our dog has epilepsy

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This is Bear. He is the hero of Bully Troubles. I received Bear as a gift from my teacher when I was earning my medical assistant certification. When she gave him to me, she told me that his parents’ owners had named him Eeyore because he was the mopiest puppy in the litter. He just lay around all the time. He was the calmest puppy I had ever owned.  

Bear will be 7 years old next month. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. Basically, this means that he has seizures that have no known cause. A seizure is an electrical storm in the brain. YouTube provides many videos featuring dogs having seizures. I must warn you that these videos are frightening to watch. We have not videotaped any of Bear’s seizures as we focus more on trying to keep him calm and safe during a seizure.

When he has a seizure, first his body will stiffen up. He may fall over. If it happens while he is asleep, sometimes he will shoot up to a standing position only to fall over again. His whole body will begin convulsing and thrashing around. At times, he bites his tongue. We have to carefully move him away from anything he can slam into. He may lose control of his bladder or bowels. He drools excessively. The seizures generally don’t last very long. If he has multiple seizures in a 24 hour period,  they are called cluster seizures. One time, he had more than twenty seizures in a 24 hour period of time. That was one of the scariest occurrences we have ever dealt with. Near the end of the seizure, he may try to get up. We do our best to keep him lying down and calm. We talk calmly to him throughout the seizures. After these seizures, he is generally very whiny and needy. He is confused and disoriented. He becomes restless and may be anxious.

There are other kinds of seizures that we now believe he has had his whole life. At the time, we had thought they were just quirks of his personality. One of these types of seizures is an absence seizure. When he is having one of these, he will simply stop and stare into space. Sometimes simply speaking to him will bring him back to attention, but other times he will just continue to stare. Commonly, animals having an absence seizure will be found simply staring at a wall or door as if something is there that we cannot see.

Another type of seizure we were unaware of that we have seen many times, even in his younger years, appears like he is biting at flies around his face. Many times, we assumed a fly or other flying insect had found its way into the house, and Bear was trying to catch it.

The most common seizures that we saw in Bear that even the vet did not recognize as seizures until he had had his first full body seizure would involve this weird paralysis of the throat. During these seizures, his neck becomes outstretched and he whimpers or pants while coming to us for comfort. Originally we thought of these as panic attacks.

There are many types of seizures, and Bear does not experience all of them. His epilepsy is treated with extremely high doses of Phenobarbital. Most of the time he is seizure free and very happy. Last night, Bear had a rough night. We were awoken every few hours as he began thrashing around having another seizure. These seizures have continued today. He had one as recently as two hours ago.

If you are concerned that your pet may be having seizures, I strongly urge you to speak to your vet. Like humans, proper treatment for their epilepsy can result in pets living a long and happy life.

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