#Paws4Purple is a Canine Epilepsy informational program created by Purple Day® Ambassador and award-winning author Dorothy Wills-Raftery of FiveSibes™ #LiveGibStrong K-9 Epilepsy Awareness & Education site and hosted by The Anita Kaufmann Foundation, the nonprofit sponsor of Purple Day and Purple Day Every Day for Epilepsy
The words “seizures” and “Canine Epilepsy” can certainly drum up a lot of fear for caregivers of dogs who suddenly find themselves faced with a situation where their beloved dog appears to suddenly have a seizure, or has odd movements and behavior that maybe they suspect is a seizure.
After the seizure passes, it leads one to ask many questions, including, “What just happened to my dog?”, “What caused the seizure?” and the top question, "Will my dog be okay?"
The important thing to remember is to remain calm, and to not be afraid of a dog (or a human) having a seizure. In this extensive blog post, I am getting down to the raw bones of just what is Canine Epilepsy, and what can we do to help our dog if s/he has a seizure.
What Defines A Seizure?
|Dr. Karen Muñana and Friends|
Before we get too far into the topic, let’s start with “What is a seizure?” According to Karen Muñana, DVM, MS, DACVIM and a Neurology Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, “A seizure is a transient disturbance in brain function due to abnormal electrical discharge from brain cells. Other names for seizure include convulsion, fit, or ictus. Seizures most frequently manifest as involuntary jerking movements of the head, face and/or limbs.”
Symptoms of a Seizure
“Many animals lose consciousness, and are not aware of their surroundings,” continues Dr. Muñana. “Excessive drooling, along with voiding of urine or stools can be seen. Seizures start and stop abruptly, and typically last a few minutes or less. A postictal period follows the seizure, during which animals can be uncoordinated or temporarily blind, and display abnormal behavior such as confusion, disorientation, restlessness, or aggression. The postictal period can last minutes to hours.”
Over a decade ago, when my beloved Gibson, a wooly Siberian Husky, had his first grand mal seizure at age three, it really scared me. At the time, I had no idea what had happened to him. Quite honestly, after hearing a banging (his feet paddling in his crate) and finding him stiff and foaming from the mouth, I feared I had lost my sweet fluffy boy. Crazed and confused, I had no idea what had happened. Calling the ER vet (as things always seem to happen after hours), I was in a total state of panic.
Thankfully, he came out of what I was to learn was a seizure. I had my boy back and that was a major relief. I seriously thought I had just witnessed a miracle. Then, a month later, he went into cluster seizures and was rushed to the vet hospital, where, thankfully, they were able to bring him out of it.
Diagnosed with idiopathic (no known cause) Canine Epilepsy, our journey began. And, as many of you who have followed my blog and our journey, know of his story and the trials and many tribulations that accompanied us along his seven-year journey with “the seizure monster” – a/k/a Canine Epilepsy.
In 2009, there was not a whole lot of information available on Canine Epilepsy as there is today. It was also commonplace recommendation at that time to euthanize a dog with epilepsy. Thank goodness that is not the case today.
Back then, I went from knowing absolutely nothing about seizures to connecting with experts in the field and ultimately becoming an advocate and author on the subject on behalf of Epi-dogs (epileptic dogs) everywhere because I wanted to share what we learned along the way and to let other dog parents know they are not alone if they suddenly discover their dog has seizures or is diagnosed with Canine Epilepsy.
Types of Seizures
There are man different types of seizures, some obvious and some that may leave one wondering what was happening. According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, the following is a list of seizure types:
- Automatisms: repetitive motor activity that resembles movement under voluntary control, such as lip smacking, licking, or chewing.
- Atonic Seizure: a sudden loss of muscle tone lasting several seconds or more, not following a tonic or myoclonic event.
- Cluster Seizures: a group of seizures within a shorter than normal interval; clinically defined as two or more seizures within a 24-hour period.
- Focal Seizure: seizures originating from only part of the brain and therefore also only affecting part of the body.
- Generalized Seizure: seizures originating from both hemispheres of the brain.
- Myoclonic Seizure: sudden, brief contractions of a muscle or group of muscles.
- Status Epilepticus: a serious condition where seizures follow closely on one another without a break, or where a single seizure lasts more than five minutes.
- Tonic Seizure: a sustained increase in muscle tone (i.e. stiffening) lasting up to several minutes.
- Tonic-Clonic Seizure: a seizure where the tonic phase is followed by shorter, clonic (jerking) movement.
Stages of a Seizure
Let’s briefly discuss the stages of a seizure. According to the Canine Epilepsy Resource site, home of the Epil-K9 List, there are four main stages. They are:
What to Do if Your Dog Has a Seizure:
First and utmost – stay calm! Then call your vet to be sure the seizures are not due to injury or illness. Here is our informational bookmark with some other To-Dos if your dog has a seizure:
|FiveSibes #LiveGibStrong #Paws4Purple Bookmark|
Available for FREE is our educational and handy First Aid bookmarks for download or you can request a supply to be mailed to you!
These are great handouts for your vet, favorite rescue, breeder,
groomer, trainer, daycare, animal control officer, police, and fire departments. (Bookmarks are FREE, but a donation to The
Anita Kaufmann Foundation to help cover the cost of printing and mailing is
Cooling Down A Seizing Dog
📌Click HERE for a high resolution version of poster.
To read full story behind debut of the poster, visit my FiveSibes blog post HERE.
Possible Seizure Triggers
The list of possible triggers or causes is staggering. And not all seizures are Canine Epilepsy. The most important thing to do if your dog has a seizure, is call the vet immediately! While Canine Epilepsy can be deemed “idiopathic” or no known cause, a good tip is to try and rule out any possible causes/triggers. Below are some of the top triggers for seizures:
- Brain Tumor
- Food (some dogs have allergies to chicken and beef)
- Food Additives (gluten, rosemary, preservatives, colors)
- Medicinal Side Effect
- Vaccine Side Effect
- Thyroid Imbalance
- Ingested, Inhaled, or Applied Toxins (including flea and tick repellents, scented candles, room fresheners, perfumes, certain essential oils such as Rosemary, Fennel, Sage, Eucalyptus, Spike Lavender*, Tea Tree Oil, Hyssop, Wormwood, and Camphor)
- Environmental Toxins (pesticides, herbicides, automotive fluids, polluted water sources, etc.)
- Weather and Atmospheric Changes
- Lunar Phases, Solar Flares, and Eclipses
- Flashing and Strobe Lights
Note: *Spike Lavender is not to be confused with traditional Lavender. Traditional Lavender (NOT Spike) can have a calming, relaxing effect. As always, check with your vet before using Lavender or any essential oils. A good information site regarding essential oils and seizures can be found at Canine Epilepsy Guardian Angels site.
The Sun, The Moon, The Weather, and The Epi-Dog
Some may ask, "Does weather and lunar phases really affect my dog with Canine Epilepsy?" The short answer is, it sure can. Please visit our FiveSibes blog post HERE, where I talk more in depth on this topic.
What about eclipses? Yes, they also can trigger seizure behavior in an Epi-dog.You can read more HERE.
📌While one seizure over the course of a year or two may not be a reason to quick sound the alarm bell, it is imperative that you have your dog go in immediately following any type of seizure for a complete vet check.
Caring for a Dog with Epilepsy
I am a huge believer in natural and holistic care and had no qualms about researching everything I could to find the “right mix” for my Gibson. My vet team was amazing every step of our journey. Always very informative and straightforward with me, and always opened to my many questions about new therapies I had learned about and about trying them with Gib.
After trial-and-error, the perfect combination
for my boy was a mix of traditional, holistic, and nutritional in the form of
diet (including adding fresh meat, fish, chicken, green beans, and pumpkin—and
eliminating wheat gluten, rosemary, salt). Also the addition of supplements
(milk thistle, Omega-3, coconut oil, magnesium, and natural pain relief), along
with traditional anti-seizure medications (Phenobarbital and Potassium
Bromide), and therapies such as a cooler bed, cold laser, massage, acupuncture, and even a Reiki session.
Stress and heat were triggers for Gib, so I also purchased a therapeutic cooler bed for him to rest and sleep on in an effort to keep him cool, and hopefully deter any seizure activity. And still, after a few years, even that needed to be tweaked after a near-fatal bout of bromide poisoning due to the manufacturer changing the formulation of the capsule without thought or notification to vets and public.
Caring for a dog with epilepsy is no easy task, for dog or human. I won’t sugarcoat the fact that there is an insurmountable amount of worry; days are timed according to specifically timed medication doses, and having a video monitor the dog in one’s absence is a common practice. And there is the monetary cost, often times steep—vet checkups and periodic bloodwork, ER visits, tests, medications, supplements, therapies, and special foods. Even with the best of care and medications/therapies, there is no guarantee that your dog will not have another seizure. Unfortunately, many do, but many do not.
Senior Dogs and Seizures
The typical age for onset of Canine Epilepsy is around three to five years of age. Sometimes an older dog will start to have seizures, and usually it is not Canine Epilepsy that is the cause. I talk more in depth about dogs in their golden years starting with seizures and possible causes in my article for Caring for a Senior Dog.
Even with all the trials and tribulations, fears and cheers, and sleepless nights, the bond I shared with my Gibson was unlike any other I ever had with a dog. He was my heart dog. The love between us was so strong. He taught me so much about a dog’s capacity for love, trust, and total zest for life. And even if I had been shown a crystal ball and had known what was ahead, I would still do it all over again for him.
I think for me in the beginning, the hardest part was not being a helicopter hu-mom. But, one of the amazing vets on my team, Dr. Beth Alden of Kingston Animal Hospital,, gave me the best piece of advice that I lived by. She told me, "Let him live his life." That became my mantra, and my Gibson sure proved that dogs with Canine Epilepsy can live full, happy lives for as long as we are blessed to have them.
Keep a Journal
|Gibson with the RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker - a mobile journal.|
The key with Canine Epilepsy is to always be aware and vigilant. As pet parents, we know our dog best, so if s/he is acting “off,” make note in a journal, on your phone, or on the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) free mobile Pet Epilepsy Tracker of the time, place, what your dog was eating and doing prior to the seizure, how long the seizure lasted, and any post-seizure afflictions, such as temporary blindness, stumbling, etc. (Read more about this app in my FiveSibes blog post HERE.)
RVC’s Professor Holger Volk says of the app, "Being able to objectively monitor your pets’ seizures and having medication reminders will give some control back to owners and improve their quality of life and most importantly the one of their pet.”
While there are specific stages of a seizure, the “monster” can shape shift just when we think we have it figured out. If you have your smart phone handy, videotape your dog’s seizure. When it’s over, immediately contact your vet and share this important info with him/her. For me, having an amazing, experienced team of veterinarians who monitored Gibson’s care and was always open to my “could we try” scenarios—is critical. And if you feel your vet is not on top of your dog’s care, find one who is.
“My advice for someone with a pet recently diagnosed with epilepsy is to work closely with your family veterinarian to develop the optimal seizure management plan for your pet.”
~Dr. Karen Muñana, Professor of Neurology, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
According to Dr. Muñana, “Epilepsy differs from individual to individual, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment, and each animal may respond differently to a given treatment. My advice for someone with a pet recently diagnosed with epilepsy is to work closely with your family veterinarian to develop the optimal seizure management plan for your pet. In some instances, your family veterinarian may recommend referral to a veterinary neurologist to obtain the expertise of a specialist in the management of your pet’s seizures.”
Create an Epi First Aid Kit
Just as it is important to have a First Aid Kit ready for your family members and dog, it is equally important to have one at the ready for your Epi-dog. Have the container be bright and obviously marked and kept it in an area where family members can easily get at it. Visit the FiveSibes #Paws4Purple page HERE for a complete list of items to include in the kit and to have on hand.
Have Reliable Go-To Epilepsy Resources
It’s also very important that, as your Epi-dog’s advocate, to research all the information you can on seizures and Canine Epilepsy, including the various types of anti-seizure medications, supplements, therapies, possible seizure triggers, and proper nutrition from reliable and vetted sources. Back when Gibson had his first seizure, there was not much info available. Today, however, with just a click, one can bring up a myriad of information online. The key is to be sure you have selected reliable information.
Says Dr. Muñana, “There are also great sources of information and support for caregivers of pets with epilepsy, as listed on the FiveSibes #Paws4Purple webpage.” Notes Dr. Muñana, “It is important to consult your veterinarian before making any adjustments to your pet’s diet, dietary supplements, or medications. Work together with your veterinary team, with the shared goal of providing you and your pet a quality life together.”
Join a Support Group
The Canine Epilepsy Resources Epil-K9 List is an Email list of fellow Epi-dog parents, vets, vet techs, and other canine healthcare experts who are supportive and happy to share their experiences and knowledge. To join, simply visit HERE for more info on how to join and subscribe to the list.
What if I Cannot Afford Tests or Medication?
"No family should have to euthanize their beloved dog due to a lack of understanding of the disease, or a lack of resources."
~Rick Selwood, Founder, The Wally Foundation-Canine Epilepsy
Can Dogs Have a Quality Life With Epilepsy?
Absolutely. While not every single dog diagnosed with Canine Epilepsy will have a positive reaction to medications and therapies, many do. Some need constant adjustments, while others may still have seizures, and sadly, some will not beat the "monster." What is important to keep in mind is that the key is to mange the seizures the best that one can. My Gibson, for example, thanks to a combination of traditional medications, supplements, nutrition, and holistic therapies lived the last seven years of his life seizure free. Seizure free. Was it costly? Yes. Did it take some adjustments and trials, definitely yes. Did I worry about him and if he’d have another seizures, definitely.
But, and only as hindsight would have it, he did amazingly well and he had such a zest for life! As we continued our journey and he remained seizure free year after year, Gibson became the face of hope for dogs living happy and full lives with Canine Epilepsy, and I became an official Canine Epilepsy ambassador in the hopes of sharing our experiences and information learned along the way with others to hopefully a) let them know they are not alone, and 2) there are some wonderful resources available that I have always been happy to share.
"Our message is that if someone has a dog with seizures, they will know help is just a keyboard click away!"
Gibson was my inspiration, my K9 hero, my heart dog. Even through seizures, torn CCLs, a lumpectomy, and bouts of ataxia from medications, he still managed to rehab and come back even stronger. When he did journey north of the Rainbow Bridge, he had been 7 years seizure free, and he passed from hemangiosarcoma, not epilepsy. Right up to the very end, his zest for life was amazing. I hope he will continue to inspire other Epi-dog families for many years to come. Our message is that if someone has a dog with seizures, they will know help is just a keyboard click away!
Living Gib Strong!
In the 11 years since my Gibson was diagnosed, so much has been learned about Canine Epilepsy and many clinical trials have been, and are being, conducted. Notes Dr. Muñana, “As a veterinary neurologist who has studied epilepsy in dogs for over 20 years, it is exciting to witness the recent strides that have been made to better understand the disorder and its management. Ongoing research around the world focuses on topics such as the causes of epilepsy, including genetics; ways to predict seizures; disorders that can be seen in association with epilepsy; dietary; and medical and non-medical methods to treat seizures in our pets.”
Of special importance is that “There is also growing appreciation of the similarities between epilepsy in humans and dogs – the so-called, “One Health” focus – uniting human and veterinary research on epilepsy,” offers Dr. Muñana. “The overall goal of this work is to achieve optimum health outcomes for both pets and people.”
📌For more information on the research performed at NC State University, please visit: go.ncsu.edu/epilepsyresearch.
“As a veterinary neurologist who has studied epilepsy in dogs for over 20 years, it is exciting to witness the recent strides that have been made to better understand the disorder and its management. There is also growing appreciation of the similarities between epilepsy in humans and dogs – the so called, “One Health” focus – uniting human and veterinary research on epilepsy.”
~Dr. Karen Muñana, Professor of Neurology, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Call for Recruitment of Dogs
An Epilepsy Study &
A Clinical CBD Trial
Dr. Muñana is “very actively recruiting” for this study, which is a new clinical trial, sponsored by the AKC-Canine Health Foundation, to “determine whether dogs with idiopathic epilepsy have alterations in their gut microbial population.” The study team at NCSU-CVM is “looking for households with an epileptic dog and an unaffected dog to compare the bacterial populations within their gastrointestinal tract. Feces will be collected from both dogs to compare their gut microbiome. Samples will need to be sent to NCSU-CVM (pre-paid shipping).
FOR MORE INFO or TO ENROLL YOUR DOG, contact Julie Nettifee, RVT, BS, VTS (Neurology) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also download their flyer HERE: (if link does not work, cut and paste into your URL search bar to view brochure).
Nationwide Database of Pets with Epilepsy
According to the NCSU-CVM Department of Clinical Sciences Companion Animal Epilepsy site, “Epilepsy is a multifaceted disorder. Through partnerships with foundations, industry and other universities, our laboratory studies novel treatment modalities, basis of disease, and improved methods to support pets with epilepsy as well as their caregivers. Much of our work has focused on refractory epilepsy in dogs, evaluating the reasons why dogs might have seizures that are resistant to treatment, as well as exploring methods to achieve better seizure control with medications and alternative forms of therapy.”
With each of the studies NCSU-CVM does, which “typically
requires many hours of recruitment to locate the specific breeds or
characteristics needed for a particular study, they maintain a Nationwide
Database of Pets with Epilepsy “to help minimize the time and costs associated
with this process.” To add your Epi-dog to this database, please visit HERE.
Visit the NCSU-CVM informational website! For up-to-date news on Canine Epilepsy, research, and ongoing clinical trials, visit HERE!
Our list of go-to products, as well as some helpful free resources.
from Oh, the Life of Olivia!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dorothy Wills-Raftery is an award-winning photojournalist and author of EPIC Dog Tales: Heartfelt Stories About Amazing Dogs Living & Loving Life With Canine Epilepsy; the FiveSibes™ Tales children’s books: What’s Wrong With Gibson? Learning About K-9 Epilepsy and Getting Healthy With Harley: Learning About Health & Fitness; and Buddy, the Christmas Husky~Based On A True Holiday Miracle books (ArcticHouse Publishing), as well as the FiveSibes.com, an online encyclopedia for the Siberian Husky breed and Canine Epilepsy information, as well as her international award-winning FiveSibes blog, based on the lives of her five Siberian Huskies. Her work has also appeared in AmericanPet Magazine, Ruff Drafts, The Sled Dogger, and Hudson Valley Paw Print Magazine. Dorothy is a contributing writer to 4Knines, and is the writer and host of her award-winning "The Sibe Vibe” Dog Works Radio show.
Dorothy is a multi-time Dog Writers of America Association “Excellence” nominee, winning the prestigious Maxwell Medallion in 2019, 2017, and 2016 for her writing, photography, and design. Her book EPIC Dog Tales: Heartfelt Stories About Amazing Dogs Living & Loving Life With Canine Epilepsy received the 2018 Independent Press Award for “Excellence” in the Reference Book category and 2017 NYC Big Book Award for “Excellence” in the Animal/Pet book category. Dorothy was also named “Best Author” in 2015 & 2016 by Hudson Valley Magazine and all four books named “Best in Print” by American Pet Magazine, An official International Purple Day® for Epilepsy Ambassador since 2012 and a volunteer case manager for The Wally Foundation-Canine Epilepsy, Dorothy is the creator of the #FiveSibes #LiveGibStrong K-9 Epilepsy Awareness campaign and partnered with Purple Day Every Day/The Anita Kaufmann Foundation (global sponsor for Purple Day® for Epilepsy) for #Paws4Purple Project, both inspired by her own epileptic Siberian Husky, Gibson.