It’s 3am and I hear dog tags rattle on a collar. I’m wide awake now. Sitting up and waiting for more familiar sounds, thrashing paws, gnashing teeth and more. My anxiety is just beginning to tick upward. Tonight I can fall back asleep. Tonight it was just one of my beloved dogs moving around on their mass of pillows and blankets on my wife’s side of the bed. Not every night is that easy.
I live with a Boxer with severe idiopathic epilepsy. By severe, I mean he takes the largest dose of phenobarbital allowed in the “therapeutic range” plus a 4.5 milliliter dose of potassium bromide liquid every morning. The Potassium Bromide controls small seizures known as “focal” seizures. These seizures do not look like typical grand mal seizures. Rather, they’re more of a tensing of the body where my poor boy doesn’t lose awareness but can’t move either. They’re short lived and he recovers quickly. The problem is these type seizures, left untreated, come in clusters and will trigger a grand mal seizure. Therefore he needs his potassium bromide every morning.
The problem is, grand mal seizures can still happen to him without the focal seizures even when I have his medicine levels right, his diet and weight are correct and all seems great. That’s epilepsy. Malu is now two and a half and he’s been living with epilepsy for over eighteen months. When it hit, none of the other anti-convulsant medications helped at all, and around 11pm one evening, he had back to back to back seizures all night long.
It was an awful night that turned into an awful four days. He often loses his vision for several minutes after waking from a full blown seizure. Imagine waking up on the floor after a seizure, possibly having soiled yourself. You’re confused, you’re disoriented, and you’re blind. Now imagine not being able to communicate any of what you’re feeling. That’s my poor dog. He tries to run. The blindness, coupled with the lack of coordination makes him stumble and crash into furniture, walls, doors and everything else in his path. This further contributes to his massive anxiety, which in turn can easily trigger another seizure. It’s a vicious cycle.
My poor boy spent four long days in the hospital seizing and being treated with massive doses of valium to keep his anxiety at bay. The vet practice finally got to the bottom of it and 18 months later we are on the same regimen of meds with slightly altered levels depending on his weight. This is where my work begins.
Nutrition is key in every aspect of life. For Malu it can be a matter of life and death. Sugars and carbohydrates can act as triggers for seizures, as can rosemary. Turnkey kibble, even the premium and super premium brands, contain lots of carbs and sugars and many foods and treats contain rosemary. I have to build a diet and maintain a proper feeding level. If he gains weight, the meds are less effective and two things happen. The good thing is that he’s more like a 2 year old boxer, playful and aware, fun and mischievous. The bad, he most likely will have seizures as the meds are less effective even if he only gains a couple pounds. His diet generally consists of some low glycemic kibble, raw or freeze-dried raw, some canned single-source, single protein wet, coconut oil, bone broth and water. I create different versions on a daily basis.
Phenobarbital is that drug that makes people, and dogs into zombies. My fun-loving, wiggle butt young boxer spends many hours in a state very near to comatose every day. He has moments of play time, but they’re short lived and usually interrupted by a spell of obliviousness. It’s very sad and hard to see every day, but the alternative is far worse. Out in their fenced part of the yard he lasts longer if his brother wants to wrestle and rough house. Those moments make me smile. Seeing my dog be a dog is priceless.
I created a diet and regimen of his meds along with doses of full spectrum and isolate CBD oil. It helps. It helps keep his anxiety level down, it helps his body heal from all the meds, and it helps keep seizures at bay. All these things cost money. He’s expensive to keep, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s family. He and I have a bond even most dog owners can’t quite grasp. I’m not just his doggy daddy, I’m his whole world. If I travel without him, he needs extra help for the anxiety so he doesn’t give himself a seizure. There is an invisible leash attaching us at the hip. It’s never more than ten feet long. If I’m changing clothes in the bedroom, he has to be there. My home office is downstairs by the laundry room. Upstairs is far more comfortable, his brother (a one year old mix) is upstairs, mama and the kids are upstairs, the food and water are upstairs. But if I’m downstairs, so is he.
The dogs come to work with me every day and our customers are used to little brother Tank hogging all the attention. Malu sometimes gets up to say hi but just as often lays there on the beds I have in the store for them and stares into space. When I have to leave the area behind the counter we share, he’s suddenly up and aware of my absence. “The leash is stretched too far, dad.” I can hear him say as he whines at me.
This past Wednesday night I knew I had spoiled him too much with food. He played by himself, with his big red ball for over an hour. I loved it and I dreaded it at the same time. He’s gained about two pounds so he has himself back. The meds are less effective so he can really be a boxer, but at midnight he had one of the larger seizures he’s had in quite a while. It only lasted about 90 seconds, but it was severe and it seemed like an hour. Thrashing and gnashing, all I can do is hold him to prevent him from hurting himself and then hold him tight and make soothing words as he struggles with his temporary blindness and building anxiety. Finally he settles and begins his typical post-seizure pacing. I take the boys outside and he comes back in seemingly fine. We go upstairs for a drink and a dose of CBD and go back to bed. The dogs pass out and sleep peacefully until the alarm. I barely sleep more than a few minutes at a time for the next five hours. My own anxiety causing me to sit up at every sound, real or imagined, and make sure my baby is ok.