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Canine Epilepsy

By Katarina Behan, guest blogger, dog trainer, and author of the blog Dog Life Training

It was five o’clock in the morning and I awoke to the sound of a loud banging noise coming from somewhere in the house. I sat bolt up right in bed, thinking there was someone in the house. I shook my husband awake. We sat there for a moment listening to this noise, and it was coming from the laundry room where Ben slept.

Photo is courtesy of theheartbeatatmyfeet.ca.

My husband jumped out of bed and rushed to the laundry. I stayed in bed waiting for the noise to stop. All I could hear was my husband calling Ben’s name and when the banging did not stop I knew something was seriously wrong. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. My beloved dog was on the floor in a pool of his own froth and urine, shaking violently. Ben was having a seizure.

Epileptic Seizures
Seizures can present themselves in a few ways, Petite Mal, Absent Seizures or Grand Mal. I saw it all with Ben, Petite Mal, Absent Seizures and many Grand Mal seizures. Petite Mal may include twitching of only parts of the body, and often the dog remains partly conscience during this type of seizure. Recovery of a Petit Mal is usually quicker also.

Absent seizures can go unnoticed, the dog is very quiet and appears to be catatonic, not responding to any stimulus. Grand Mal seizures are the most violent; the dog will loose conscienceless, drop to the ground, and stiffen up, before starting to shake uncontrollably. These seizures can result in loss of bladder and bowel control, frothing at the mouth, crying/screaming from the dog, and can last several minutes.

Different Stages
Dogs go through a few stages during seizure activity, aura phase, active seizure stage and post ictal stage. However, most of the time, as in Ben’s case, people and dogs will be unaware that a seizure is about to start. During the seizure it is vital that people stay calm, other animals are removed, and the dog is safe from injuring themselves. The seizure length, time of day, and location should be monitored.

At some point the dog should be placed on a lead, as usually after the seizure is finished (post ictal phase) many dogs will panic and bolt. The post ictal phase is also very distressing, as dogs are often blind, scared, and disorientated; they will be completely unaware of what has just happened. Supervising a post ictal dog is traumatic as they are unresponsive to anything around them, are often agitated, and will pace and pace, sometimes for hours. Trying to keep them safe can be exhausting. Ben would usually take a few days to fully recover from a seizure.

Canine epilepsy is notoriously difficult to manage, and a life on medication is often the best outcome. Medication is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation and must be tailor made. This means lots of experimenting with different dosages, and even different combinations of drugs. Most of the drugs also take several weeks to take effect, and this results in more seizures. These drugs, as depressants, also have side effects of extreme lethargy, loss of coordination, incontinence, sometimes hyperactivity, and increase in hunger. However, for many dogs they are effective in controlling seizures, and the side effects tend to disappear over time.

It is of utmost priority to stop the seizures from occurring, as the more they happen, the more likely they will occur in the future; this is called Kindling, where the brain ‘learns’ how to have seizures the more practice it has at it. In Ben’s case we were never able to gain any control over the epilepsy and Ben went in to something called ‘status epilepticus,’ a life threatening situation where the seizures occur one after the other without abatement.

In the end we had no choice but to put an end to the suffering for us all and we said goodbye to Ben, just two weeks shy of his first birthday. He will live on in our hearts forever.

Living with a dog who has epilepsy can be emotionally and physically all-consuming. Try to allow your dog to lead a normal life, take each seizure as it comes, and enjoy the time between seizures. Use your support networks, and engage in activities that relax and rejuvenate you. Yes, it can be difficult and sometimes feels like you are just waiting for the next one; we all feel like that, it’s normal, just keep going.

There is Hope
Please do not think that a diagnosis of epilepsy is a death sentence. Many dogs live long and happy lives on the correct medication, and are seizure-free, sometimes even being able to decrease medication dose or have the medication removed all together; it can just be a matter of sticking in there, and not giving up hope.

Canine Epilepsy Resources
This resource is a one-stop-shop for everything related to canine epilepsy.

This resource is a supportive canine epilepsy forum.

Editor’s Note
Katarina Behan operates the Gentle Modern School of Dog Training, and has been a dog trainer for over nine years. Katarina’s blog, Dog Life Training, is filled with helpful training tips. It was created to give dog parents a free resource to better understand their dog so that life becomes more enjoyable for both. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, daughter, Spencer the Burmese cat, and Norbert the Bearded Dragon. She also wrote about the link between dogs and wolves here at Pet News and Views. Please visit her site by clicking here. You can leave a comment for Katarina after this post.

Home 4 the Holidays Contest
If you haven’t done it yet, please leave a comment at my Home 4 the Holidays’ contest. For each comment, Iams will donate 50 bowls of pet food to animal shelters around the country. So click here to comment to help feed shelter pets, and leave comments for Katarina at the end of this post. Thank you.

23 comments to Canine Epilepsy

  • Fulvia

    One of my dogs suffers from epilepsy, not a nice thing, actually. I treat him with natural remedies, first of all drops of mugwort extract. Well, it seems to work. Thank you for posting, Michele. People are not informed about this problem, I was not before being personally involved with it.

  • Thank you for this informative post. Thank goodness for the advances in science that help animals live long and happy lives even with epilepsy, or with diabetes, like me.

  • Sue

    this is a moving story. Thank you Katarina.

  • Hector

    I was looking at my girlfriend get teary eyed while reading her laptop. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me about this beautiful article you wrote. Thank you Katarina, and we are sorry for your loss.

  • Sharri

    Great post. I have looked at your other articles Katarina, and found them to be helpful too. I too subscribe to the gentle training method of dog training.

  • Yetta Goldman

    Katarina, your story really moved me. You write so well. And I read your other stories here too. Thank you for this moving tale.

  • Donna Smith

    Very moving, and lots of good information. I’m sorry for your loss Katarina.

  • Millie

    What a moving story. I also cried, and thank you for the excellent information.

  • Vincent Perry

    Thanks for providing links to the canine epilepsy sites. Great information, and Katarina, I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Canine Epilepsy Pet News and Views. Canine Epilepsy Pet News and Views

  • Chante Taylor

    Now, I’m reading with a box of tissues. What a moving story about Ben. Thank you Katarina.

  • Debbie zacher

    Very good article! So sorry for your loss.

  • Kc

    I know first hand how devastating and frightening epilepsy can be for a human — I can’t imagine how tragic and frightening it would be for an animal. Thank you for sharing.

  • Caryl Berger

    Thanks for the links. This is great info on canine epilepsy. And I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Tina

    Feed shelter cats & thank you. I am new to your site, and love this contest. Thank you.

  • Mikki

    thank you for this article Katarina. I also had a dog who suffered from canine epilepsy. The info you provided will help others.

  • Peggy Ross

    We rescued Arnie, a long-coat chihuahua several years ago, and were informed he had seizures as we went out the door. He had several within the first few weeks in our home, characterized by a sudden jump off his pillow or run into a wall, then semi-conscious seizing and wetting himself. Lots of drooling. Now, two and a half years later, he is on phenobarbital, has a seizure about once a month, does not lose consciousness, stiffens, sometimes “swims”, usually does not wet himself, drools a little bit, and makes a little whine-like noise. Most seizures last five to seven minutes, are followed by weakness and lack of coordination, and he is fully recovered within a day or two or three, depending on the length and intensity of the seizure.
    Arnie sleeps no more than our nine-year-old Pom, loves his walk, jumps up and down when we come through the door after an absence, and seems normal in every respect. We know that a seizure is near when his behavior changes subtly, becoming more jumpy, “hiding” in unusual places, seeming restless. As the seizure begins, his eyes become large and bulging, red, and his head may feel hot to the touch.
    We are careful to always have a light on if we are watching television, and avoid programs or movies where there is a lot of “flashing” of light from dark to light. (The kind of thing that gives you a migraine.) We don’t use carpet cleaners and only use room sprays with the windows open. We feed our dogs what we eat, some meat, vegetables, whole grains, and they are given only organic treats. Once a month they are given raw diet. According to Arnie’s medical records, his seizures began two months after microchipping. His medication requires annual blood work to monitor the phenobarbital level and liver function. Other than that, there has been no additional expense to his treatment, and he has been a joy.

  • Georgina

    I am going to share with this a friend of mine. Thanks for the information. It is a very moving story.

  • Gia

    Ben sounds like he was an amazing dog. Sorry for your loss Katarina, and thanks for this helpful information.

  • Perri Dion

    A friend of mine is going through this right now. I will pass on the post and the info at the bottom. Thank you and sorry for your loss.

  • Faith Bennett

    I appreciate this information Katarina. Sorry for your loss. this is a moving story.

  • Wow! What lovely comments, they have touched me as much as my article resonated with so many of you. Ben was a special dog, the best I’ve ever had, and I miss him everyday. Thank you all again.

  • Thank you Katarina for posting this information and sharing your story. Looking back, knowing what I later learned, I realize that my first Boston Terrier, Gus, had tiny absent seizures for years. There were no identifiable ones until his last day, when he had a terribly violent grand mal seizure and died an hour later of a heart attack while at the Veterinary hospital. He was 4 1/2 and very athletic. The vets were perplexed and offered an autopsy but I denied. My second Boston, Norman, was a direct descendant. At age 7, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, not surprisingly, in his last months, he had a number of seizures. Now I’ve surmised that Gus probably had a brain tumour as well (something in his family line not necessarily typical of the breed), but back in 1997 we didn’t have access to get an MRI done. So, it’s unlikely that we would ever have been able to diagnose the tumour, even if there had been some warning signs. Anyway, the seizures were the scariest part and my heart goes out to anyone watching their dog go through them especially if their vet is having trouble discovering the cause.