How to Help a Dog Who Has Canine Epilepsy


Canine epilepsy is hard on your dog, and almost as hard on you - it hurts to see your beloved pet agitated and anxious in the wake of a seizure or episode. Learn the best ways to treat your pet and give it the best life possible despite this condition.

Consider the age of your pet.

Most canine epilepsy develops between the ages of 1 and 6. Onset of seizure disorder between those ages usually results in a diagnosis of canine epilepsy, but bloodwork should be done to rule out other possible causes.

Think about injuries.

Canine epilepsy can be caused by head trauma. See your vet if you think your dog has been hurt this way to decide if this may be the cause of your dog's seizures.


Recognize the symptoms.

Not all dogs have typical "grand mal" seizures, which are whole body convulsions. Quite often, seizures may look like this:
  The dog gets clingy or paces relentlessly. It may get ill or vomit. This is the "preictal" phase - the dog senses something isn't right and begins to react.
  The dog begins to run around in a very agitated manner, maybe appearing to try to scratch its neck or behind its ear. You begin to get concerned when the behavior continues. And continues. You run to your pet, thinking maybe it's being bitten or stung by something, but find no insect or sticker, or anything at all. The dog continues to run in circles, very agitated, maybe drooling by now. You realize that there's something wrong with your dog - it cannot control its legs, or keeps cranking its head to one side, or has facial twitches or tics. But after you get hold of your dog, you begin to soothe your pet, and things start to straighten out. After a few minutes, your pooch seems to be something like his or her old self and you're left wondering what just happened.
  The dog takes a few steps, but appears unsteady, or tries to rise but can't seem to get on its feet. Then it just sits down. It sits, looking confused or blank. The dog may stretch - this stretch looks very peculiar. The dog cranes its neck upward, holds it there for a few seconds, then repeats, maybe. Eventually, the "episode" passes, and the dog gets up and continues on its way.
  Some part of your dog's anatomy seems to get out of control, for example: the dog begins to eat its kibble or dog food, and suddenly, is beset by uncontrollable licking, which it cannot stop or control as its tongue lolls out of its mouth sideways, and it continually gags and tries to swallow, or maybe looks like it's biting the air. The first thing to do here is to prevent the dog from attempting to eat any more, so that it doesn't end up choking on its food.
  Or maybe your dog actually does have what we would traditionally consider a seizure, with spasms, twitching, and often loss of consciousness.

Treat the symptoms first.

The main thing is to realize that your dog is like a little kid, and is going to be scared or confused during and after one of these seizures. If this happens frequently, learn to recognize the signs so you can prepare. When s/he feels the aura of an attack and is clingy and possibly whining, prepare the space around your dog so s/he can't bang into anything when the seizure begins. Hold on to your dog's head so it won't hit the floor or the furniture during the spasms. Talk comfortingly, in a low, soothing voice, say things like, "It's okay, buddy. That's a good boy. Easy, easy, I got you." Touching your dog in a calming, gentle way seems to help some; holding and cuddling a dog also can help. If the dog is chomping or licking, as described above, be sure to keep your fingers out of the way of its teeth, but touching the side of its face and talking soothingly can console and comfort your pet so that s/he can relax again. It is a misconception that dogs will swallow their tongues, and under no circumstances should you stick your hand into your dog's mouth when s/he is having a seizure. Get your dog calmed down and settled before taking any other action - sometimes the seizure may restart if your dog is very nervous and/or tries to get up while not totally recovered, so continue soothing them and stay close for some time after the episode, in order to avoid this. However, if the seizure is continuing for longer than five minutes, get your pet to a veterinary emergency room as soon as possible, since uncontrolled seizures can exhaust the respiratory muscles and this can disrupt your dog's ability to breathe.


See your vet.

Once the seizure is over, it's important to be sure you're dealing with canine epilepsy. Since the vet is unlikely to be around during a seizure, keep a camera ready and film it when the next one comes, so you can show it to him - it will help with the diagnosis. New treatments are being discovered all the time, and there are some medicines that can help without sedating your pet so that s/he's groggy or sleeping all the time. Most anti-epileptic drugs will cause some sedation early on, but most dogs will adjust to this sedative effect if long-term treatment is necessary. Sometimes, too, combination drug therapy can help lessen sedation if your dog seems to react too strongly to one medication. Keep in mind that medication may attack your dog's liver and kidneys, so you should weigh the cost/benefit of treatment versus coping with the occasional seizure. By changing to a high quality diet and avoiding known triggers, you may be able to minimize or avoid medications, but the goal should be maintaining your dog's quality of life - dogs should be vital, energetic and able to sense you and its surroundings for a good quality of life.

Do what is necessary. If your dog is very high strung, you may have no choice but to tranquilize your animal, to keep it sane and prevent seizures. At holidays such as Independence Day in the USA, or others where fireworks are used, and there are noisy exploding sounds, or even during thunderstorms, you may need to tranquilize your pet to get him or her through the frightening noises and flashes of light that go with these holidays or storms. It is important, though, to distinguish between medications that can be used on an as-needed basis, such as Valium, and medications that require regular dosing, such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide. If your dog needs the latter, you need to be very careful about reducing doses and consult with your veterinarian before doing so, as this can potentially trigger severe breakthrough seizure episodes. Also, if you think s/he might be having seizures when home alone, protect stairwells, furniture or anything that might hurt them when they seize.

Accept a seizure here or there. If your dog gets along well, responds to the change of diet, and the seizures scale back, that's great! But you should expect to see a seizure once in a while. Don't panic. Just calm your dog, and stay calm yourself. An occasional seizure is to be expected.

If episodes become more frequent or severe, consult the vet immediately. The first consultation is just to confirm what you already suspect - that your dog has canine epilepsy, and not something else (like a parasite or other illness). If your dog doesn't respond to diet change or environmental alterations, and his or her seizures become more severe, or if s/he seems to be having them more and more often, it's time to see the vet again. Canine epilepsy, while treatable in most dogs, is a progressive problem. As the dog gets older, seizures and episodes can become more frequent and severe, until the dog has no quality of life, and you are a frazzle. But many dogs live a completely normal life span with the simple treatments described here, so have hope and take the great joy in your pet that you always have!


  Teach your dog to love veggies. Eat them yourself, and enjoy them in front of your dog. After you're all done (don't feed table scraps while you're eating), offer some to your dog. Or use them as a reward for doing tricks or tasks. Saying, "Mmmmm, it's good, buddy," can encourage your dog to eat something s/he wasn't previously interested in, so help your dog develop a liking for these things.
  Relax. It's not the end of the world, and it's not your fault or anything you've done. It's a condition, like arthritis. That's all. Most dogs don't die from it (although it is possible, in very extreme cases) - they just need life adjustments.
  Look for external triggers like pesticides or household cleaners that seem to trigger episodes in your dogs.
  Some dogs can't tolerate corn in their dry food. Your dog may benefit from a food without corn in it; read labels carefully.

  Try to avoid grains and grain products in the diet, as allergies to grain proteins are thought to play a role in many cases of canine epilepsy.
  Avoid dairy products, as well, since milk proteins can be another source of allergies and dogs often don't digest them well.
  Some advocate feeding dogs raw diets, which helps in many cases. 

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