Snowball developed ideopathic epilepsy in March of 1998, when she was almost 6 years old. Ideopathic simply means "cause unknown". This is by far, the most common cause of seizures in dogs. Snowball's first seizure was a grand mal seizure. This is the most serious type of seizure. It is accompanied by loss of consciousness, and odd, jerking kind of movements involving all or some of the extremities, and the head. These movements are called tonic and clonic movements. These grand mal seizures are often accompanied by increased secretions, "foaming at the mouth", and by loss of bladder and/or bowel control. While frightening to observe, they are "painless" to the dog.
I did not see most of Snowball's first seizure; it occurred at 4:30 a.m. on March 31, 1998. But I heard it. She was bumping into the furniture in another room. That is what woke me up. I knew something was very wrong. When I found her, the main event had ended, but she was lying on her side doing the odd paddling movements that seem to be a common thread in epileptic dogs. She also appeared blind, and was panting rather heavily. While not unconscious, she was not fully alert either. After about 15 seconds of this, it stopped. She "came to", and was frightened. Her sight returned within a very few seconds. She also seemed confused. I left the room for a moment, and she started whining. This hurt me so, as Snowball has NEVER done that. I took her outside so she could go to the bathroom, and she looked lost. It took her a few minutes to figure out what she was supposed to do. She had not lost bladder or bowel control during her seizure. We came back in and I sat with her. We stayed close for about 45 minutes. By then she was pretty much back to her old self. I took her out for her "walkie" and she had her breakfast. Our lives went on as usual.
I took her to our wonderful vet, Dr. Donald Pearl, who examined her and drew some blood work. I cried and made a fool out of myself. My dog is my emotional Achilles heel, you see. He felt that it might just be an isolated incident.....a fluke if you will. Pending the lab results, we decided to take a "wait and see" approach. Well, her lab work was normal, and things went along fine until 7 a.m. June 6, 1998. Snowball had her second grand mal seizure as we were walking in to the groomer. She had stopped walking, and when I turned to look at her, her mouth was frozen open in a "silent scream", and she seemed to be pawing at her mouth. At first I thought her collar had gotten stuck on her lower jaw. I went to her, and as soon as I touched her, I knew. Her muscles were so tight, she felt hard like a board. Then she went down and had a full tonic/clonic event.It lasted about a minute. She then did the odd paddling behavior. Again, I could see she was blind. When it was over she stood up and walked to me, and bumped into my ear, since she couldn't see. Thankfully, her sight returned, and we went home. I was happy that I was there for her. Again, she had not lost bladder or bowel control. I called Dr. Pearl, and we began her on phenobarbiital, and her diagnosis of ideopathic epilepsy was secured.
What should you do if your dog has a seizure? Nothing! Turn the dog on her side so secretions can drain, protect her from injury, such as putting your hand under her head if she is on a hard surface, and let the thing happen. I believe it is important also to pet her, and speak softly to her. I want her to know I am with her, and that she is OK. I think if you stay calm, your dog will be less frightened.
What kind of treatments are there for epileptic dogs? Lots! First, in terms of traditional treatment, the decision about when to start medication is generally based on the frequency and severity of the seizures. For dogs who have single seizures, like mine, seizures that occur infrequently are generally not treated. Infrequent means at least a month between events. Dogs who have more then one seizure a month are generally treated. Even though Snowball had about 10 weeks between seizures, she is on phenobarbital. There is a school of thought that dogs who are treated early on in the disease, even when seizures are infrequent, tend to have better control and better long term prognosis. This makes alot of sense to me.
Snowball is now 5 years seizure free. I am so thankful she is doing so well. I will always keep Snowball on her medication. I realize that epilepsy does not "get cured", and that the lack of seizures does not mean she doesn't have epilepsy anymore. What it means is that she is well controlled. ..........And so, as the seasons change, we continue on our journey forward. What do you say, Snowball my love......are you ready?
An excellent start in your quest for knowledge is
Epil-K9 WWW Site.
This is also an entry to the canine epilepsy list, comprised of many people sharing their experiences and knowledge of treatments and caring for their special dogs.
I will be adding some more interesting educational links.......
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