As I write I have four sleeping border collies snoring away around me. I just love the quiet in my house that comes from happily snoozing dogs. There’s just something so peaceful about their energy when they’ve had a really good, hard run and then a big supper.
I spent Easter weekend at my parents house, which is always a bit of a challenge. My mother is wondering not just when I’m going to get rid of Kess, but when Mira is going as well! I keep telling her that’s not going to happen and she keeps frowning and saying things like “we’ll see…” She thinks that having three dogs (let alone four) makes me pretty close to certifiable and is quite embarrassed to have such a daughter!
The first day of the visit started off well enough. The dogs were all excited and needing a run, so my father and I decided to venture up to the dog park with my girls and his golden, Magic. When Magic was around a year old (he’s three now) he ran off on my dad while hiking in the woods. My father found him several hours later, but that really scared him so he never lets Magic run off-leash in unfenced areas. Magic also has a bad habit of jumping into water and not coming out. He’s the sweetest dog ever, but gets very fixated and over stimulated by certain things, such as water and fetching (both clear symptoms of rabies vaccinosis: he’s had two rabies shots, despite my best efforts to convince my dad of how unnecessary and potentially dangerous it would be to give him the one-year “booster.”)
So we took the dogs to the dog-park and let them all off leash. My plan was to not bring any toys so that they could just play with each other. After all, that was the point: Magic wanted to play with the girls and they couldn’t do that in the yard because my mom didn’t want them wrecking they new spring grass. However dog parks are full of toys, and within seconds Hannah found a soccer ball. Other people were there with other balls as well, and my dad had brought his ball launcher, just in case. So my dad played fetch with Magic and I played soccer with the girls, and the dogs ignored each other.
I’ll digress here for a moment and mention that I am really not a big fan of playing a lot of fetch. My Belgian Malinois was an intense fetcher and ended up dying playing fetch after she ran into the sharp stick she was retrieving. But even playing ball can be dangerous. Four months prior to her death, the same dog belly ruptured her quadriceps when she wiped out chasing the ball. The leg nearly had to be amputated, and was only just barely saved. Dogs chasing a ball run very, very hard, and can do a lot of damage to themselves, not to mention the chronic wear and tear of high impact activity. Ever since my Belgian’s accidents, I do very little fetching with the dogs. If I am going to play ball with them, I tend to play soccer, which is much lower impact.
Back to the dog park, my dad started playing fetch with Magic. Because of the larger space, he was able to throw the ball close to twice the distance that he does at home. And he also threw it for much longer than he normally would. After about 10-15 minutes, Magic was getting quite hot. He ran over to a big mud puddle and started to flop around. And around and around. Within seconds he was the biggest swamp beast I had ever seen! And I thought Ross was bad…We all had a good laugh and decided it was time to call it quits and maybe find a place to let the dogs swim.
As we headed to the gate, my dad tossed the ball a few more times for Magic. I walked along with my crew, chatting with someone I had met along the way. At one point I looked over and saw Magic lying down. I thought he had found another mud puddle again. Until I realized that he was not moving. At all.
I instantly turned and ran as fast as I could over to him. Magic was on his side in a very strange position, with his body and legs totally stiff. I knew right away what was happening: he was having a seizure.
When I got to him, he had started to convulse. I opened his mouth and saw no tongue. He was choking, so I stuck my hand down his throat and pulled up his tongue. I guess he’s lucky his mouth is so big as it was easy to do. Good thing I did it right then too, because about two seconds later he started to really thrash around. I wouldn’t have been able to get his tongue out after that point.
We all stood around, feeling totally helpless, as poor Magic had what looked like a Grand Mal seizure. It absolutely broke my heart and I can only imagine how my dad felt. It was a horrible, horrible experience.
Very fortunately, the seizure passed after about 2-3 minutes. Magic came to, very disoriented. His pupils were huge and he was momentarily defensive. Then he started recognizing us and seemed to relax. Within another couple of minutes he was able to walk and we brought him home.
We decided not to take him to the vet. It was Good Friday and the only vet open would have been the emergency clinic, which would have been quite expensive and would not have Magic’s records on file. I was pretty sure there’s nothing you can do after the seizure was over, so I suggested we take him home and talk to the medical people we know: my mother (a nurse) and several doctor friends I have. They all agreed that at this point there’s nothing that can be done, but if it happens again my dad should take Magic in for diagnostics.
Most likely (and very hopefully), the seizure was brought on by Magic overheating. I know of other cases where this has caused a dog to seize, and the dog then never had another fit. Magic never runs that much, and has a lot of coat. I know my dad felt guilty but I assured him there was no way he could have known and that most dogs would have just panted a lot and been fine. I expect Magic has a predisposition to overheating and/or a low seizure threshold.
Everyone (human or canine) has a seizure threshold. However, for some this can be crossed more easily than others or be triggered by different triggers. The body overheating (or developing a high fever) is a common cause of seizures. Exposures to chemicals is another. And then there are idiopathic seizures, meaning seizures of unknown causes (of note, 73% of idiopathic epilepsy in dogs starts within 90 days of being vaccinated).
A single seizure does not mean that Magic has epilepsy, but now we know that he has a low seizure threshold, we will need to be careful with him. I told my dad that means no more drugs or chemicals of any sort: i.e. not only no more vaccines, but also no flea and tick chemicals, no heartworm meds and so on. And of course they need to make sure he doesn’t get overheated like that again. I suggested not having him do exercises where he is likely to push past his own limits, such as fetching for more than a few minutes at a time. Most likely if they gradually built up his stamina through a slow increase in exercise, he would be fine. But is it really worth taking the risk? I’m not sure. I am quite sure, however, my dad will do everything he can to not have that ever happen again.
About three weeks ago, my cat Liam had what seemed to be a ‘petit mal’ seizure and I wonder if he has had more of them both before and since. Then two weeks ago my neighbour came rushing to my door with her son in her arms, and he was seizing non-stop (and had to be rushed to hospital). Now this. I can’t help but feel that we are living in such a toxic environment that we are going to see more and more of this.
If you have a dog with a seizure disorder, one really fabulous source of information is the Canine Epilepsy Angels website. In fact, I think I am going to take some time to review it now…