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Raising canine epilepsy awareness with Dakota the Siberian Husky

Last week was Canine Epilepsy Awareness Week, but many may have not been aware of it. As common as canine epilepsy is, there is surprisingly very little known about the condition. Let’s contemplate the story of Atlanta resident Ashley and her Siberian Husky, Dakota, who suffers from canine epilepsy, in hopes that we might bring greater awareness to this condition.

Dakota (right) is living a normal, happy life.
Ashley Wolf
Dakota lives a normal life.
Ashley Wolf

Ashley, a Georgia native, was working in California at a police department when the authorities rescued a multitude of dogs from a hoarding case. Dakota, a two-week-old purebred Siberian Husky, had been orphaned along with his litter when the hoarders had shot his mother. Ashley took Dakota into her home, bottle-fed him, and nursed him to health.

Siberian Huskies, as well as many other purebreds, are prone to seizures – this is due to the way they are bred (all the more reason to consider a mutt when searching for a dog to add to your family). The seizures typically manifest at two or three years old. They don’t show any signs of neurological issues, so it won’t be apparent that anything is wrong until that age. In Dakota’s case, he was two years old when the seizures began.

Seizures can come in different forms: full body spasms, utter stillness with rapid eye blinking, or in some cases dogs will push their heads against the wall. In Dakota’s case, he had grand mal seizures, which meant that he went through violent spasms and his teeth chomped down again and again; he also lost control of his body and defecated numerous times. Not only did he endure the grand mal seizures, but they were cluster seizures – he would have them repeatedly, up to three in row. When Dakota went through the seizures, he would flail around uncontrollably; during one occurrence, he even broke his nose when he had a seizure while in his crate.

Understandably, when this first occurred, Ashley was terrified. Most owners are. It’s horrifying to watch your pet go through a seizure. When Dakota first had an attack, Ashley phoned her mother-in-law, a veterinarian. She recommended that Ashley start Dakota on Valium, which is often the first step to calming the seizures.

Ashley conducted thorough research on canine epilepsy when it became clear that Dakota suffered from the condition. She discovered that many veterinarians in the area didn’t know how to treat it; there’s little known about canine epilepsy, and it seemed that most veterinarians just suggested to put the epileptic dog down, assuming there was a brain tumor present.

Ashley was lucky to have a veterinarian who gave her options for Dakota. The first option was to have Dakota undergo a neurological scan, which can be extremely expensive, but it verifies whether or not the dog has a brain tumor. If there is a tumor in the brain, there is the option of surgery to remove it; unfortunately, often times the dog is left with no personality after the surgery is complete. Therefore, if a brain tumor is discovered, then indeed euthanasia might be the most humane option for the dog.

The second option for Dakota was to skip the neurological scan, and simply start him on a medication called phenobarbital, which staves off the seizures. If a dog simply has canine epilepsy, and no brain tumor, the phenobarbital can work wonders in helping the dog to live a happy, normal life. There have been some problems with the medication because it can raise toxin levels in the dog’s blood and liver. Once a year, Ashley takes Dakota to the veterinarian to have his liver checked to make sure it’s not becoming toxic. Although the phenobarbital can be harmful, it’s a better option than letting the dog go through the painful and traumatic seizures. An option for relief from the toxic side effects of the drug may come in the form of milk thistle.

In some cases, the phenobarbital can also change the dog’s personality; but so can the seizures, which are a “reset of the brain”. Dakota has become aggressive with Ashley and with his fur brothers in the midst of and shortly after his seizures, but within one to two hours he returns to normal.

Alternatively, there is some research that suggests an all-raw diet might help with seizures, as opposed to medication.

If your dog begins to suffer from canine epilepsy, don’t jump the gun and have them euthanized. It doesn’t always mean there is a brain tumor present, and canine epilepsy can be easily maintained. Dakota has only had four seizures in two years since being on phenobarbital. His medication only costs approximately twenty dollars every two months. He is living an ordinary, contented life, and he is very loved by Ashley and her husband.

Explore all options, and don’t give up. There are support groups and veterinarians that will do everything to help your dog (and you) live comfortably with their canine epilepsy.

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