Last updated on January 9, 2017
Watching a dog experience seizures is one of the most disturbing things a dog parent can ever experience; I know because my first Cocker Spaniel experienced two seizures in her nearly 15 years on earth. If your dog has had a seizure or has been diagnosed with epilepsy, you have likely landed on this article for those reasons.
“Epilepsy is one of the most common neurologic diseases in dogs, but no one knows for sure just how common it is,” says Dennis O’Brien, DVM, PhD, Diplomate, ACVIM, Specialty of Neurology, University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine, for the Canine Epilepsy Network. Further, he says some studies estimate up to four percent of all dogs are affected, with certain breeds having a high propensity than others. Amazingly, cats and other pets do not experience epilepsy as frequently because it is presumed they do not have a hereditary form of the disease.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy means repeated seizures. When the seizures repeat over and over, again and again, the diagnosis goes from ‘seizures’ to epilepsy.
Dorothy Wills-Raftery, also known as the “FiveSibesMom,” knows all too well about canine epilepsy. She’s been writing about it for about six years. In November of 2010, she sat down and wrote her first blog about her dog, Gibson, and his battle with canine epilepsy.
In an effort to help other dog parents who have a dog experiencing epilepsy, this is her story.
“With regards to epilepsy, when Gibson was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy 10 days after his third birthday in 2009, and our first steps into that journey of the unknown were very scary,” Raftery says. “ I did not know of anyone at the time who had an epileptic dog (Epi-dog).”
She says the key is to stay calm so as to help your dog. I can personally attest to this because in the two times my dog seized, my insides were freaking out but I stayed as calm as possible for her overall well being.
“With treatment, special care, and lots of love, these dogs live amazing lives, just like my Gibson did,” she shares. “He loved life so much, it was infectious! That said, the road is not an easy one. Medication schedules are critical; the dog needs to be dosed on time each day. There is uncertainty. There is worry. And there is always the chance another seizure will occur even if your dog is on medication. Medication can also have side effects.”
Raftery says that epilepsy is frustrating in that it there are so many unknowns. She advises learning as much as you can, especially about triggers, and provide that lifestyle for the dog. Don’t be afraid to ask your vet questions on that first visit (or any time).
Raftery’s Siberian Husky, Gibson, was diagnosed with idiopathic canine epilepsy soon after his third birthday. For seven years, he became the face of canine epilepsy awareness for her and through her writings and radio show.
Gibson passed away in December of 2015 but not from epilepsy. He died from hemangiosarcoma discovered while under anesthesia for a splenectomy.
From the Front Lines: Canine Epilepsy Management
The first time your dog seizes in front of you, it is very upsetting, but as time goes along, you learn how to deal with them and how to react to keep the dog calm and prevent any trauma.
Raftery recommends the following after a dog has a seizure for the first time:
Take the dog to the veterinarian for an examination, any testing and blood work to rule out any underlying health issues. A conversation with the vet should include:
- what the results of the tests are,
- whether they will wait to see if the seizure was a one-time thing or if there will be more,
- if/when treatment should be started
- what the medication options are.
If able, she recommends making some notes in a journal (online or written) about the seizure, as this would be very helpful to the vet. Notes should include (if known):
- when the seizure occurred
- how long it lasted
- description of the seizure
- how the dog was afterward,
- what their dog was doing and/or eating prior to the seizure
Create a Canine Epilepsy Kit
Along with the kit, as extension of that, keep an ice pack (frozen veggies will do in a pinch!) and some natural vanilla ice cream on hand in the freezer to give to the dog (followed by a little protein) post-seizure to help raise the blood sugar levels so the dog does not go into hypoglycemia.
For information about what to put in an Epi First Aid Kid, visit the Canine Epilepsy Kit post written by Raftery.
Got an hour? While you do some household chores or during some down time, five a listen to this fabulous interview between Raftery and Dr. Arnold Rugg, who was Gibson’s lead veterinarian. You can tune in any time, or find “The Sibe Vibe” on iTunes under the Dog Works Radio family of shows.
Listen here: Talking Canine Epilepsy With Gibson’s Vet, Dr. Rugg
Preventing Epilepsy in Dogs
“I think until a cure has been found, there is no one exact thing that can prevent seizures in a dog with idiopathic epilepsy,” Raftery shares. “There is an exhausting list of possible triggers, ranging from dietary (commercial food, wheat gluten, rosemary, preservatives, rawhides, colorings, artificial ingredients, grains, etc. to environmental triggers such as perfumes, room fresheners, candles, some essential oils (ex: rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus), insect and rodent repellents, yard sprays, toxic plants, trees and shrubs, to even vaccines, flea & tick preventative, weather, storms, lunar phases, and even solar flares.”
She says that medication (traditional and alternative), supplements, acupuncture, massage, and eliminating and/or preparing for possible seizure triggers are the best defense in hopefully managing seizures. When a dog is going into a seizure, some have found success with applying ocular pressure, cool packs to specific areas on a seizing dog’s body, and even hugging and gently speaking to their dog have helped the dog come out of a seizure quicker.
Having a veterinarian who is qualified to treat a dog with seizures is key for Raftery and she says if your vet is not knowledgeable, find one who is.
Further Resources on Canine Epilepsy
A few excellent resources about why dogs get seizures, types of seizures, the role nutrition plays, and treatments and trials, are (Links are clickable):
*Talking Canine Epilepsy With Dr. Karen Munana & LVT/Research Specialist Julie Nettifee-Osborne of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine Neurology Department/Companion Animal Epilepsy Research Lab :
*What Causes Seizures with Dr. Karen Becker
*Articles by Dr. W. Jean Dodds, Founder of Hemopet
*Canine Epilepsy Resources The Role of a Natural Healthy Diet in the Management of Canine Epilepsy:
* 12 Important Tips for Dogs with Canine Epilepsy 4Knines
* Gib Strong: November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, American Pet Magazine, Page 22.
Book and Book Giveaway
Raftery has penned books on the topic of canine epilepsy, which are:
EPIc Dog Tales: Heartfelt Stories About Amazing Dogs Living & Loving Life With Canine Epilepsy: This book is a large, 264-page, beautiful color coffee table-style book that contains personal stories of 124 dogs who have lived/are living with Canine Epilepsy, including their treatments and insights.
The other is What’s Wrong With Gibson? Learning About K-9 Epilepsy: This is the first book in her illustrated FiveSibes Tale series. The story is intended to help children not be afraid if they see their own pet (or a human) have a seizure. In the book, Gibson has a seizure and the other FiveSibes come to his aid. It actually contains a few real-life tips that help empower children with a way to help, should this ever occur in their lives.
Both books are available through her ArcitcHouse Publishing website store (with links to either PayPal or Amazon.com).
For both books, she donates a portion of proceeds via #LiveGibStrong to the Canine Epilepsy Resources Epil-K9 Foundation’s “Emma’s Seizure Fund” through the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
ENTER TO WIN A $50 GIFT SET: GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED
WINNER: LYNNE LINGER
Thanks to all who entered!
Just in time for the holidays and in memory of my Gibson, Fidose of Reality has teamed up with Raftery to give away a gift set including:
A copy of EPIc Dog Tales: Heartfelt Stories About Amazing Dogs Living & Loving Life With Canine Epilepsy ($49.95 value) and a #LiveGibStrong awareness bracelet.
We’re giving one copy away to a Fidose of Reality follower. Simply enter below. And good luck!
Tell us the name of a pet who has made a difference in your life in the comments below.
US only, please; must be 18 or older. One entry per person.
Winner will be drawn at random on December 16, 2016 AND notified via email.