Life With an Epileptic Dog – November Epilepsy Awareness Month

My dog didn’t have a seizure today.

But he might tomorrow.

He might even have one tonight in the wee hours.

Or in a week or two–maybe toward the end of the month. I might get two or three seizure-free months.

But he’s going to have one, at some point. The only question is when.

That’s the hard part of having an epileptic dog. The unknown.

To make things worse, I don’t know how he’s feeling. I don’t know if he gets warning auras. He certainly doesn’t act any differently before a seizure. Occasionally, I notice he doesn’t eat as much on days preceding a seizure. But then again, there are times when he’s not as hungry and eats less on days he doesn’t have a seizure.

So maybe the food thing doesn’t mean anything.

It’s an enormous job taking care of an epileptic animal; recent studies have shown veterinary professionals far underestimate the impact of epilepsy on pet owners. As a member of several online groups for owners of epileptic dogs, I can tell you I’m in no way alone in making lifestyle changes to care for my animal. I was already working from home, but I turn the world inside-out to make sure Gus is never by himself–I only have a small number of people who are willing to watch him, afraid he’d have a seizure while I was gone. I give prescription medications (two of them) five times a day. I also cook food, and give supplements: gelatin, honey, fish oil, taurine, probiotics, cbd. Gus’s seizures have always been triggered by sleep (and are mostly at night), so I keep him close to me when I’m sleeping. In the summer, when the bed is too hot, I block him off in a cool area with a baby monitor so a seizure will be sure to wake me. I have a seizure protocol: ocular compressions, honey or ice cream when he’s coming back to awareness. Sometimes, it seems the post-ictal phase is worse than the actual seizure–the pacing, the confusion, the whining. It can go on for a half hour or more (which is really short compared to other dogs). I also try to give extra food (a seizure is a little like running a marathon, and replacing those spent calories sometimes helps shorten the post-ictal).

When he’s not seizing, Gus is a goofy, sweet little dog. He loves cats and people, and is firmly convinced that walks are not for exercise but for allowing the neighbors a chance to visit with him. He’ll do anything for liver. He is terrible at barking (how is that even a thing???), and talks incessantly in strange throaty noises: whines and gurgles and growls and gargles. He can’t wait for you to take off your shoes so that he can run off with one. He likes to wear sweaters and to sit inside the storm door, watching the comings and goings of the street. He hates the vet, and engages in hand-to-paw combat when the techs attempt to draw blood (just kidding–sort of). He’s smart, and if you are stretched out on the floor, he will try to lick your ear.

He’s a hundred things, and epileptic is just one of them.

It’s a strange disease; it’s a big thing, and yet, during those calm in-between-seizure times, it’s not. Epilepsy isn’t necessarily terminal, though a seizure can certainly turn life-threatening if it doesn’t end quickly. We’ve been there with Gus–he went into status epilepticus, and we had to rush him to the vet, where the entire medicine cabinet was thrown at him to get it to stop. He was even on oxygen for a while. The vet said if we hadn’t been home, we would have returned to a dead dog. (Which is why I have such a small number of people willing to be alone with him.) But then again, it’s not cancer. It’s not heartworm or distemper.

And still, it’s always there. Kind of lingering in the background. I try not to get him overtired (which is why he has a stroller). I try to avoid food dyes and commercial food with rosemary as a preservative. I jump, my heart thumping around crazily, every time a strange noise hits my ears. (Was that Gus? Is he seizing???)

That’s true of any chronic condition, though, I guess–it’s just always there. You never get to take a day off from a chronic condition. You never get to board a plane and go on vacation from diabetes or arthritis or Alzheimer’s.

I am inspired, every day, by the devoted pet owners I have met in online forums. So many of us are out there every day, exchanging dog food recipes or giving each other advice or a place to vent. Taking dogs on vacations, helping each other out with medications or emergency vet bills. So many kind-hearted people who are fighting for their dogs to have the happiest lives possible for as long as possible.

I’m in the same boat–I’d do anything for this dog. But come on–with a face like that, how could I not?

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