Managing Canine Epilepsy: An Owner’s Perspective
By Emily Suess
My dog, Taubensee, was diagnosed with canine epilepsy in 2002, when he was two years old. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, his first seizure took place in the middle of the night. He was in the guest bedroom—apparently trying to make his way to me in the room right across the hall—when he bumped into a bookshelf, knocking several items onto the floor.
It was the noise that woke me up, and when I went to investigate I was puzzled. The seizure had ended by the time I got to him. So although he seemed a little shaky on his feet, I assumed it was just the noise that had spooked him. Still, I couldn’t explain why he’d knocked over those things on the bookcase in the first place.
Grand Mal Seizures
Then one evening a few weeks later, I was making dinner when Taubensee showed up at my feet. His approach was very unsteady, and it was clear he was having problems with muscular function. I sat down on the kitchen floor with him, and wondered what I should do. Something just wasn’t right.
Things went from bad to worse quickly. His eyes glassed over, he lay down on his side, and his limbs went rigid in front of his body. His tail was bent and unnatural, and in a matter of seconds he was convulsing and drooling excessively. I was a new puppy momma, so I did the only thing I could think to do—I panicked and cried.
In a few minutes he was back to normal, but there was no doubt I needed to get him to the vet. After describing the event to the veterinarian, he told me he thought Taubensee had suffered from a grand mal seizure. I monitored him for a while and the vet ran some test to rule out other possibilities. Eventually, Taubensee was diagnosed with canine epilepsy and put on Phenobarbital.
Here’s how Taub and I work together to deal with his illness:
- He always seeks me out before a seizure starts. He seems to know when one is coming on way before me, but I can usually tell by two things: 1.) Excessive saliva production causes him to lick and smack his tongue a LOT, and 2.) He’s a little wobbly on his feet as his muscular control starts to go.
- I stay with him during his seizure. I pet him and talk soothingly to him until it’s over. The actual seizure only lasts a minute or so, but it takes him a while to fully recover. We usually hang out together for 10 minutes or so before he’s ready to get up and inspect the kitchen floor—just in case.
- During the seizure, he cannot make eye contact with me or wag his tail, but I assume he seeks me out for comfort and reassurance. There are some subtle cues that he is able to hear my voice and feel my touch, even though he cannot respond to it.
- I keep the emergency vet’s phone number handy. If the convulsing lasts longer than two minutes, the vet encouraged me to take him in to the clinic or an emergency animal hospital. After many years dealing with his epilepsy, it doesn’t seem likely this will ever happen—but better to be on the safe side.
- I try to give him his medicine religiously. There have been a couple of times in the last 10 years that I’ve missed a dose, and he almost certainly will have a seizure after a missed dose. It’s like the medicine keeps the seizures at bay if we’re diligent, but there’s always one waiting for any excuse to break through to the surface.
- Sometimes after a seizure, Taubensee will vomit. Not always, but it’s happened enough that I now try to lay out a trash bag or something in front of him just in case. It makes clean up a lot less difficult that way.
- His blood work is done annually. To make sure that his liver and other organs are not affected negatively by the medication and to make sure that his dosage remains in therapeutic range, the vet does routine blood work.
- I don’t use the flash when I take pictures of him. When he was little, Taubensee was terrified of cameras, which I thought was just quirky puppy behavior. However, one of his early major episodes seemed to be brought on by lots of camera flashes. I still take plenty of pictures of him, just in places with lots of light.
The Phenobarbital doesn’t prevent all of Taub’s seizures, but it does prevent a lot of them. Instead of having 2-3 seizures a month, he only suffers about 2-3 seizures a year now. The episodes are also shorter and less severe.
Taubensee is 12 years old now, and his epilepsy really doesn’t get in the way of his routine or mine. He’s happy and healthy and still my puppy (even though he’s all grown up)!