My dog Zoe has epilepsy. This is a story of how I handled Zoe’s seizures and progressed past the diagnosis of epilepsy.
This blog post is part of the Caring for Critters Round Robin, a series of pet blogger personal accounts on pet health issues written in the hopes of helping others. The Round Robin stories are linked together in a daily chain of blog posts.
What Zoe’s Epilepsy Looks Like to Us
I’m in my home office when Zoe staggers through the open door with a look of plea in her eyes. I quickly grab my phone, sit on the floor and note the time on the clock.
Zoe tries to sit too but ends up crumbling into my lap. I adjust her onto the floor, keeping her head away from hard corners like the desk legs. Her head wobbles around and she looks dazed. Her eyes begin to glaze over, unfocused.
Saliva is flowing from her mouth, soaking her muzzle and my lap. Her head is hot. I lay my hands on her gently but firmly and talk softly. I want my hands and voice to anchor her.
A couple minutes later her neck arches back and her whole body seizes. It looks like a full-body Charlie horse. Then she starts jerking. Not violently, but it’s super-painful to watch. This hard part lasts almost 6 minutes.
The hard seizing calms down, but Zoe’s body is not relaxed and continues to jerk a bit. This lasts for several more minutes.
When I can, without causing distress, I ease away to run and get a cold wet towel to help cool her down through her paws and head. She is really hot.
Eventually she lays relatively still and her eyes start to unglaze. But her pupils are huge and she starts watching something float across the wall, something I can’t see. She appears to be having hallucinations. Her head starts to cool a bit and I wipe the saliva that drenched her fur.
Finally she focuses on me. She is looking like my normal Zoe. She slowly stands up, gives a small shake, then trots off to find Zack and see if he wants to play. He gives her two quick licks on the muzzle and they head off to do their thing. Leaving me on the ground, exhausted, shaken and drained. I look at the clock again.
The entire episode took about 18 minutes.
What is Canine Epilepsy?
Canine Epilepsy is a chronic condition that shows itself as seizures. The seizures are like electrical storms in the brain triggering a mish-mash of nerve transmissions to the muscles of the dog’s body that in turn contract. I’ve listed some on-line articles about epilepsy at the end of this story.
If you are at all concerned that your dog has epilepsy, seek veterinarian assistance as soon as possible.
The first time I saw Zoe seize, I called our vet immediately. She calmly talked me through it and let me know that canine epilepsy was not uncommon. I made an appointment for Zoe the next day.
I was told there are two popular and effective canine seizure control medications: potassium bromide and phenobarbital.
My vet prescribed potassium bromide. I believe it is easier on the liver.
At first we used a liquid mixed at our local pharmacist. It was liver flavored but Zoe hated it. Plus, the liquid required refrigeration, adding a complication when we went on overnight road trips. Eventually we transitioned to K-BroVet, a chewable tablet, which is much easier to administer plus I can order it cheaper on-line.
The vet tested Zoe’s blood shortly after she started on potassium bromide, to make sure the dosage was correct. Now we test Zoe’s blood twice a year to verify it still looks good. Also to check her liver health.
Meds Worked Pretty Well
Zoe had a couple break-through seizures in the first year following her start on potassium bromide. I recorded the dates and duration. I was to call the vet if she had back-to-back seizures, or if there were multiple break-throughs within a few weeks. Neither happened. After that first year, Zoe stopped having full blown seizures altogether.
However, 4 or 5 times a year I observed small episodes: excessive drooling, overheated head, swaying, and a slight spacy look in her eyes. She did not appear to seize.
Zoe Gained Weight
Very soon after starting Zoe on potassium bromide, she gained weight. Quickly. I was startled that within 6 months she had gained 10 pounds! (She started out at 70 pounds.) And another 5 pounds in the next 6 months. She was perpetually hungry (excessive even for a food-motivated dog) and I couldn’t seem to get her weight down enough.
The vet had warned me that might happen.
A couple years later, our veterinarian did additional blood work on Zoe and found that she had hypothyroid. Her “numbers” were at the bottom of the chart (couldn’t drop much lower) so we started her on thyroid medication immediately.
She dropped 10 pounds in about 5 months. And no longer appears perpetually hungry.
Note: it is suggested in some on-line articles (listed in the Resources section below) that low thyroid levels can increase the sensitivity to seizures!
The Diet Factor
Discussing pet food can be akin to talking religion and politics at a party.
So I’m just going to mention dog food here anecdotally. If you are interested in reading about how to possibly help epileptic dogs through diet, read on-line articles listed under the Resources section below.
Changing Food Helped
Zoe had not had a complete breakthrough seizure for several years (knock on wood), but the episodes of excessive drooling and spaciness were worrisome.
Since I adopted Zoe I fed her a regular diet of decent kibble. It did not contain any nasty ingredients, but it was highly processed as is most kibble.
About 5 months ago I moved Zoe from the kibble to a higher-quality dehydrated food.
She has not had an excessive-drooling type episode since. It is important to note, however, that Zoe’s change in diet and the inclusion of thyroid medication happened fairly close to each other. I think both changes together helped significantly.
Another reason I like the dehydrated foods as opposed to dry kibble is the water factor: there is a lot of water in Zoe’s food now (I add water to reconstitute the dehydrated particles.) With more water in her food there is less strain on her liver. Since she’s taking multiple medications, I think this is really important.
Canine Epilepsy seizures are really hard to witness, especially since there is little we can do other than to stay calm, control the environment to keep our dogs safe, and possibly help them cool their bodies down.
We can however help dogs reduce or eliminate seizures by visiting our veterinarians regularly, asking them questions and discussing options including dietary changes and the possibility of other health issues, and being diligent about taking medications regularly.
I look forward to more happy, healthy years with my Zoe girl.
Diet and epilepsy (scientific-y articles):
Caring for Critters Round Robin
Read the next link in Caring for Critters, Robin Mudge’s “Taking in a Stray Cat” at Playful Kitty. Also, the previous link, “Feline Diabetes: Tara’s Story” at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries & Meows.
Click on the Caring for Critters logo below to see all the posts published. Thank you Jodi at Heart Like a Dog for creating and managing this Round Robin and allowing Let’s Go Dog to participate!