20 March 2019

Support Epilepsy Awareness - Wear Purple

Next Tuesday, the 26th of March is Purple Day - it is a celebration aimed to raise epilepsy awareness worldwide, a condition that globally affects over 65 million people. However, did you know that dogs can be afflicted with this ailment as well? Up to six percent of the canine population suffers from a form of epilepsy. In fact, epilepsy is the most diagnosed canine neurological disease. This is only a rough estimate since many cases of canine epilepsy remain undiscovered by the respective canine parents as dogs often experience their fits when they are inactive, late at night or during the early morning hours. So, throw on a purple shirt and let's raise epilepsy awareness for all sufferers, human and canine alike!

What is Canine Epilepsy?

Epilepsy manifests in terrifying ways, causing a dog to experience sudden, uncontrolled convulsions. First recognized in ancient times, Hippocrates referred to epilepsy as the “sacred” disease. However, nothing about it seems sacred! Watching a beloved companion suffer a seizure can be an extremely traumatic event. Learning to live with an animal with complex health issues is never easy. In general, we distinguish between two types of epilepsy - genetic and idiopathic. 

Genetic epilepsy is passed down from one generation to the next, and certain dog breeds are more prone to this form of epilepsy than others. 

Idiopathic Epilepsy is caused by unknown factors, and it is often difficult to predict what will trigger the next seizure or when.

Living with a dog that has epilepsy can be a daunting prospect, but with some help from a veterinarian and much planning, epileptic dogs can live a relatively normal, happy and meaningful life.

How to Help Your Pup Through a Seizure

Whether your canine companion has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder or just experienced his/her first epileptic episode, it can be challenging to keep your wits about you during such a heartbreaking event. 

I took care of my two epi-warriors, Lana and Darren, for over four years, and today I'd like to share my basic practices for protecting your furry friend from coming to harm and minimizing the effects of a seizure with you.

Protecting your dog from injury during a seizure is essential. Many dogs will give off physical as well as behavioral indicators before convulsions begin (pre-ictal phase). If you notice signs of agitation or distress such as heavy panting, whining, or incessant pacing, lead your dog to a safe location, if possible, before the seizure begins.

Spaces away from staircases, furniture, and cables are best. If at all possible, clear the area of items that could potentially injure your pup or may be knocked over such as breakables, decorations, candles, hard or sharp-edged furniture. If your dog is laying on the sofa or bed, lower your friend to the floor to prevent a fall, if it is safe to do so. Make hardwood and tile floors more comfortable with towels and blankets.

Please, do not attempt to move your dog if the seizure has already begun! Instead, improvise by padding the area and blocking off potential hazards with towels, cushions, and blankets as your dog may be thrashing about, banging its head on a hard surface.

During a seizure, your canine’s brain is flooded with abnormal electrical impulses. Any additional stimuli in the form of bright light, loud noises or excessive touching can actually prolong its duration. While it is our instinctual need comfort our furry friends during a time of distress, please rest assured, that your pup is not in pain and is more than likely unaware of what's happening. 

Many times, dogs will bite the inside of their mouths during an epileptic episode, but it is physically nearly impossible to swallow or choke on their own tongue. So please, keep your hands out of your dog's mouth! Your furry friend has no control over their body during a seizure, and you would only end up getting inadvertently bitten. 

You can make the surrounding area more peaceful by:

- Removing other pets and people
- Turning down/off the TV or radio
- Dimming the lights/closing the curtains
- Not touching the dog
- Remain calm

While every second of a fit can seem like an eternity, in reality, they usually only last a few minutes. Most vets recommend timing the duration of the seizure(s) to determine if it is an emergency. It might also be useful to film the seizure, as it may provide helpful information to your veterinarian.

Although most seizures are not life-threatening, they do indicate an underlying medical problem. If your pup experiences a seizure for the first time or has possibly been exposed to a toxic substance, seek veterinary attention immediately. For animals with a diagnosed seizure disorder, the rule of thumb is: It's an emergency when an epileptic episode last longer than five minutes or the dog has more than three seizures within 24 hours.

For epi-warriors with recurring seizures, it can be helpful to keep a detailed log of any seizure activity you may observe to help your veterinarian diagnose the problem, identify potential seizure triggers, and determine future treatment options. It's a good idea to include information such as the length of each seizure, observed seizure activity like convulsions, “air-biting”, staring off into space, etc., whether or not bladder/bowel control was lost, and observed behavior before, after, and in-between seizures.

What I would like everyone to remember on Epilepsy Awareness Day is this...it is not the end of the world if your dog has epilepsy. Yes, it is challenging to live with canine epilepsy, and there's no cure for this condition. However, it can be managed. There may be bumps in the road along your journey together, but you can get through it. Just take a deep breath and deal with it one day at a time.

For more information about Purple Day, more Purple Day events or epilepsy, please visit www.purpleday.org.

To learn more about living with canine epilepsy, click here.

Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added three historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl Empressand A Life in the Shadow of the Crown. When she isn't busy typing away on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, and Goodreads.

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