Let me start off by introducing the inspiration of this guest blog post – my three-legged, epileptic rescue dog, Oliver.
Oliver got found in a field in Yakima, WA in 2015 with a gunshot wound to his rear leg. He was immediately brought to Seattle Humane Society where their vets deemed his leg unsalvageable. They had to take it off surgically.
He spent another week there recovering before we adopted him. He bounced back very quickly from the surgery and was climbing stairs in the first week home. We thought he couldn’t get much more resilient than that and, boy, were we wrong!
About a month later, Oliver had his first grand mal seizure. It has been a long and bumpy road from that day onwards.
Our apartment is basically a fully loaded pharmacy. Our schedule is rigid and sometimes we don’t get as much sleep as we would like. But none of that would stop us from loving Oliver.
We aren’t here to talk about Oliver though, we are here to inform all who will listen about canine epilepsy and our experiences with it.
With that said, please do not take anything mentioned in this blog post as professional advice. If your dog has a seizure, I highly recommend seeking medical advice right away.
You should also keep in mind that we will be mostly referring to genetic (idiopathic) epilepsy. Sometimes seizures can be due to things outside of epilepsy, such as brain tumours, toxins, kidney issues, trauma, or blood problems.
Genetic epilepsy can manifest itself in various kinds of seizures.
1. Grand mal seizure
One of the most commonly known is the grand mal (generalised) seizure. It can look like a dog falling on her side, foaming at the mouth, urination or defecation, doing a sort of “running motion”, rigidity, vocalizations, and loss of consciousness.
The loss of consciousness part is the most important one that I have to remind myself of. Every time Oliver seizes, I end up feeling so terrible for him because there isn’t much I can do to help him at that moment. So, I try to remember that he can’t feel any of it and he won’t remember it because he is unconscious.
2. Focal seizure
The second kind of seizure is a focal (partial) seizure that can result in solely facial, half the body, or one limb.
Frequency and duration
Seizures that last longer than 5 minutes without recovery are called status epilepticus, a life-threatening emergency.
Seizures that happen one after another with two or more seizures in a 24-hour period are cluster seizures. Oliver’s seizures are always cluster grand mal seizures lasting about 30 seconds each.
Focal seizures and single grand mal seizures may not need anticonvulsant medications because seizures themselves are not that harmful to the body or brain. The worry mostly lies in sufferers hurting themselves during a seizure or having multiple seizures in a row to the point of overheating or exhaustion.
Oliver’s epilepsy is considered to be a very aggressive case as his seizures are always clusters of two or more. Oliver once had 10 seizures in a half hour period. Some dogs may just have one seizure per year.
Oliver’s epilepsy is also “pharmacoresistant” meaning it persists through medications often. Canine epilepsy is not curable but is treatable with medication.
If your dog has a seizure, I would recommend the following:
1. Find a specialist
Many vets do not have enough experience treating epilepsy and can often prove unhelpful if your dog has a persistent case. Find a vet that specialises in epilepsy or a neurologist.
2. Take videos
Showing your vet a video of the possible seizure can help with the diagnosis. We may often perceive other behaviours as seizures when they aren’t. Be careful about this.
3. Ask for emergency medications
With medications that you can keep at home during times of seizures, you may control your dog’s seizures without having to take her to a 24-hour vet.
4. Put a tag on
If your dog is epileptic, put a tag on your dog’s collar that reads, “Epileptic. Bring to the nearest vet if lost” with your phone number. This will alert people that your dog is on medication and needs medical attention if lost.
5. Have regular blood work done
Have blood work done regularly to ensure the dog’s medication levels are therapeutic and appropriate.
6. ALWAYS consult your vet
Do not adjust your dog’s medications before consulting your trusted vet.
7. Remain strict about your dog’s medication schedule
Oliver gets his pills every 12 hours exactly (7am and 7pm). This makes our schedule tough sometimes but even being off by an hour can influence Oliver’s epilepsy.
Following these tips have helped us keep Oliver as happy and as healthy as possible. At one point, he was 9 months seizure-free.
When he isn’t recovering from a seizure, he loves the dog park, hikes with his dog friends, and road trips. He is the biggest sweetheart and although epilepsy impacts him daily, it doesn’t keep him from having fun.
What can you do to help end canine epilepsy, you ask?
The answer is simple, don’t support backyard breeding practices and advocate informed shopping.
Genetic epilepsy is a very common disease in the popular breeds, including German Shepherds, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Beagles, and Irish Setters.
Epilepsy is passed down from generations prior. Therefore, it is so important that we do not breed a dog with genetic epilepsy or genetic epilepsy in their bloodline.
The disease is carried on mostly by backyard breeding practices that knowingly or unknowingly breed dogs with epilepsy genes.
Breeders that are not health testing their dogs are negatively impacting the breed overall. For this reason, I cannot advocate enough for SMART shopping or rescuing dogs who need homes, like Oliver, so that we can put an end to this debilitating disease.
Photos courtesy of @Oliverthetripawd.