• DateAugust 27, 2020

Living with a dog with epilepsy

In April 2020 Sweep began having seizures.  I didn’t know what they were but they were pretty mild (he just got wobbly) and about 2 weeks apart so we didn’t take him to the vets until late May.  After I submitted video of his seizures, and after a blood test and an MRI (both were clear) he was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy – epilepsy with no known cause.  He was 8 years and 5 months old at that time.

Sweep and me

Since then he has been on three different types of medication off and on.  On the date of writing he is on three types which means 9 tablets a day.  The most frustrating thing is that 4 months after his seizures began he is currently still having at least one focal seizure a day.  Even more frustrating is phenobarbital!  When they finally get his dose right it will hopefully have the seizures under control without the need for Pexion and Levetiracetam (his other meds).  But it takes 2 weeks to work and 4 weeks before they will take bloods to check his levels.  He started on 30mg twice a day, this went up to 60mg twice a day because the levels were very low in his blood, and on 19th August this was increased to 90mg twice a day because the levels were still very low.  Since then he has had 10 seizures in 8 days.  And we have a now 3 week wait until we can get his blood tested again when we may well have to go through this all again for a third time, waiting another 4 weeks to find out where we are. 

Don’t get me wrong, our vets have been amazing!  They have patiently answered all my questions and have pointed me in the direction of literature and researchers that they think might help. Their patience is incredible.  There was added stress because I can’t go in with Sweep just now but we have had the majority of our (MANY!) appointments with the same vet who is very aware of body language and is beautifully patient with Sweep, and he and the nurses are very happy to give treats to him during procedures (I always provide a big bag full that comes out with a good amount missing 😊).  I also get a report on how Sweep has done during the consult. 

But because of the medication, Sweep sleeps all the time. When he wakes he can hardly stand, he can’t go up or down stairs without assistance, he slides all over on the tile and laminate floors that he was always so confident on, we can barely wake him to eat his lunch or take his three times a day medication.  He’s gone from a dog I trained with daily to one I can train with once a fortnight and then I can only do very very short sessions as training has triggered seizures.  He shows enthusiasm for walks but as soon as he gets out of the gate he is close to having a seizure.  Kevin is currently sleeping on the sofa in my office with him at night as he’s up and down all the time.  It’s mentally and physically draining and puts quite a strain on all our relationships because we’re stressed and snippy with each other.  We’ve also had to cancel our holiday to the Highlands at the end of September.

Just now, this evening, seven days into that Phenobarbital (epiphen) increase he has spent, so far, an hour not being able to settle.  I have rescued him from behind furniture twice and from under furniture once.  He’s currently stood behind a foot stool and appears to be going to sleep with his head rested on it because he’s stuck unless I go and collect him.  I have damaged my already wrecked shoulder carrying him to a bed to settle him.

As well as the constant medication:

  • We listen to Mozart all day (studies have shown positive effects on humans and mice suffering from seizures)1;
  • We’ve tried zoopharmacognosy2 (https://www.carolineingraham.com/) and valerian essential oil seems to help sometimes if he’s looking like a seizure might start;
  • We have bought an ice pack as the “ice pack method” has also proven effective3;
  • He’s had a complete diet change and is now on a keto diet4,5;
  • We just started trying Bach’s flower remedies because that has also shown to help6;
  • I have a calendar (with codes) to record changes in medication, seizure types and number per day and any other relevant information;
  • We keep a log of medication and when it changes;
  • We log every seizure keeping times, durations, types and what they looked like, plus possible triggers and recovery time;
  • If in doubt, or feeling helpless, collect data!

…or write a blog post.  When I started this I was crying, I’m so tired, and so heartbroken, and I am struggling to cope.  Whenever I have struggled with life in the past I have written a diary and it usually made me feel better.  I didn’t want to go public with all of this until it was sorted but I joined a Facebook group for canine epilepsy and I read a paper recently about the human side of canine epilepsy7 I still haven’t gotten through it yet as it makes me cry. But both have made me realise that guardians of epileptic dogs are a rare bunch, a group of people that are willing to change aspects of their entire lives to look after their epileptic dog, and I think people don’t realise how difficult an illness it is to live with.  As with my blog about living with an “aggressive”/”reactive” dog, I wanted people to know I’m with you, I understand, you’re amazing, you’re doing brilliantly, and you’re not alone.  For those who have been living with it for a while, if your dog has a seizure after being 9 months seizure free, don’t be disheartened, there are those of us at the start of our journey who haven’t got the seizures under control yet and dream of being 9 months seizure free.

Thankfully, I work from home and my company are flexible, thankfully Sweep and Odie are insured (so far we have cost Pet Plan approximately £2000).  Thankfully, my unsettled dog has finally settled down and gone to sleep. Tonight’s weird “seizure” (every single one seems to be different) lasted one hour and 40 minutes.

If you do live with an epileptic dog and haven’t discovered the website Canine Epilepsy Guardian Angels yet, please check it out, it’s such a helpful place to start.  Also random searches at www.researchgate.net will find a lot of literature that you can either download right away or request.  A list of literature I’ve found useful so far is listed below.  I hope it helps. Big hugs to you and your dogs. Thank you for listening!

  1. Metcalf, C.S., Huntsman, M., Garcia, G., Kochanski, A.K., Chikinda, M., Watanabe, E., Underwood, T., Vanegas, F., Smith, M.D., White, H.S. and Bulaj, G. (2019) Music-Enhanced Analgesia and Antiseizure Activities in Animal Models of Pain and Epilepsy: Toward Preclinical Studies Supporting Development of Digital Therapeutics and Their Combinations With Pharmaceutical Drugs. Front. Neurol. 10:277. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2019.00277 [Available online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2019.00277/full]
  2. https://www.carolineingraham.com/
  3. http://www.canine-epilepsy-guardian-angels.com/icepack.htm
  4. Berk, B.A., Law, T.H., Packer, R.M.A, Wessmann,A., Bathen-Nöthen, A., Jokinen, T.S., Knebel, A., Tipold, A., Pelligand, L., Meads, Z. and Volk, H.A. (2020) A multicenter randomized controlled trail of effect of medium-chain triglyceride dietary supplementation on epilepsy in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 1-12. DOI: 10.1111/jvim.15756 [Available online at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jvim.15756]
  5. Masino, S.A., Freedgood, N.R. Reichert, H.R., Director, C.J., Whittemore, V.H. and Zupec-Kania, B. (2019) Epilepsia Open, 4:193-199. 10.1002/epi4.12305 [Available online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/epi4.12305]
  6. http://www.canine-epilepsy-guardian-angels.com/rescue_remedy.htm
  7. Pergrande, A.E., Belshaw, Z., Volk, H.A. and Packer, R.W.A. (2020) “We have a ticking time bomb”: A qualitative exploration of the impact of canone epilepsy on dog owners living in England (Under Review).  Research Square pp.1-16 [Available online at: https://assets.researchsquare.com/files/rs-39029/v1/f34343d9-91d8-4d02-a88f-a434563b893f.pdf]
Carol Milner

About Carol Milner

I currently live in Weymouth, Dorset (originally from Beverley in East Yorkshire). I am a certified dog trainer, graduating from the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional course in October 2016. I have owned dogs since 2001 when I got my first rescue dog Jack, a mutt extraordinaire. When I lost him I spent two years fostering dogs for a local charity and as a result I gained Odie and Sweep. Odie is the reason I became interested in training and behaviour. He demonstrates "aggressive" behaviours towards other dogs. I chose clicker training because I saw how much confidence it gives both my boys and I train mostly as a hobby with my own dogs and cats and spend my spare time with them and continuing my training and behaviour education with webinars and seminars. My passion as a trainer is in force free husbandry. If we can teach dangerous exotic animals to accept blood draws voluntarily then we have no excuse in not teaching it to our animals. I work full time as a marine biologist (to fund my dog habit!), a job I have done for 20 years. It has taught me to avoid the use of jargon while not dumbing down content, a skill I hope will help me produce a helpful blog!


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