08 November 2023

November is #EpilepsyAwarenessMonth: A Day in the Life of Two Epi-Warriors


I want to take this opportunity to share a little insight into living with canine epilepsy - a subject matter near and dear to my heart. As many of you probably know, the two dogs pictured above were my Epi-warriors, Lana and Darren. They both developed Idiopathic Epilepsy (epilepsy with unknown cause) within two days of each other when Darren was two and Lana was four years of age. I did my best to provide them with everything they needed and the quality of life they deserved. But, in the end, Darren suffered a massive stroke, and Lana lost her battle with bladder cancer; they passed away within four days of each other. At this point, I decided to write a book about their journey called LIVING WITH CANINE EPILEPSY to let everyone know that dogs with canine epilepsy can lead a happy and meaningful life. Prayers for all the Epi-Warriors out there...may they stay seizure-free for a long time!

Epilepsy is 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. Still, with some help from a veterinarian and much planning, epileptic dogs can live a relatively normal, happy, and meaningful life.

...no one had a seizure. We all got up around 6:00 a.m...well, Lana and Darren stuck their wet noses in my face to wake me up. Breakfast and the first dosage of daily meds by 7:00 a.m. Walk/jog, either outdoors when the weather permitted or on the treadmill by 10:00 a.m. Outings, errands, and playtime throughout the day. Dinner and the second dosage of daily medication by 7:00 p.m. This schedule had to eventually be adjusted once Darren had to switch from Phenobarbital to Keppra due to his hypertensive liver, a drug he had to take three times a day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

...one of my furry children or one after the other would have their first seizure of the day in the early morning hours, anywhere between midnight and 5:00 a.m. I wiped away excess slobber off the dog's face. I administered a pill pocket with Valium in an attempt to prevent a vicious cycle of recurring seizures. Then, it was time to give the dog a quick sponge bath to remove the remnants of urine and/or stool after the dog lost control of his or her bladder and/or bowel due to the seizure. I cleaned/replaced the doggie bedding and adjacent carpeting as necessary, fed the patient a snack, provided a fresh bowl of water and the opportunity to relieve themselves. I would put the dogs back to bed if it was still nighttime. I would sit on the floor next to the dog bed until they fell asleep again and prayed that there wouldn't be any more epileptic episodes. Eventually, I crawled back into bed and attempted to go back to sleep. If we were lucky, no one had another seizure. If we were not so fortunate, then the above scenario repeated itself many times throughout the following day or two, and we would eventually end up spending the day at the vet clinic. 

How to Help Your Pup Through a Seizure

Whether your canine companion has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder or just experienced their 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. Clear the area of items that could potentially injure your pup or may be knocked over, such as breakables, decorations, candles, and hard or sharp-edged furniture. If your dog is lying 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 is already in progress! Instead, improvise by padding the area and blocking off potential hazards with towels, cushions, and blankets as your dog thrashes 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 to 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 seizure duration (s) to determine if it is an emergency. It might also be helpful to film the seizure, as it may provide beneficial 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 lasts 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 and after, and in-between seizures.

What I would like everyone to remember during this Epilepsy Awareness Month - is that 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 along your journey together, but you can get through them. Just take a deep breath and deal with it one day at a time.

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

And what about Self-Care?!

While managing my two epi-warriors' condition, I paid little to no attention to my own needs. Their well-being was my top priority, and I didn't realize that I desperately needed a break until my husband and I had to put Lana and Darren in a doggie hotel so we could attend my mother's funeral overseas. As we traveled to our destination, I noticed that it was a nice change of pace not to have to jump up in fear because one of my dogs was having a seizure. And many of my readers are probably dismayed at my last statement. However, suppose you can no longer function properly. What chance do you have to take care of your epi-warriors appropriately? We all need to regroup, refresh, and relax at some point. Otherwise, we will only drive ourselves insane. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but I eventually managed to carve out some space and time for myself to recharge. It didn't happen overnight, but it made all the difference in my overall well-being.

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian or a canine dietician, just an experienced, well-read, and hyper-observant pet parent. This article is not meant to diagnose or treat any canine illness or replace professional veterinary care. Always talk to your vet about your dog's health, as health care is an individual matter. 

 by A. Piper Burgi

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing 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 LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.

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