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Living with a dog with canine epilepsy

Before you read this article, please be aware that it is written from the personal experience of the writer only, and should not be seen as a substitute for proper veterinary advice. If you suspect that your dog may be epileptic, consult your vet at once. Do not attempt to treat the dog yourself, you could make the problem worse.

Often, the owner's reaction to a diagnosis of epilepsy is panic, and the fear that the dog may have to be euthanased. In extreme cases, this may be the result (eg when the dosages needed to control seizures are unacceptably high and still not working), but, in my experience, this is most definitely the last resort. The intention of this article is to allay those understandable anxieties and misgivings and show that, with proper management, the affected dog can go on much as normal. Canine epilepsy is NOT “the end of the world” – epileptic dogs usually go on to have a great life, with as much fun and “joie-de-vivre” as those who are not affected, as I know very, very well!

First of all, what is it? Hmmm, as you may well know, the mammalian brain is electrical in nature, much as the home computer, but far, far more powerful. Occasionally, it can suffer from electrical overload (I’ve heard that in some brain scans, it actually looks like a storm). It can be triggered by chemical excitement, not the kind of excitement that your dog may experience when he/she anticipated a walk or game. The seizure does not last long, but it can be frightening to witness. I have it on authority from a human sufferer I know that it does not hurt (bad attempts at first aid can hurt, though) and that the victim doesn’t actually know what’s happening at the time.

How do you know it’s a seizure? In dogs, it’s not always clear. All I can say with real certainty is what I see when my Snorri-dog has an attack. He is struck mostly at bedtime. He may be sitting up, waiting for his evening biscuits (I always make him lie down, now) then there’s a shudder and he falls over sideways. He goes rigid and has trouble breathing, Then his legs start to twitch violently. His eyes become unfocused and he may lose control of his bowels and bladder. The first time I saw this, I thought he was dying. Then there’s a cough, and his lips froth and I can see his eyes regain their usual look. I stroke his head and tell him quietly that he is a good dog and that he’s safe. I feel that this speeds his recovery somehow, even a minute less is good. From start to finish, this lasts about four minutes. He struggles to his feet, he is very, very confused and he needs reassurance, which he gets.

When he’s steadier, he makes a slow, shaky tour of the house, probably just to get his bearings again. In under an hour, he is perfectly OK.

Canine epilepsy is NOT “the end of the world” – epileptic dogs usually go on to have a great life...

My worst night was 30 October 2001, when he had a “cluster” seizure – four hard fits in less than 30 minutes. We had to call out the vet at 4 a.m.! and drive Snorri-dog 15 miles to the surgery, where he was given a jab to knock him out so that he could relax those overworked muscles. The next day, his treatment started properly – one tablet of phenobarbitone twice a day.

Phenobarbitone is a barbiturate, and therefore a controlled drug under UK law. Because it can cause liver damage, the vet will want to check your dog every six months or so. This may take the form of a blood test (GGT – gamma-globulin transferase) – which will not be cheap (around 38, but it’s worth it for the security and peace of mind it gives). When Rover starts on medication he may be a bit woozy for the first few days, and he may sleep more than usual. THIS IS NORMAL. Any other behaviour changes should be watched and recorded. Any which do appear ought to disappear in a week or so. If they don't, see your vet.

Phenobarb is at its peak in the bloodstream about 1.5 to 2 hours after ingestion, so if your dog has a tendency to have fits at the same time of day, use this to set his treatment time. It is important to stick to this timing, as variations may upset the efficacyof the medication. Also, with a set time, you can use an alarm clock to keep it regular. Snorri comes to get his bit of sausage when he hears the alarm, which means I don’t have to chase him! He gets these terrible cheapo supermarket own-brand sausages, which are ideal. I wouldn’t eat the things myself, but unless you have been spoiling Rover, he’ll think they are great!

After the fit is over, Rover will be disorientated and a bit staggery. This will wear off in a few minutes. Snorri gets very affectionate, which is OK, although he may be a bit messy. Accept this as best you can – it will help the dog to recover! Speaking to him gently may well accelerate recovery – I believe it does.

Muscle contractions during a seizure are very strong and uncontrolled. Be sure you keep fingers away from the mouth – you could lose them! Another thing to note is that if a fit exceeds five minutes in length, it could cause permanent brain damage, with a tendency to more fits, and all the muscle activity can raise Rover’s temperature fast, thereby risking heatstroke and death Seizures should be stopped if they get over five minutes. A vet could do this with an injection of diazepam, but these injections are not allowed to be administered by the owner. I recommend, therefore, a small supply of diazepam “rectubes”, which your vet can supply. You whip the cap off the tube, stick the open end up Rover’s back end, and squeeze. It’s almost as fast as an injection and should stop the attack in its tracks. They are not cheap (when is any vet stuff cheap?), but they are safe, easy and a very good standby. Always have some close to hand, but note that they are not for regular everyday use, just emergencies!

However, all is not gloom and doom! Epilepsy is not a death sentence. It looks awful, but the sufferer will feel only any bruises you’ve caused through rough handling while trying to help. Try to restrict handling to a gentle stroking – it will calm the dog and help him reorientate, then you will SEE the consciousness returning to the dog’s eyes – there’s no describing that feeling of relief!

Remember, CONSULT YOUR VET! The tips in this article should NOT be used as a substitute for the real vet care!

I hope these words will help to encourage you if you find your friend suffers from this affliction!

Some links that may help:

The boy enjoys life, even after 4 years of epilepsy – what epilepsy??????

Your comments and views:
Fondly Remembered
Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 7,358
Female  Diamond Supporter 
13-07-2005, 03:26 AM
A valuable personal insight into living with an epileptic dog. Thank you.
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Dogsey Veteran
Joined: May 2005
Posts: 7,780
13-07-2005, 11:15 AM
Great article very informative and intersting.
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Lucky Star
Dogsey Veteran
Joined: Nov 2004
Posts: 20,145
24-08-2005, 07:59 PM
Very informative, personal article.
Thank you.
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Dogsey Veteran
Joined: Feb 2006
Posts: 2,965
13-06-2006, 05:57 PM
Excellent article. I lived with an epileptic Vizsla for 8 years and you are right - it's not the end of the earth!!
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New Member!
Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 2
30-08-2007, 11:51 PM
I hv a 13 yo Basenji who recently started to hv canine epilepsy. I at 1st thought it was a heart attack! and the
intervals was once a month for 3 months. I decided against conventional medication and opted to try out
Omega3 oil and so far, no attack for the last 2 months. I dont know how long this will last but I'll keep members informed.
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Dogsey Senior
Joined: Oct 2010
Posts: 547
24-12-2012, 11:29 PM
thanks, this has given me some very helpful information
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Dogsey Junior
Joined: Oct 2014
Posts: 154
25-10-2014, 12:32 AM
A useful article. Thanks for posting.

I've had a fair amount of experience with epilepsy through my own dogs, neighbors dogs, and dogs I cared for running a boarding kennel. I'd like to emphasize how variable the condition is.

The bad extreme: In the kennel we once had an old boxer who had been epileptic for years and took a turn for the worse while boarding. It was scary. She was taking a high dose of phenobarb, and still having full fledged (primary or grand mal) seizures. She lost consciousness, eyes glazed over, was unable to stand, turned incontinent, and thrashed around with her legs. The seizures went from daily to cluster seizures, where one seizure would end, only to be followed by another. Frantic phone calls to vet and the dog's owners. The dose got increased to max, but wasn't helping. A family member came to get her, and she ended out being pts.

A mild case: My old girl has been having partial or focal seizures for four years. These often come on when we're going for our morning walk. Her legs stiffen, and she lies down (ataxia), but she stays conscious and wags her tail the whole time. She gets a little sooky. It only lasts for about two minutes. Working with vets, we have reduced her dose to 1/4 of the recommended dose, and she only gets tablets once a day. When she's on meds, she may have a couple seizures a year. If I take her off her meds, the seizures become more frequent.

A one off: My first dog had one full fledged grand mal seizure. She never had another.

Studies have been done on prevalence of epilepsy in Labs (3%) and Belgian Shephards (9.5%). In both breeds, milder seizures were more common than the more severe, with a range between. Behaviors in mild seizures are variable. The Belgian paper reported " The most commonly reported focal seizure phenomenology included ataxia, crawling, swaying, fearful behavior, salivation, excessive attention seeking and disorientation. In 16% of the cases, epilepsy led to euthanasia. " Refs. below.
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New Member!
Joined: Mar 2017
Posts: 11
17-03-2017, 12:55 AM
Oh, it's hard to live with a dog that has an epilepsy but this is the reality. Thanks for sharing! This is very helpful especially for those who has this kind of problem
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