Having recently had one of our members cockapoos being diagnosed with epilepsy we thought it would be helpful to provide information about this condition.
Epilepsy is quite common in dogs and some breeds are pre-disposed to the condition including Cocker Spaniels and Poodles. As Cockapoo/Poodle cross owners it is something we all need to be aware of. There is no cure for this condition but most dogs do very well on medication and go on to lead happy, normal lives. It is however, a frightening experience and is very upsetting to witness. Once your vet has diagnosed the condition there is lots of support available including support groups who you can join and talk to other dog owners living with epilepsy (see below for further sources of info and websites). Please also see Living with epilepsy by Dawn Tranter and Millie's Story.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is repeated seizures due to abnormal activity to the brain. Canine Epilepsy is broadly divided into idiopathic and symptomatic disorders. Idiopathic Epilepsy, also called primary epilepsy, means that there is no identifiable brain abnormality other than seizures. Symptomatic epilepsy (also called secondary epilepsy) is seizures that are the consequence of an identifiable lesion or other specific cause.
Like humans the seizures are divided into main types, Grand Mals which are the more severe and Petit Mals. There is also Status Epilepticus which is a seizure lasting ten minutes or more or a series of multiple seizures in a short space of time with no periods of normal activity in between each seizure. Cluster Seizures are multiple seizures within a twenty-four hour period. Both Status Epilepticus and Cluster seizures are potentially life threatening.
The most common time for dogs to have seizures is when they are relaxed and quiet or night time when they are sleeping, athough they can occur at any time. Idiopathic epilepsy most commonly starts between the age of one and five years old but can start as young as six months.
What Happens during a Seizure?
Your dog will become unconscious and will not be able to hear you or respond to you. They usually become stiff, fall to their side or make movements with their legs like twitching or as if they are running. Your dog may also may also have facial twitching and excessive drooling. Some may be vocal and some may lose control of the bowl and bladder. Most seizures last around 1-3 minutes.
Afterwards your dog may carry on like normal or appear dazed, confused and disorientated. Other signs could include blindness, pacing or running about bumping into things. These symptoms could last for a few hours or a few days. Each dog will be different, but these are the more general symptoms dogs display.
A mild seizure could involve your dog staring into space or upward eye movement. During a moderate one your dog will fall down and lose consciousness and his legs will go rigid. Again you may see leg movement like running and loss of bowl and bladder and vocalisation. The seizure last around 1-3 minutes.
Afterwards your dog may be restless, pacing and disorientated. Whilst recovering at first he may seem blind and deaf, do not panic but make sure he is safe whilst he is coming round.
You may find patterns of behaviour occurring. Sometimes dogs may know when a seizure is coming and will come and sit by you or afterwards they may have a drink . It is worth noting down things to help build a picture so that you can inform your vet and also to help you manage this condition.
What to do when your dog has a seizure
You should not intervene but ensure the dog is in a safe place and has nothing around him to cause injuries. Let the seizure come to it's natural end and afterwards keep dog calm and reassure him. Make a diary so that you can build up a picture. This will help with your treatment plan with the vets and to help you manage the condition.
What Treatment is there?
The most common drug that vets use is Phenobarbitone (Phenobarbital) usually given in tablet form. This normally shows an improvement quite quickly. The tablets need to be given at regular intervals. When your dog first starts taking them you may see some side effects like them being unsteady on their feet or sedated. The main side effect with Phenobarbitone is liver damage. Therefore it is important that regular liver function tests are carried out.
Any reduction in medication should be done very gradually- reducing by 1/4 of a tablet at a time.
Some other common treatments used:
Primidone (Mysoline): this is metabolised in the liver resulting in the production of phenobarbitone. This is more expensive to administer
Potassium Bromide (Sodium Bromide): sometimes used with Phenobarbitone
Diazepam/Valium: Used more commonly to stop a seizure in progress. It is administered rectally and is often used to halt severe seizures and prevent status epileptics.
Some owners will also look into using alternative therapies alongside drug therapy.
Diet is also another area to look into and some Canine Epilepsy support groups are looking into this and will discuss diet with you.
Further Sources of Information and websites
The Canine Epilepsy Support Group: Mrs Anne Morley, Secretary, 21 Sea Lane, East Preston, Littlehampton, West Sussex, BN16 1NH, Tel: 01903 784263
The Phyllis Croft Foundation for Canine Epilepsy : www.pcfce.org
Canine Epilepsy www.canineepilepsy.co.uk
Living with Canine Epilepsy
by Dawn Tranter
The first thing from my experience with owning a dog with epilepsy is that it is often harder for the owners to cope with than the dogs. The second is that once medication has started it is important to make sure it is given at the correct regular intervals as missed doses can trigger fits.
When a dog is fitting they are usually pretty unaware of what is going on but unless a dog shows aggression during a fit I found it useful to just sit with them and gently talk to them and stroke them until they came out of the fit and got their senses back. Senses can come back at different times after a fit so it is best to just allow them time to come round calmly and fully. They can often be hungry or thirsty after a fit so it is good to offer some food and a drink and just generally keep things calm as they may also be quite tired.
Some of the medication can cause liver damage if used long term - best advice I can give it not to worry about it but just be aware and make sure your dog has regular blood tests to check for liver damage. My experience of owning an epileptic dog was over ten years ago and my vet at the time did not think blood tests were that important so I had to insist on them - they paid off when results showed the start of liver damage. As we picked it up nice and early I was able to alter my dogs diet so he had low fat food, spread through smaller meals and just by this we were able to reverse the damage. I believe vets are now more enlightened and will usually want to monitor this too. If liver damage does start to occur there are also supplements which can help too, so as I say be aware but don't be afraid to medicate because of fear of it.
Sometimes other dogs seeing a seizure can be alarmed and can even attack and badly injure a fitting dog. If you have more than one dog it is vital that they are not left alone together until you are sure the other dogs will not react to a fitting dog. I was lucky and my second dog was a gentle soul and more gently concerned than aggressive towards Frankie - she would often bring him a toy and then settle down next to him until he was recovered.
My boy Frankie was five years old when I got him and went on regular medication within his first year with me. I finally lost him at the age of fifteen due to general old age rather than anything to do with epilepsy.
There are lots of other people who have experienced epilepsy so don't feel too alone. Personally, I found the Canine Epilepsy Support Group a huge help, both for the knowledge that other people were coping with the same issues as I was and understood what I was feeling, and also for some practical advice when we hit problems.
The main thing was my boy was otherwise a happy healthy dog who loved life, came on holiday with us, loved to run and play. His epilepsy was just a tiny part of him so not the life sentence it can feel like when first diagnosed.
Canine Epilepsy - Millie's story
by Alison Wynne
Millie came to us in September 2009, a nine week old bundle of black and white mischief; she bought so much fun into our lives. She was a healthy dog who loved nothing more than running around and chasing her ball. On 16th November 2011 we had just returned from an evening walk and she settled down on the sofa as usual when she suddenly went rigid and started to have a convulsion, her eyes had rolled back, she was foaming at the mouth and she also urinated, it was very distressing to watch. The fit lasted about 40 seconds (although it seemed much longer). She was quite disorientated when she came round and was also very thirsty. I rang the out-of-hours vet service, they said not to take her to them, it was better to keep her calm at home, observe her overnight and take her to our vet the next morning. They advised only to take her in if she had another one that lasted 2 minutes or more, they also reassured me that fits are often isolated incidents and she may never have another one, sadly this wasn’t to be the case.
Millie continued to be agitated for the rest of that evening; she was unable to settle and continually paced up and down. She unfortunately had another fit four hours after the first. After sitting up all night with her I took her to the vets first thing the next morning. He reiterated that it was probably an isolated incident and gave her a clean bill of health and told me to let him know if she had any further episodes. Later that afternoon she had a further two fits, the vet was now becoming concerned that this was probably the onset of epilepsy and he started her on medication.
Unfortunately the medication is not without side-effects, he warned me that when a dog starts on this drug it makes them depressed, it also increases their appetite and makes them thirsty, and of course if they drink more they pee more! The next few days were extremely difficult for us all, our bouncy Cockapoo looked so sad; the change in her was so upsetting for us to see. I spent several nights downstairs with her as she wouldn’t settle on her own, she became very distressed at being left alone, and she also needed to go out two or three times during the night for a wee. She was ravenously hungry all the time and would practically attack us if we were eating; this was actually quite funny at times!
Over the next two weeks she remained free of fits and the side-effects subsided a little. The vet decided to reduce her medication by half, this proved to be a big mistake. She then had 8 fits in three days, her medication was increased to double the original dose, this made her extremely low and at times she could just about summon up the energy to walk outside for a wee, she often didn’t make it and had several accidents indoors. Another two weeks passed without fits but then Christmas week she had a further eight fits over four days, I was devastated that she could have this many whilst on the higher dose of medication.
After trawling the internet for information I came across the Canine Epilepsy Support Group www.canineepilepsysupport.co.uk. I rang them and spoke to their secretary, Anne. What a lovely lady, it was so helpful to speak to someone who could understand how desperate I was feeling. The group was formed in the early 1990’s by five people who had epileptic dogs; it is now a registered charity and has many members. The group has a strong belief that diet plays a part in epilepsy and they have proven cases where making subtle changes to a dog’s diet has significantly reduced the fitting pattern – I was all ears! The group provides four newsletters per year, dietary advice and unlimited phone contact for £18 per year. They do stress that whilst they do have a veterinary advisor they are not able to diagnose or treat your dog, but over the years they have learnt a great deal about diet, supplements and what to avoid and it is this advice that they share. I gave Anne a full list of everything in Millie’s diet and it would seem that most of what she was eating wasn’t helping her. It was suggested that Millie should have a lower protein diet and to completely phase out poultry, dairy (no more licking of the yogurt pots!), rice and sugar beet pulp. They recommend the changes be made slowly over an eight week period. Another suggestion was to add 2 tablespoons of herbal night-time tea to her water bowl; we noticed that this had an immediate effect, making her much calmer and more settled. This also helps them to recover from the fits quicker.
I discussed the dietary changes with my vet; Anne had warned me that vets are often unsupportive of the connection between diet and epilepsy. She was right, my vet said there is no connection at all but that it would not cause Millie any harm to try it! At the same time he also introduced a second drug which would help with the absorption of the drug she was already on.
It is now eight weeks since I started to make the changes to Millie’s diet and since the second drug was introduced and I am pleased to say that she has only had three fits in those eight weeks. Some of the dietary changes did not suit her and upset her tummy but approximately 60% of her diet has changed. I now read the label on everything before buying it for her, this has unfortunately ruled out most of her favourite treats but the benefits are worth it. The side effects from the drugs are not as bad, she has a monthly review at the vets and will need regular blood tests as long term use of the drugs can cause liver damage. I have also decided that Millie will have a homeopathic booster vaccination this year as there is evidence that the conventional type can significantly increase fitting in an epileptic dog.
Over the last month she seems generally more settled and happy and I am feeling optimistic that we have achieved a drug and diet regime that will control the epilepsy and give her a good quality of life at the same time. She is still unable to settle at night on her own so she sleeps in our room and she wakes once in the night to go toilet and then we are up quite early for her breakfast as she is so hungry!
It has been a difficult few months coming to terms with this condition and the changes it has brought to our much loved Millie. I would like to thank Shirley, all the members of Cockapoo Owners Club UK and the members of ‘Cockapoo Chat’ forum for your supportive messages, they really did help me and I hope I get to meet some of you soon at a Cockapoo meet. Millie sends ‘special kisses’ to you all.
Thanks to Dawn and Alison for sharing their stories.
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