I’ve talked about it here before, but my little dog Gus is epileptic. Up until now, I was hesitant to use Pheno–a big part of that is it requires regular blood draws, and Gus fights them like you wouldn’t believe. We’re talking hand-to-paw combat with the vet techs. Imagine a thirteen-pound dog on a silver exam table, on two back legs, arms over his head, one leg raised in the crane kick position (a la The Karate Kid). Yeah. That’s how Gus fights them.

Gus chilling on my lap.

Buuuuut…he had two bad seizure episodes in January–a two-day event early on, and another event late in the month, with cluster seizures, that sent us to an emergency vet visit.

Which means that we’re now on Pheno.

It takes some time to adjust. Right now, Gus is thirsty and hungry and tired and is a little unsteady on his feet. We’ve all been calling him Drunk Uncle.

Right now, I’m not getting a ton of words down. I’m mostly just trying to be with this little guy as he gets acclimated. (And whispering to him, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you just behaved during your blood draw in a few weeks?”)

Really, though, aren’t those some of the most important moments in life? Just being around when the people or creatures in your life need a little comforting.

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?

November – Epilepsy Awareness Month

I just found out that November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. Like most things, I never thought about epilepsy much until it became part of my everyday life. I’ve talked about it often, but my dog Gus has epilepsy. It was a slow process of figuring out what it was–whether seizures were severe or frequent enough to warrant medication. We started meds last August; just before Halloween, we had another seizure (the first while on meds), but that was because he threw up / didn’t get the right dose of his Keppra. (Next time, I’ll have some better idea what to do in that situation–everyone’s different.)

I’m just at the beginning of this whole journey–but I’m thinking about the animals and people who are also dealing with epilepsy on a daily basis. There are so many brave people out there taking care of animals or children or other family members who have seizures. I’m already so grateful to our vet (who absolutely saved Gus’s life last summer during a terrible seizure) and to our online communities who’ve helped me take better care of Gus–and who make me feel like I’m far from alone.

Beat the Summer Slump with a Free Read

It’s been a rough week at the Schindler house. My dog Gus has a seizure disorder, and he had a terrible seizure earlier this week. We had to rush him to the vet for an emergency visit. He’s on a new medication and seems to be doing better. We’ll be seeing our vet again for a recheck next week.

There’s really nothing like an unexpected health catastrophe to completely take over your every thought. I spent most of the past week watching over my little guy.

I was just getting back to work, Gus at my side on the couch, when it occurred to me that we’ve hit the really slumpy part of the summer. It’s miserably hot, nerves are settling in about the new year, questions are raging about what the pandemic will make the next year look like, etc., etc.

So I wanted to offer a little something fun: A free short story for the kids.

WORDQUAKE is so short, it makes a great read-aloud. If your young reader needs a quick listening exercise, you can be the reader. If they need to work on their own reading skills, you can let them read to you. They can even read out loud to their own dog. (Gus often listens to my first drafts!)

It’s also a great story for young readers to review. Please do get them to write a line or two and post it as a review on your e-retailer account. I would love to hear what your reader thinks of it:

WORDQUAKE is available at all major e-retailers: