Canine Epilepsy: Raising Awareness

Recently, I adopted a dog with canine epilepsy. He was a gorgeous three-year-old Greyhound, Siberian Husky and Labrador Retriever mix named Riley. Riley’s life before coming to me wasn’t the greatest – he lived in a small apartment and was left in the bathroom the majority of time. One of his owners complained that he was too hyper to deal with, but what do you expect from a 70-pound dog that’s locked in a small room all day? After I adopted Riley, he lived the life of a dog. We spent the weekend on my parents’ farm in Indiana. He chased the horses, played in the manure pile, learned about cats and the other dogs, and rolled in the grass. He ran freely all over the farm, never once offering to leave the confines of the yard or my presence. He slept in my bed with me, and watched television at my feet. We played with toys and he learned about babies thanks to my 9-month old nephew. He cuddled with me during thunderstorms. Riley was happy.

Once we got back to Kansas, however, his seizures came back. He was taking phenobarbital and potassium bromide to control the seizures, but the treatment wasn’t working anymore. He had a couple of seizures over the first couple of days, but they were minor. Then, on Thursday, exactly one week after I had adopted him, the seizures came back with a vengeance and got progressively worse. I rushed him to the vet where he died in my arms.

What Is It?

Canine epilepsy is a neurological disease causing seizures in dogs. This disease is a silent killer and affects roughly 5-7% of all dogs, according to some studies. Since canine epilepsy is thought to be hereditary, some breeds may have up to 14% epileptics. Breeds that have the highest incidence of epileptics are Greyhounds, Labrador Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, Belgian Tervuerens, Beagle, Dachshund, German Shepherds, Keeshonds, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, Saint Bernards, and Wire-Haired Terriers.

Types and Treatments

There are two types of canine epilepsy: primary and secondary. Primary epilepsy, or idiopathic epilepsy, occurs when a cause cannot be pinpointed, such as with hereditary factors. Secondary epilepsy occurs when a cause such as a stroke or other damage to the brain is known. Epilepsy can be somewhat controlled with drug therapy. The most common drugs are the ones Riley was taking, phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Other drugs used to treat the disease are Diazepam (Valium), Primidone, and Sodium Bromide (for dogs with kidney disease).

How You Can Help

There are many ways to help dogs with epilepsy. The most obvious is to adopt one. You shouldn’t live FOR epilepsy; help the dog live WITH the epilepsy. If you can’t adopt, consider fostering or doing respite care for pet parents of epileptic dogs. In addition, there are several organizations listed at the bottom of this article that are accepting donations to further research this disease and find a cure or better ways of controlling and monitoring the disease.

This article was tough to write, even almost a month after I lost my sweet Riley. But if it helps one other dog to live with this debilitating disease, the journey with Riley from adoption to the Rainbow Bridge was worth it. Please help today!

To Make a Donation:

Emma’s Epilepsy Fund at the Neurology Department of the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University

American Kennel Club – Canine Health Foundation Animal Health Trust

More from this contributor:

How to Adopt a New Pet

Top Issues Horse Rescuers Face and How to Deal With Them

Do Dog Chew Toys Help Their Oral Health?

Resources and References:

Canine Epilepsy Resources and Home of the Epil-K9 List!

Canine Epilepsy Resources and Further Reading by Alicia Wiersma-Aylward

Canine Epilepsy Network