Source: Cape Breton Post
I diagnosed four-year-old Brandy with epilepsy when she was just a pup. A border collie mix, she started having mild seizures at six months of age and they quickly became worse. Her little black and white body would twist and thrash, her jaws would clench and she would drool profusely. She would even eliminate during a bad one.
All the diagnostics I could run were completely normal, so all we could do was control the seizures with medication to give Brandy quality of life. Her family knew there were challenges ahead, and that it would be a lifetime commitment, but as they told me from the beginning, they were in this “for better or for worse.”
Seizures are actually quite common, and can be seen in about five per cent of our dog population; that’s a whopping one in 20 dogs. Juvenile onset epilepsy occurs when dogs less than 12 months of age begin seizuring, and compared to adult onset epilepsy, can be much more difficult to control, or treat successfully.
My first line drug to treat epilepsy is phenobarbital, a barbituate anticonvulsant, and this is what I started Brandy on. Phenobarbital works by controlling the abnormal electrical activity in the brain that occurs during a seizure. It took a few months, along with a much higher dose than usual, to control Brandy’s seizures, but we managed to get her stabilized. For Brandy, the drug controlled the frequency and severity of her fits, but she still had one every month or so, albeit much less violent.
Despite this, she enjoyed a quality of life, and her family knew the less severe seizures were not life-threatening. But Brandy’s stability didn’t last.
Increased seizure activity earlier last year had me adding more medications to her anticonvulsant apothecary at home. I started Brandy on potassium bromide, a salt that has been used since the 1800s in humans as a sedative and to control seizures.
It takes about three to four months for potassium bromide to reach a fully therapeutic blood level, so Brandy also required some periodic valium to get her through some rough nights.
With the combined side effects from all the medications, Brandy eats, drinks and sleeps a lot more, and has gained substantial weight.
She also now has considerable hind end weakness and inco-ordination. But, she’s mostly seizure-free. Her family recognizes when a seizure is pending, by the look in Brandy’s eyes and her increased anxiety, and they can usually prevent them with strategic valium administration.
Brandy’s case isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as I can expect. I check her organ functions with a blood test twice a year, and monitor her blood levels of her anticonvulsants. Her family and I remain content, knowing she’s enjoying life. I just wish I could get into that brain of hers and manually fix the faulty wiring of her neurons, to stop the electrical malfunction at the source, rather than keep her on a concoction of drugs, but alas, the manual rewiring of brains is just not on my CV.
Thanks for reading. Adopt, neuter and spay… save a life every day.
Darren Low is a small animal veterinarian practising at Kennedy Animal Hospital. His column appears in the Cape Breton Post semi-monthly. Comments and interactions are welcomed on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Dr.DarrenLow?ref=hl. He can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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