My dog's seizures taught me not to take him for granted

Jun 14, 2016 at 3:26 p.m. ET
Image: Hannah Westmoreland Murphy

I've always been a dog person. As a kid, I grew up in a pile of white German shepherd puppies that my parents bred at the time. I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't have at least one dog, so when I graduated college and moved to Nashville for work, I immediately began searching for a new roommate. And by roommate I, of course, mean dog.

I decided to visit the local animal shelter, but I didn't intend on making an impulse adoption while high on the fumes of puppy love. That all changed when I saw Charlie.

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Charlie was a ray of light in the dark, dim shadows of a depressing shelter filled with animals that made my heart hurt because I couldn't take them all home. He was so happy and so full of energy; his big brown eyes hypnotized me and his little puppy bark begged me to take him home with me. So, of course, I did.

Charlie and I were buds from the start. We were smitten with each other, but life intervened and our puppymoon phase was cut a bit short. Shortly after I adopted Charlie, I got engaged; shortly after that, I got married. One year later, we welcomed our first son into the world, and just 15 months after that, we welcomed our second.

Though Charlie was there for it all, the spotlight had shifted from shining on him to shining on the two little boys that were constantly chasing him around the house. He was admittedly taken for granted, but at this time last year, I was made all too aware of exactly how important he is to me.

Charlie has always slept in the bed with my husband and me. He frequently gets out from under the covers to stretch and cool off, but typically returns to his cozy spot under the covers in just a few minutes. One night last year, when he got out from underneath the covers he seemed to be stumbling around. He stumbled off of the bed and he couldn't seem to get his coordination back. Still half asleep myself, I could hear his little paws struggling to ground themselves. I thought it was odd so I turned on the light, and what I found terrified me.

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Charlie was lying on his side and appeared to be in one giant muscle spasm. When I tried to stand him up on the floor, he immediately fell onto his side and continued to spasm. I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea what to do.

What seemed like an hour was only a few minutes. Charlie's body stopped contorting and he was eventually able to roll onto his belly. He sat there for a minute, looking rather confused before he stood up, shook his ears, and jumped into my lap like nothing had even happened. I was so relieved that he was OK, but so worried about what was going on. Was this going to happen again? What exactly did happen to him?

I had so many questions, so in the morning I got in touch with a friend of mine who is a vet. She explained to me that Charlie had most likely had a seizure. A seizure? But why?

Seizures can happen for a number of reasons, ranging from the idiopathic (unknown reasons) to genetic abnormalities. Idiopathic seizures happen most often in certain breeds — beagles, golden retrievers, Labradors, Shetland Sheepdogs and some others seem to be the most prone to them. Other reasons for seizures vary based on the age when they first occurred and their frequency. Things like ingesting poison, head trauma, and kidney or liver disease can cause seizures as well. Basically, this means that the cause could be something as serious as a brain tumor or as simple as minor epilepsy, and finding the exact cause requires a lot of testing.

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My vet explained to me that most often, seizures can be treated with medication. It is best when the seizures are treated early because the more seizures a dog has, the more likely they are to have them again, and the more difficult they are to manage. Most vets recommend that if a dog has had two or more regular seizures within a six-month period, their owners should seek diagnostic testing and treatment.

If your dog is having a seizure, try not to touch them because they may become defensive and unintentionally bite you. Dogs may foam at the mouth, urinate or defecate during the seizure because they are unable to control those muscles, and they will most often appear to be having one giant muscle spasm. Most seizures are very short, but if your dog is seizing for more than five minutes or is having several in a row, you need to contact your vet immediately.

Thankfully, it appears as though Charlie's seizure had no serious cause, and he hasn't required treatment. He's part beagle, so his vet suspects that his breed may be the culprit, but if he has another, I will not hesitate to seek treatment, even if that means spending thousands to keep my dog alive.

These days, Charlie is living the good life. He's showered with treats and toys often, and he still hogs our entire king-size bed, though he's only 15 pounds. But I can't imagine him not being down by our feet while we sleep, keeping us warm and hogging the covers. I realized after his seizure that he has such an important presence in our lives, and since his scare we've learned not to take his furry presence for granted ever again, because he's such an invaluable part of our family. You could say he's definitely earned back some of his spotlight.

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