After the Shock and Tears : Life After Your Dog's
By Pamela Douglas, J.D.
President, Toby's Foundation, Inc.
This is written in response to
requests that Toby's Foundation regularly receives from pet owners both inside
and outside of our breed for help and information. The following letter has been
changed to protect the privacy of those who have requested help. We are making
this available because so many people write to us to say they relate to Toby's
especially struck by the number of puppies that are seizing. We fear that this
disease will eventually affect every breed. We must keep working towards the day
when there will be a screening test to prevent this disease and save all of our
Dear Pet Owner,
We feel deeply for what you are going through. It is
reminiscent of the pain and shock we went through with Toby. Having experienced
the heartbreak and anguish of seeing our own beloved dog in a grand mal seizure,
we are sorry you are facing this terrible disease and your
precious dog has epilepsy. We would like to assure you, even if you feel
overwhelmed right now and amidst the tears and sorrow, there can be good days
again for you and your dog. You can get through this. You will be
surprised by how well you will able to adapt to your changed circumstances.
We got our precious boy Toby to fill our empty nest since
our daughters are grown. We had hoped to do agility with him or train him as a
therapy dog. Whatever your hopes and dreams or expectations are for your dog,
perhaps they can still happen or perhaps you will discover a new dream or
develop a new expectation. Every dog is different. Even though our life was
turned upside down by this disease, Toby is by far the best dog we have ever had
and we have had dogs our entire lives. We often tell people that if we had to do
it all over again, knowing what we know now, we would still have to choose Toby!
You are going through an especially difficult time right
now if your dog has just started seizing and has been diagnosed with epilepsy.
We hope your dog is adjusting to the medications and doing well and you will get a much deserved break from the seizures. Toby began having partial
seizures at ten and a half months old and had his first grand mal at thirteen
months old. Within a few months he started cluster seizures and we didn't think
he would make it to his second birthday. He also suffered from, but survived a
bout of pancreatitis. Today, Toby is three years old and he is doing OK and we
are too! We have a set schedule that we closely follow and a detailed treatment
plan for his everyday care as well as for emergencies. I can not emphasize
enough the importance of a workable plan and sticking to it. This will help you
even when you have to make changes or adjustments. It will also help you avoid
the potentially high costs of emergencies by being able to eliminate or at least
reduce the number of trips to the emergency room. A good veterinarian as well as
time and experience will shape your own schedule and treatment plan for your
dog. We remain always hopeful for our boy Toby and are cautiously optimistic for
the long term.
Epilepsy is diagnosed by default, meaning
all other possibilities must be ruled out before a diagnosis of epilepsy can be
given. If all the tests have been run, including brain imaging, be sure to get a
written diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy from a doctor if that is the final
diagnosis. This is important to have and you may be glad later you have it since
it prevents anyone from saying your dog does not have the disease. It also
helps to have it if you want to bring this to the attention of your breed since
some breeders are in denial about the problem of epilepsy.
Right now your thoughts are probably focused on how to help
your wonderful dog deal with this terrible disease. None of us want our dogs to
suffer. A dog is unconscious during a grand
mal seizure and will not recall what he has been through. We are the ones who
see the suffering and remember it. In between seizures, Toby runs and plays and loves life. During adjustment periods when the
medications or dosage must be changed to gain control again, side effects from
the medications may be apparent until the dog's body adjusts to the change.
Once the dog has adjusted he will be fine again. Yes, medications can take their
toll but many epileptic dogs are able to live long and happy lives.
This is a disease without a cure. The goal is to be able to
manage it. Don't set your goals around being "seizure free" because seizures do break through.
You can achieve varying levels of control at
different times. A good veterinarian or veterinarian neurologist can help you
here. Find a veterinarian you are comfortable with, who is knowledgeable about the disease,
is responsive to your concerns and questions, and will work with you in caring for your dog at home. Your dog does not have
to be hospitalized every time he has a seizure. I always recommend to people,
too, that they join the Epil-K9 list, an all-breed chat group. I am a member of
it as well. You will learn from supportive people how to live with this disease.
Many people share what they have been through and are doing to help their dogs.
We all learn from each other's experience. Toby's Foundation has a link to it on
our website or you can go directly to it at
If your dog received high doses of phenobarbital while in
the hospital, I hope the side effects were explained to
you. Phenobarbital can make your dog seem intoxicated for a couple of weeks
while his body adjusts to the medication. Your dog may have trouble walking or
standing up. He may seem wobbly or may act strangely. Whenever medications are changed or increased,
especially Phenobarbital and potassium bromide, please remember there can
be changes in the dog's behavior while his body is adjusting.
I want to encourage you that you will get used to dealing
with seizures. I am not saying you will ever stop being concerned or even
upset about them, but you will find a rhythm as you become adept in dealing with
the seizures at home. Toby takes his medication three times a day. He takes phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and keppra. For those of you working full
time, you will probably give medication to your dog twice a day, unless you work
nearby or have someone who can give your dog medication in the middle of the
day. Doctors usually prescribe twice a day, but for dogs like Toby who are
difficult to treat or with whom the disease has progressed, three times a day is
After a seizure, if your dog has a severe post ictal period
(which is itself a partial seizure) or is having cluster seizures, valium is
usually administered rectally. Toby often has to be given rectal valium in addition
to extra Phenobarbital after he seizes. He usually clusters, which means two
or more grand mal seizures in a 24-hour period. We have worked his post
seizure treatment plan out in advance with his veterinarian neurologist. This
has helped us to avoid bringing him to the emergency room in spite of cluster seizures. We used to panic the minute he had a second seizure and
rush him to the emergency room. This disease is expensive to diagnose and can be
quite costly to treat. Planning ahead and adhering to a set schedule are
important in helping to control costs.
We are amazed at how well we have adjusted and are able to
deal with seizures at home. We never thought we would be able to. Though Toby is
usually with us, there have been occasions when we have had to leave him home
and he has had seizures. You can only do your best. There are people who
work full time and still manage to care for their epileptic dog. Seizure
proofing the area you keep your dog in is a good idea to prevent him from
getting hurt during a seizure. When your dog is alone it is best not to give him
the run of the house, to avoid injuries or your house being
damaged. Some people leave their dogs in crates. Personally, I feel a crate is
too confining for a seizing dog. However, providing the crate is large enough
for a seizing dog, some people prefer leaving their dog in one when they go out. We
restrict Toby to one area of the house we have seizure proofed whenever we
have to leave him alone. For extended absences such as a trip we cannot
take him on, we are fortunate we have a grown daughter who comes to our
home and takes care of him for us. Others have found a trusted friend or dog
sitter who can stay with their dog and still others have found they can
kennel their dog in spite of epilepsy. You simply must leave very good
instructions with the person caring for your dog.
Diet is very important for an epileptic dog. There is a
great deal of discussion on this. Some pet owners do not feed their dogs any
grains or dairy and only feed them raw food. Others simply feed a high quali