Treatment Options for Epilepsy

Unfortunately, not much research has been done regarding epilepsy in animals and the FDA will not approve most of the human seizure medications for veterinary use simply because of the lack of research with them.

At this point, we have gone through most (if not all) of the drugs used to treat epilepsy in animals. She’s been on or is on: phenobarbital, potassium bromide, zonisamide, levetiracetam (Keppra), topiramate, and gabapentin. What is great about all these drugs is that they can all be used together and they won’t negatively interact with each other. The most common side effects of all of them are sedation and some of them can cause upset stomachs. Phenobarbital is the most effective and most common but it’s also the most dangerous and it requires some degree of monitoring through blood work of your animal’s condition. Pixie was unfortunate enough to experience an extremely rare side effect which was a bone marrow deficiency that resulted in very little to almost no platelets or white blood cells.

If you are looking into treatment for seizures, the vast majority of pets do not respond the way Pixie has to treatment. Phenobarbital and/or potassium bromide will generally control seizures in most dogs with few or no side effects, so please do not allow Pixie’s case to scare you off of seeking the best treatment you are able for your pet. Pixie’s is a very rare case. Her neurologist has been in the field for twenty years and she said that Pixie is in her top five hardest cases of all time. So I really do want to emphasize that if your pet has just begun having seizures to not fear or assume the worst.

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Home At Last: Day 2

Last night after my post about bringing her home, she had a few more seizures that required us to return to Mass Vet and have her rechecked. They checked her over, loaded her up on diazepam, and then we were able to bring her back home. We weren’t home again until 2 in the morning and I slept on the floor in front of her cage so I could hear if she had a seizure while Brandon slept on the sofa right next to her cage.

Thankfully, she was quiet for the remainder of the night, only having a few more “fly biting” seizures around 6:30 am. After that, she was quiet and inactive until around 2 pm when she had one more “fly biter” and was quiet again until she had three or so more around 9 pm. As I am writing this, it is 10:30 pm and she hasn’t had any more since and she’s just resting quietly on the floor next to us.

Around 7 pm she started getting more active again, which was fantastic to see. She was getting up and walking over to her water dish and a little around the downstairs, even though she needed the assistance of someone walking behind her and holding up her back end.

We consulted with her neurology team this afternoon and while we have to keep an eye on the fly biters we don’t need to be overly concerned with them. Additionally, the going theory is that her seizures last night were probably caused by a combination of her receiving her meds an hour and a half late and the stress of the travel.

Home at Last

We were finally able to get Pixie home after her longest hospitalization to date. The trip home was long and difficult for her but she made it with only five minor facial focal seizures during the whole ordeal. Now she is resting comfortable next to me while I write and while Brandon is out grabbing a few necessities like gloves and a thermometer.

She has a mild fever that they think is from having so many catheters and the chest x-ray they did ruled out pneumonia. So far, she hasn’t had a grand mal seizure since 7 pm on Thursday (Thanksgiving), so she’s doing pretty well. I hope it stays that way.

If you see in the picture, she has a spot shaved on all four legs, she also has the back of one paw shaved, and a spot on the back of her head shaved. Her legs were shaved for her IVs, her paw was shaved so they could monitor her pulse during her spinal tap and MRI, and the back of her head is where they did the spinal tap. It’s almost like we can’t keep fur on her legs from all the blood work she gets and the IVs she’s needed.

At least she’s home now and resting, I hope we can keep her here.

Pixie resting against Brandon's lap not long after we arrived home.
Pixie resting against Brandon’s lap not long after we arrived home.

Caring For a Dog With Epilepsy

We start the day with her medications which have to be given at the same time every day. This means an early morning since she needs them at 7:15 every morning. Her first round of medications have to be taken with food. Currently, she gets eleven and a half pills, some powder, and a liquid medication. I’m sure this will change soon enough. She takes her pills like a champ, never complains or fights, and she only makes a sour face when she takes the liquid.

Up next, she gets another pill at 4:30 pm.

Then we give her another ten and a half pills, powder, and liquid medicine with her dinner at 7:15 pm. Again, she never complains because she’s such a sweetheart.

Her final round of medication is a pill she takes at 11 pm.

This isn’t the end of her care, however, it’s a dance we make every week day to make sure she has adequate supervision for the day while Brandon and I are at work. She can’t be left alone all day since she could start having cluster seizures which require immediate action to end since they are considered life threatening. So I need to keep a careful eye on my schedule and the schedules of my family members and everyone else at my house to make sure she’s never left alone too long. It can change from day to day how closely she needs to be supervised since it depends on whether or not she’s been having good days or bad days.

She has to spend the night with me in my room, either on the bed or on the floor so that I can be immediately aware if she has any seizures during the night. She has most of her seizures between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am, which makes sleeping very difficult. I already sleep very lightly, but I’m on a much higher alert if she’s been having a bad day.

I’m always concerned about keeping her excitement and emotional or physical stress levels to a minimum since it can trigger seizures. It’s also difficult transporting her in the car since handling a seizure while in the car is very difficult. I never take her very far if I can avoid it, and I bring someone to help me if I have to take her further than just down the road.

We always have to be prepared to make a trip to the emergency clinic if her seizures get out of hand. She is also making regular trips to the vet for blood work to monitor her condition. Frequent phone consultations with her neurology team is to be expected.

Caring for an epileptic dog isn’t easy, but I don’t regret any of the time I’ve had to put into it and most of this has become routine for me.

Humans vs. Animals

I think we’ve always known that, as a general rule, the human race doesn’t value animal lives as much as they value human lives. However, I didn’t truly realize the disparity until Pixie began having seizures and it’s gotten me to thinking: why?

I’ve had people telling me from the first seizure to put her down. As time has gone on, not only have I had even more people tell me to put her down, but I’ve also started hearing the true reasons for it. Most of them initially started it off by covering it with their “concern” for my well being or hers, saying that they believed she was suffering. Those same people got more vocal as I continued to fight her condition and started saying more hurtful things like, “She isn’t worth the time or the money that you’re putting into her.” Hearing this was shocking to me, having them dare to try and force-feed me their values like this when an innocent life hangs in the balance.

Brandon and I made the decision a long time ago that if the time came that it was better for her to be put to sleep, then we would, but we also made a promise to ourselves and to her that we wouldn’t take her life because of money or to put ourselves out of our misery. We both agree that her life shouldn’t be cheapened by attaching a price tag. This is a personal decision that everyone needs to make for themselves and everyone will have their own opinion on and others should be willing to respect that.

I think it’s important to note that I’ve never asked any of these people what their opinion is since it doesn’t make a difference to me. I know what they think, I know I’m one of a small number who values animals as much as I do, and what they think makes absolutely no difference in my decision making. And yet: they spew their “wisdom” anyway. It’s also important to note that people who really understand the situation haven’t been saying the same thing and haven’t been offering their unwanted opinions. Meaning, the people who keep saying these things are people who genuinely know nothing about us, Pixie, her condition, or what we’re going through.

This is a stark contrast to how people would be acting if Pixie were a human. If she was my biological child, they would be singing from the rooftops about hope and perseverance and a light being at the end of the tunnel. It’s sad, really, especially because Pixie is, in essence, our child. Maybe she has four paws and is furry, but she is our baby and we won’t be putting her down unless we decide that it is the best thing and the kindest thing we can do for her and her alone.

Introduction: Living With Canine Epilepsy

I was inspired to write this blog so that other people struggling the way I have can see that they are not alone. So, this is my story.

I love animals and I grew up with them. At some point or another in my life my family has had cats, dogs, rats, and various farm animals (including chickens, horses, goats, and sheep). It wasn’t until I got my first pet of my own, Pixie, that my love was tested. Keep in mind, when I got Pixie I was only 17 and now I’m 20.

I got Pixie as a puppy with my boyfriend, Brandon. She was given to us for free by a coworker whose dog unintentionally became pregnant and he couldn’t keep the puppies. There were no signs that she was anything but a happy, healthy puppy. For most of the first two years of her life, she was perfectly healthy; she like to play, run, be cuddled, etc. It wasn’t until January 14, 2013 (a little over a month before her second birthday) that we realized there was something wrong.

I keep my pets in my room with me when I sleep so it isn’t unusual to hear them (I also have a cat that we got as a kitten around six months after Pixie) rustling around during the night. This night was different, though. Around four o’clock in the morning, I heard some unusual activity from my dog who was over near my door. I wasn’t sure what I was hearing so I turned on the light to make sure everything was okay and I saw her thrashing around on the floor. She was stiff and her legs were shaking and her mouth was stuck open. She clearly wasn’t right and I panicked. I knew that she was having a seizure right off the bat but I had no idea what to do. I was terrified and crying and it took a combined effort of me, Brandon, my mother, and my sisters, to handle the situation.

Over the next few months she progressed from that single seizure to cluster seizures that have been extremely unresponsive to treatment. It only took about a month of care from her general vet before she had to be referred to a specialist at an emergency veterinary clinic about forty minutes to an hour away from home. I will go into more of the details later, but Pixie has had to be seriously hospitalized three times. The first time was because of a life threatening bone marrow deficiency caused by the Phenobarbital, the second was a foreign body removal surgery to remove an object she ate during a bad reaction to Topiramate, and the third is still going on. This third hospitalization has been her longest and it’s for seizure watch. A few days ago she had a tremendously bad seizure that resulted in cluster seizures for four days that we couldn’t stop without a significant amount of Diazepam (or Valium) and Propofol (an anesthetic drug). At this point we are waiting to see if the seizures have truly stopped before we can bring her home.

Ours has been a long, hard, and expensive journey with very little support. At every turn we have had people who legitimately know nothing about Pixie’s case, or even epilepsy in general, tell us that she needs to be put down and that she isn’t worth the trouble, time, and money that we have put into her. It has made me very angry and hurt on many occasions, especially since I’ve never asked for anyone’s opinion regarding whether or not she should be put down except her neurologist. This has made an already hard situation even harder and I know we are not the only ones who have been through this.

Tonight I have made the decision that I want to do what I can to help those who are struggling with a seizure condition and the uncertainty and emotional pain that comes along with it and this is only the first step. There is more to come.