over his -- well -- his self, really.

Another technician and I, at the veterinarian's suggestion, helped old Brutus into a laterally recumbent position and sort of held him there, so he wouldn't injure himself in his thrashings. This big, lovely dog could not move his head at all, so he could only see what was slightly behind, slightly above, and to the left of himself, and he was understandably freaking the hell out.

After a few minutes and a reasonably thorough examination, the dog's body seemed to relax slightly, so we lightened our hold on him. Once we did, he stood up, and began to turn around in repetitive, tight circles, whining and stressing the whole time. Again, we laid him on his side to keep him from moving around so much.

The diagnosis: Geriatric Vestibular Disease: an inflammation of the vestibular canals of the inner ear which causes an afflicted animal to entirely lose his balance, and gives him the sensation that he's constantly spinning around in circles. Causes for G.V.D. are unknown, and the "cure" is to allow the inflammation to run its course. In other words, this completely debilitating condition resolves itself in time, and no medication or surgical procedure is indicated. Most veterinarians will begin a course of antibiotics, in the unlikely event that the vestibular inflammation is being caused by one infectious process or another.

Frighteningly, if a dog suffers from Geriatric Vestibular Disease for too long, he runs a risk of death due to dehydration, since eating and drinking are not possible when this condition is in full-swing. Bouts of G.V.D. can last as little as a few hours, or as long as a few weeks. The other big concern in this situation is severe injury, as affected critters have no motor skills whatsoever, try as they might to get themselves together.

Brutus was in bad shape for about 6 hours, then slowly he began to regain his bearings. This morning he walked out of the animal hospital looking like a healthy dog who'd had a little too much to drink the night before.

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