These first few weeks have been rough on our little girl. Although it is never easy to determine what emotional or physical stressors your pet may feel, we do have a couple of indicators with Kiara.
Tail up, life is good. Tail down, not happy with you. Ears to the side, life is good. Ears behind me, not happy with you. Ears wiggling, I’m nervous. Ears straight forward, I’m on alert. Eyes soft and mildly sleepy, life is good. Eyes wide open, something’s up. Holding eye contact, life is good. Giving you the “side eye” stare, I’m pissed at you. And regardless of who gives the daily medication, the half-lidded, side-eye stare afterwards means Daddy is a jerk. Not sure why Daddy gets the brunt of the anger over medication, but it’s true all the same.
There are a lot more “tells” with our little dog. We pay very close attention to her and spend a lot of time watching her and trying to interpret what she wants when she stands in front of you looking with her big, soft, dark, dark eyes willing you to understand her. Drink, Hungry, Walk, Bedtime . . . she knows these words. If she stands in front of you and you say the thing she wants, she dances around and her ears wobble. Her way of saying, “good girl you got it!” She hasn’t lived with many other dogs and really doesn’t have much use for them anyway. Kiara is a “people,” she is not a dog and believes that she should not have to interact with some of those hairy, wet-nosed animals that try to flip her over from behind. She will walk around a potential canine friend to “introduce” herself to the person holding it’s leash. She doesn’t even know that dogs don’t usually hold a person’s gaze, she’ll look us straight in the eye and will us to understand what she wants. She’s not a barker either, odd for a little dog, but she rarely barks except to get our attention or to tell us someone is at the door. She’s quirky and funny and quiet . . . and for a week, she was blind. On Friday, April 12, Kiara had 8 seizures throughout the day that left her blind and with a loss of her gross motor skills.
Thankfully, her new French doctor, Dr. Broy, believed it to be a temporary situation. We have known since her first seizure at less than a year old that these symptoms may someday occur. To add to the complication of not being able to see, her gross motor skills were also affected in the seizure event. She was wobbly and toppled over if left standing on her own without support. But Dr. Broy seemed very assured that within 5 to 8 days our girl would be back to normal, or at least her version of normal.
We knew from the first seizure that Kiara’s lifespan would not be as long as other dogs in her weight class. We knew that having to put her on phenobarbital would eventually damage her liver. We knew that our baby required some fairly high maintenance care, medication twice a day for life, blood work twice a year for life, the need for better nutrition to keep her fit so that her medication is always at optimal range. Monitoring her behavior for signs of an approaching event. Making sure that she doesn’t suffer from undue stress. We even made sure to never leave her with strangers but hired sons, daughters, nieces and nephews to care for her when we had to be gone. Traveling meant having to remember to check that there would be enough medication for the trip and travel cases to keep it cold. But we’ve been happy to do it as she is ours to care for and we take that responsibility seriously.
So even though none of the current symptoms is a surprise, it still came as quite a shock to be told “She does not see.”
But let me back up to the stress issue. Her new doctor, a neurologist veterinarian (a dream for parents of a seizure dog) believes that stress played a part in the initial seizure event that got us where we were last week. We thought we took all the right precautions. We got the travel carrier months prior to our departure and put her in it often so that it wasn’t a shock. We opened the side panel and left her to wander in and out on her own. The day we left for France, we added her favorite blanket, her stuffed friend, her travel food dishes that she’s used for 3 years, and her hand-made halter so she wouldn’t beep going through the scanner with Mommy and be scared. We even selected an airline based on their in-flight animal policies so that she could travel on the plane with us.
Once we arrived, we put out her potty grass system that she’s used for 18 months successfully, her special pillow and other favorite blanket. A few of her toys and her food dishes with the food we brought with us. She didn’t have access to the bed like in our old place (it was a low platform bed she could get on by herself), but we tried to make sure that she had access to as many familiar things as possible.
And I think we got it right, for the most part, except for the tile floors (which she hates) and the lack of carpeting (which she loves). We no longer own a car, so we go everywhere on foot. We did prepare for her stamina being different than ours and bought a chest carrier, even used it a couple of times with her before we left until the cold weather drove us indoors. But the mistake that may have been made was in not preparing her for the physical changes we would ask of her in addition to all the new smells of a new home. We now take her for walks three times a day. Not long walks, but in the morning to Gambetta Square, in the afternoon to the river walk, and in the evening to the park on the far side of the river. It’s a lot more physical activity than she is used to and coupled with the cold, cold weather and cold, cold apartment interior upon our arrival I believe that our darling, little girl may have thought she was in the frozen version of hell.
And, although we took her out often, we also left her alone for an hour or two at a time. I believe it was a blend of new surroundings, being alone, jet lag and lack of access to the bed (her favorite place to curl up and sleep), that lead to the stress that caused the seizure event. Although we thought we had covered all the bases our little girl has once again shown us that life has a way of side-stepping all your well thought out plans.
We moved last Saturday, to our permanent apartment here in Carcassonne. We had a couple of surprises for the little one, like a rug in the living room that is closer to carpet and morning sun (one of her favorite things in the whole world). We were just beginning to formulate a plan for how to proceed if these symptoms ended up to be permanent (like how to reintroduce her world to her). But the doctor was correct and tthe symptoms were temporary, and life returned to normal for this precious girl of ours, on day eight just as the doctor predicted. But we are certainly wiser for the experience and hopeful that we can prevent it from happening again by being aware that our little one does not think she is a dog and needs a little extra assistance in accepting a new situation and owning the experience, just as we do.
Kiara’s “hospital” bed while she was sick. Surrounded by pillows in case she tried to stand, so she wouldn’t hurt herself on the tile floor.
Kiara, fully recovered.
Kiara and Daddy at the park (Mommy took the photo).