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Black Shepherd Diagnosed With Balance Disorder

By Christy True
published: December 4, 2023 - updated: December 5, 2023 • 4 min. read
Baron, a black shepherd, with his pet parents.

Diagnosis: Vestibular disease, tumors
Cost: $17,436 Healthy Paws reimbursed: $13,449
Coverage options:  80 percent reimbursement | $500 deductible

Baron, a 12-year-old black shepherd with a soft coat and big brown eyes, was a challenge when pet parent Patrick adopted his mother’s dog after she died nearly a decade ago. While his mother loved Baron, he had been an outside dog and had not been inside since he was a puppy.

Initially, Baron seemed depressed, likely from losing his first pet parent. He refused to eat for several days and whined at night while outside. They brought him inside and started training him to be housebroken.  

It wasn’t long before Patrick and his wife discovered how unique and intelligent Baron was.

Baron, a black shepherd

“He didn’t like to play ball the way other dogs normally do. Baron preferred to take his left paw and hold the ball and move it into place. He would then push the ball with his right paw straight to you under a chair or an end table. He once made a downhill 25-yard shot under a moving tractor – twice!”, Patrick said. 

Baron also takes his “shepherding” seriously. He will “escort” Patrick and his wife, Elena, to the backyard patio and then shepherd them separately to their usual chairs.

“If one of us sat at the other’s chair, Baron would come over and stand in front of the offender and point with his eyes and his nose to the correct chair. The chairs and end tables had to be lined up so he could pass the ball to each of us. Taking turns and letting you know who he was going to pass it to by the way he lined up. When we had guests, it became a round table,” Patrick said. 

Baron also became socialized by meeting many passersby, who often complimented him on how handsome he is. As sweet-natured as he can be, Baron has a regal air about him, Patrick said. For affection, he expects people to come to him. 

Baron didn’t know how to swim when they first adopted him, having never been near the water. Patrick, a former Navy SEAL, was determined to change this as they lived near the beach and visited often. On his first visit, he was excited to run around with all the other dogs on the beach.

“I started with just getting him used to the water — putting a leash on him and getting him deeper and deeper until he was comfortable. Eventually, I would take him out until the wave was large enough to pick him up off his feet,” Patrick said.

He quickly learned to dog paddle and retrieve items from the water. Baron became so comfortable with the water that he helped rescue another dog and a child. An older Labrador had followed his owner out body surfing and began to struggle. Patrick and Baron paddled toward the Labrador, and Patrick instructed Baron to “fetch.” Together, they pushed and pulled the older dog parallel to the beach until it could reach the bottom and escape. During another outing, he barked to alert bystanders to a child getting pushed downstream in a river. Witnesses pulled the boy out in time.

Baron collapses

After a lifetime of mostly good health, in September, Baron suffered an episode that changed everything. They were getting ready to walk him, and he suddenly collapsed and couldn’t get up. His eyes were darting back and forth. They feared he was having a stroke, but since it was Labor Day weekend, all the regular vets were closed. They drove to an emergency vet that was a little further away.

Baron doing hydrotherapy.
Baron doing hydrotherapy.

Baron was given fluids and hospitalized for seven days for observation and treatment. His symptoms included acute vertigo, nausea, and incoherence, leading to a diagnosis of vestibular disease, a disorder of the system responsible for balance, coordination, and orientation. The vestibular system is in the inner ear and medulla (lower part of the brain), with nerves connecting the two locations. If there is no other underlying cause, dogs can recover from the disease within a few weeks.

X-rays and an ultrasound also revealed Baron has a large mass on his spleen, nodes on his liver and arthritis in his spine and back legs. Because of his age and the risks involved in surgery, Patrick opted not to proceed with surgery for the tumors.

Doctors are treating him with pain relievers and anti-nausea medication for the cancer and arthritis.

Finally, Patrick and Elena could bring him home to continue his recovery.

Protect your pet

How Baron is doing today

Baron is now eight weeks into recovery and can stand up and walk on his own, although he still wobbles and requires a special harness and boots to walk. He has started hydrotherapy (water therapy) and acupuncture. The arthritis in his back legs now prevents him from playing ball, but he’s still happy.

“Baron is in great spirits and continues to improve and we are just glad he is still with us,” Patrick said. “Every night, we lay beside him until he falls asleep. We know. He’s not just a dog…he is our soulmate, our child. Our salvation.”

Baron, a black shepherd

How pet insurance helped

Because he had belonged to Patrick’s mother and was consoling to his father in his grief, Patrick decided to buy pet insurance to protect Baron’s health and ensure a long life. He chose Healthy Paws because of no annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

Patrick said they could not have afforded all the diagnostics, treatment, hospitalization and rehabilitation without pet insurance.

“Twice we were asked to think about his ‘quality of life’ and we did. Thanks to Healthy Paws, we knew we could make the choice between life and death. So many pet owners cannot. Healthy Paws allowed us to choose ‘life’,” he said.

The claim scenarios described here are intended to show the types of situations that may result in claims. These scenarios should not be compared to any other claim. Whether or to what extent a particular loss is covered depends on the facts and circumstances of the loss, the terms and conditions of the policy as issued, and applicable law.

Insured persons providing testimonials in this report have not received compensation for their statements.

Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 28 dog years. She previously worked in journalism, hence her penchant for writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs and volunteers with a local dog rescue. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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