This week we had a bit of a health scare with the dogs. After a trip to the vet, hours of concern, & hours of research, we are 95% sure that everything is fine, but we wanted to let others know what happened so maybe they can learn what we have learned.
This week has been full of run one day, off the next for Calypso. It has put a little damper on Ruger & Denali's training, but hey, this is summer and is only about putting in a good base for the next racing season. Thursday, we took all three for a run together and increased Calypso's mileage from 1.5 miles per run to a 2 mile run. Overall, Calypso did decent, but did get a little warm in the last part of the run (she has barely started to shed out her winter coat while Ruger & Denali are 50%-75% shedded out). We got Calypso water, did our normal cool down walk, gave more water, then went back home. Everything seemed fine. Calypso had cooled down nicely. All the dogs were inside as we were getting ready for work. Joy walked out to pet the dogs and everything was fine. About two minutes later, Nick walked out and something was wrong with Calypso.
Calypso was laying on her side making unusual head movements. From the way Calypso was holding her mouth, Nick first thought shock or a heat stroke. As he bent down to pick up Calypso to get her into the bathtub to try to cool her down, he noticed that her gums and tongue were normal, indicating that it probably was not shock or a heat stroke. Our next thought was it might be a seizure. Nick called to Joy, and Joy started to check to see if it was a seizure. Calypso's eyes were clear and focused, but we did not know what else it could be. We started to treat it as if it was a seizure; took off Calypso's collar, moved the other dogs away, and moved anything that she could hit and hurt herself.
As soon as Joy got Calypso's collar off, Calypso got up and walked around the room, went to get a drink, then walked to Nick, sat down and started licking Nick's hands, all while the strange head movements continued. After about 3-5 minutes from the start of the ordeal, the head movements gradually stopped. We rushed to finish getting ready, then took Calypso to the vet. After an exam and blood work at the vet, the diagnosis was an idiopathic partial seizure, meaning a seizure isolated to only a portion of the body (determined by our description of the events) with no known cause.
Before we continue the story, we want to make the disclosure that your vet is your partner. Their job is to help you take the best care of your animal. Your vet is a trained professional and you should heed their advice, but you have the responsibility for the health of your animal.
After the diagnosis, we began researching everything we could about seizures and partial seizures, to learn the best care, potential triggers, etc. Joy had had some exposure to seizures in animals before and Joy had doubts about Calypso's "event" being a seizure for several reasons. First, Calypso's eyes never lost focus. Second, Calypso was able to get up and walk about the room without even a stumble, as if nothing was going on. Third, Calypso took a drink of water during the event. Fourth, Calypso was completely responsive to commands throughout the whole ordeal. Fifth, Calypso did not lose control of any bodily functions (salivation, urination, etc.). Finally, the other dogs did not respond as dogs usually do to another dog having a seizure. In any event, we accepted the diagnosis and were 100% focused on figuring out the best treatment to minimize risk to Calypso. In fact, Calypso had been retired from racing before her career ever started.
As we researched, things were not adding up. It seemed like Calypso had had the most mild seizure ever in history. We started looking at videos of seizures in dogs to try to get a positive identification on what we saw in Calypso (We would strongly recommend against watching these videos with children around. They are very difficult to watch.). Seizures look 100 times worse than what Calypso experienced. Partial and focal seizures look 10 times worse than what Calypso experienced. We continued to look for videos of extremely minor seizures, and nothing we found was anywhere close to what we experienced. We were only seeing a 5%-10% overlap in any one video and what we had seen. Then we had a break through. We came across a video of a idiopathic head tremor. Bingo! That was exactly what we had seen in Calypso. Essentially, a idiopathic head tremor is a muscle spasm where a dog moves its head in a repetitive motion either as if they are saying "no" (Calypso's case) or "yes". It is also called idiopathic head bobbing. Video after video after video, all matched what we had seen, with the exception that some dogs were moving their head vertically instead of horizontally.
After more research, here is what we found. Idiopathic head tremors most often effect boxers, bulldogs, and labs. Middle aged females who have been breed seem to develop these more than other dogs. Vets are not sure as to the underlying cause, but anecdotally, it seems to be caused by either a drop in blood sugar or a calcium deficiency. This seems to be the case because the quickest way to get the tremor to stop is to give the dog a little bit of honey or milk. Also, keeping the dog distracted, through food or toys is another way to get the tremor to stop. Dogs are 100% responsive during the tremors and can act as if nothing is going on, although some do act scared because their head is moving outside of their control. The entire ordeal usually lasts 3-5 minutes, but can last longer. Head tremors are often misdiagnosed as seizures by vets because the event is over and the vet is using a description of what happened from the owner. Best of all, there seems to be absolutely no ill effects to the dog after one of these, although they may continue to develop them into the future. More or less, these tremors are more painful to the humans to watch than they are to the dog.
Remember Calypso's story. She was rescued from a breeder, is a 6 year old female, had just run less than an hour before this happened in the heat (which could cause a drop in blood sugar), acted normal other than her head shaking, and the "event" stopped when Calypso was licking Nick's hand. All the information points to Calypso's "event" being a head tremor and not a seizure. We have not had the opportunity to discuss what we found with our vet at this point, although we will next week.
After having dealt with this, we do have a couple suggestions for other people who have a similar situation. First, once you are positive there is no immediate danger, grab a phone, camera, or anything to document what is occurring. This will help your vet with a diagnosis. Second, after the dust has settled, you have visited your vet to rule out other items, etc. write down everything that happened. Every detail. If you do have a second occurrence, this journal will help you to try to find a pattern for triggers.
Long story short, we went from a very scary situation that may have ended Calypso's running career before it started, to having a manageable and hopefully benign situation. We are still being cautious with Calypso until we are 100% certain of what we are dealing with.