Beware This Costly Tool
When your dog loses control and falls to the floor with a seizure, it’s a really scary time. Not only is she helpless, but she’s often grotesquely contorted, wild-eyed, and may be vocalizing in odd ways. At that point, you desperately want to do everything you can to help her right NOW.
Other than speaking in soothing tones with words of assurance and keeping her body from harm, there’s little you can do: when a seizure is over, it’s over. That’s usually less than 2-3 minutes, though it seems an eternity when you’re attending an animal in this state.
When this returns (as seizures often do), you’re right back to Ground Zero. All the fear, the panic, the hovering and trying to help, immediately pulls you out of whatever you were engaged in. Talk about feeling powerless, both of you!
It usually doesn’t take even one repeat seizure before you load her up and head to your favorite vet. This is so obviously not normal and you really, really don’t want Sheba to go through this ever again.
In general vet practices the diagnosis is usually assumed: this is likely epilepsy. Especially if it repeats at any interval.
Epileptic seizures are defined as transient signs due to abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain, and epilepsy refers to at least two unprovoked seizures more than 24 hours apart.1
Think of a violent thunderstorm of electrical activity in your dog’s brain, and you’ve got the picture. (Seizures are far less common in cats).
A physical and neuro exam and testing Sheba’s blood, stool, and urine is usually completely unrewarding. Everything “looks normal.” As does your dog, at least between seizures. Until the next intense WHOA: NOT NORMAL! shows up.
The diagnosis is most often “idiopathic epilepsy,” a fancy way of saying, “cause unknown.” If you’re looking closely at Sadie’s history, you might put together a prior event of vaccination or Trifexis use, in which case “idiopathic” now becomes “iatrogenic.”
Iatrogenesis (from the Greek for “brought forth by the healer”) refers to any effect on a person, resulting from any activity of one or more other persons acting as healthcare professionals…2
More on that in a moment. There’s a long history of association between vaccines and seizures.
Vets often suggest you get some diagnostic work done at the point of 3-4 seizures happening. Less push if they are less frequent than once a month, more urgency if they “cluster” (several back to back seizures) or go into “status epilepticus” (having a seizure last more than 5 minutes).
When routine diagnostics come up empty, it seems an MRI is now more likely to be offered. Magnetic resonance imaging, that’ll run you between $1500 and $2500. Considered safe, at least compared to radiographs, it does involve general anesthesia. Very few dogs would willingly stay absolutely still while being rolled through a very large machine that bangs and clangs as huge magnets are turned on and off.
Some will also suggest a spinal “tap,” meaning a needle is introduced into the space surrounding your dog’s spinal cord, and some cerebral spinal fluid is withdrawn for analysis. High protein there could mean inflammation (“myelitis”) and cancer cells would point to an even worse problem.
As a conventional veterinarian recently told me,
it is true that idiopathic seizures is the most frequent diagnosis for dogs between 1-7 yrs old
This is corroborated in the University of Missouri’s helpful short PDF:
We now better understand that idiopathic epilepsy in dogs most likely has an underlying genetic cause. In spite of this strong evidence for a genetic cause, the association of specific genetic variants with epilepsy in most breeds has remained elusive.
The prevalence of epilepsy is significantly greater in purebred dogs versus mixed breed dogs. Male dogs are more commonly affected than females. The majority of epileptic dogs have their first seizure between 1 and 5 years of age, and dogs in that age range are more likely to be diagnosed as idiopathic epileptics, although about one-third of dogs 1-5 years old will be diagnosed with a structural or metabolic cause.4
In “the old days,” we knew this was the most likely diagnosis in most any aged dog. As more diagnostic methods become available, perhaps we have a tendency to rely on them a bit too much. This seems especially true in younger generations of vets and MD types.
Is MRI Cost Worth the Information Gained?
Probably not, in most cases. Certainly not if your dog is a breed known to be somewhat prone to seizures. More on breed specifics in tables appearing in this paper.
The odds are, you’ll spend thousands and still come up with “idiopathic epilepsy” as your diagnosis. That’s what got me concerned when I started picking up more and more recommendations for MRI’s over the past year or so.
The drug users will defend the practice, saying it helps them choose among the drugs available to dampen the seizures, but that leads to a more important question you need to be asking:
Are dogs being cured of epilepsy with the drugs prescribed for them?
Let’s let the International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force answer that for us:
Affected dogs most often require life-long antiepileptic medication and regular control visits. Consequently, the daily lives of many owners are affected by concerns related to their pet’s seizures and the changes in daily routine…
The individual dog’s response to antiepileptic treatment may also be complex and in some individuals, successful antiepileptic drug treatment presents a time- and cost-consuming challenge with an increased risk for poor quality of life, premature death or euthanasia when seizures cannot be adequately controlled5
In short: No cures in sight with conventional medicine. (That’s true of all chronic diseases, by the way, as that link explains.)
Treatment Alternatives? YES.
Luckily, today you have choices, of which conventional medicine is only one. And I hesitate to call these “alternatives,” as it gives far too much power to the broken Big Pharma-based system in vogue today.
Some have cured (or maybe palliated more safely than drugs) seizures with a ketogenic diet. Others, with CBD oil, perhaps with a touch of THC in it. Acupuncture has probably cured some. Still others have used classical homeopathy.
I remember a case very clearly from my “homeopathic honeymoon.” (That’s the grace period for a dedicated new homeopathic graduate who’s decided to jump both feet into the homeopathy canoe and go for cure — it’s as if anything can be cured with this amazing medical system! And then, the hard work sets in after a month or two of seeing what’s possible…).
Sammie was an epileptic Beagle who lived down the road from me in Austin. He was on both of the popular anti-seizure drugs, phenobarbital and potassium bromate, and was still having some regular seizures. I think he was my first homeopathic case of epilepsy, and I simply followed in the steps of Hahnemann, Kent, and the others whose analytic ways I’d been taught. After a remedy or two, he stopped seizing. Completely. And in course of his treatment, as we saw him improve, we removed his drugs. Still no seizures. And finally, no remedies either. He was cured.
Prevent Those Seizures: Still #1!
Homeopathy has recognized for a couple hundred years that seizures can follow vaccination. We can track this, but it may take a longer horizon of watchfulness beyond a day or two post-vaccine.
Seizures are more likely with the two nervous system viruses we vaccinate against: most common is rabies, and the other is canine distemper.
If you’re not on board with minimizing vaccination for your animal, it’s time to dig deeper and learn why safety is a concern as well as efficacy (“does it work?”). This is especially important if you’re being pressed to repeat vaccination throughout your animal’s lifetime. That practice is based on zero scientific understanding, by the way.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve had a dog with epilepsy and if you saw it following vaccination or drugs. What gave you the most success in treating it? Did you have an MRI done? And how long did your dog live after diagnosis?