Okay, so the joke title may be a little callous, but this is no joke. I believe my dog is turning into a zombie...
First of all, I love my dog (Callie) very much, but she is old and its time for me to recognize that the end of the line may be coming soon. I am a male in my early twenties, and yet I have no sense of embarrassment about how sad I'll feel when the inevitable happens, but so be it. It's just awful how slowly and painfully it seems to be happening. Go figure though.
However, three days ago, maybe four, my dog began to act somewhat...strange. Like I said, I am aware the age factor of my dog (sixteen/seventeenish Golden Retriever/Collie), so this is mainly a record of an illness for which I have yet to find any known cause, name, or analogous disease. What is interesting about it, however it is ultimately identified, is the acuteness of her symptoms. I simply think it would be a useful record for others to hear, in case they have seen this sort of illness before or if their own dogs begin acting just as strangely.
So here goes...about three or four days ago Callie began acting very strange. The difference was night and day, like she went to sleep the night before just as our regular old dog, and woke up the next day half-crazed and delirious. It was a very confusing kind of change, as well as a confusing collection of symptoms. Specifically, her depth perception and/or her sense of spatial relation just went haywire, as did most of her motor skills. Basically all she does is pant and walk around without any sense of intent or motivation, which doesn't sound very weird until you watch this go on for hours straight. But it gets even better, because while that is a sudden and inexplicable change in behavior, the weirdest thing is that, whatever illness she has, there are very fixed patterns to her new behavior. As she walks around I've noticed she tends to walk in a right-handed circle, which could be explained in many ways. However, her main thing is to seek out corners like she just can't avoid it, as if she's been programmed like some sort of wind-up toy. Hence the "Zombie" behavior. Unsupervised, she will find her way into the back of a shallow closet or in between storage boxes, and she will stand there panting for hours. Apparently she has also lost her reverse gear, because she will remain that way until someone moves her. Last night around three AM (high noon for zombie canines) I woke to hear her whimpering because she had worked herself painfully into an extremely narrow corner between some boxes and a small table. I don't need to go into the details, but she had voided herself, and I just felt awful. It's like she can only take forward steps, even past the point that it brings her pain when she falls over, gets entangled in a chair, a blackberry thicket, heck, even a plain old wall has become a danger to her. But if you move her, or simply move her head so she can see in another direction, she'll move and resolve her situation, but promptly find another corner again within a minute or so.
However, another weird part of it is that for the most part she is completely lucid. She doesn't always respond to being called, but when I have her attention she is pretty much the same old dog. Yet as soon as she is left alone the circles begin and she'll find the nearest corner, shower stall, open drawer, etc. to drunkenly force her way into. I now try to observe her 24/7, and usually I just let her out in the back yard so she can walk around until she exhausts herself, then I carry/lead her back inside and set her on her bed and hold her until her breathing calms and she goes to sleep. She drinks a ton of water but doesn't eat much, having to be fed by hand because her aim always overshoots her bowl anymore.
So that's it. Could be a stroke, some kind of "vestibular" condition, rabies, or who knows what, but I haven't found something that can explain all the symptoms (although I think its probably rare for any illness to be absolutely precise in its symptoms). She is also epileptic, so this is a dog that could be susceptible to any number of other neurological disorders. At one point I got pretty frightened that it was simple rabies, because she sprang into the air and went into a seizure, then started snapping with her lips curled back and looked back at me like I don't even want to describe. Like maybe she needs an exorcist and not a veterinarian. But she is up to date on all her shots, and after some consideration I think it is unlikely that she has rabies, although we are certainly taking precautions. She hasn't shown any aggressive behavior, the snapping thing being just a product of a stress-seizure. She also hasn't shown any progress, for better or for worse, except that she is beginning to show signs of exhaustion and insufficient nutrition from not eating much. I'm hoping she has a vestibular condition, because supposedly dogs can sometimes snap out of their odd behavior after a few days or weeks, and in fact this condition seemed to match the greatest number of her symptoms.
In sum, the troubling nature of her illness is the seemingly contradictory nature of its symptoms. While she is somewhat aware, as soon as she is left alone she goes into the deranged zombie wandering state, drunkenly tripping over stuff, breathing heavily, and being more than a handful to deal with. Even more unusual is that some illness could manifest itself in such acute behavioral changes. You really have to see it to understand how specific her behavior is, in terms of walking in circles and navigating her way into corners or magnetically needing to be close to walls. I think it would be fairly easy to rule out a bacterial infection, like meningitis or rabies, based on the consistency of this behavior. So probably just a stroke, or possibly a vestibular condition, but we will see. The snapping incident was pretty freaky since it perfectly fit the profile of advanced rabies, and it would be difficult for me to deal with a violent, rabid mess that I've loved like a fourth sibling for most of my life. I'm not gonna lie though, I keep a wary eye and a big stick in close proximity just in case this gets ugly and I need to control her. I'll try to update in the next few days, and thanks for any advice. And we've seen the vet and all, but they only had the usual to say and just gave her the official diagnosis of, "old." So it's all subject to speculation for now, until we can see where this odd condition goes in the next couple days. Thanks again,
Jesse, owner of the first and only purebred Zombie Retriever