How I de-stressed my epileptic dog’s home environment

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When her three-year-old Weimaraner, Baxter, was diagnosed with epilepsy, Stef McQuillan and her husband, Gavin, had to completely change the way they lived in order to accommodate his illness. Over the past six years, Stef has gained an insight into this complex condition. Here, she shares her tried and tested tips for supporting a dog with epilepsy.

As you will know, watching your dog suffering a seizure can be extremely frightening, especially if it’s a recent thing. As the condition is sometimes difficult to diagnose, it’s possible your dog’s seizures are as yet unexplained and could be due to other reasons such as allergies, an underlying health condition or even stress. So, while your dog may have been prescribed medication, there are other ways you can help him too.

A diary will help you look for triggers

A ‘trigger’ is something that’s usually happened within 30 hours of your dog’s seizure.

‘Within five weeks of him having his first fit, the vet told us Baxter had epilepsy and I’ve kept a seizure diary ever since,’ says Stef. ‘Logging the time, place and duration of every seizure and what happened in the lead up to it – events, behaviour and such like – helped me see that the majority of Baxter’s fits happened in the early hours. So we set about creating a safe sleeping space for him in our bedroom, with medication, a waterproof blanket and towels nearby. As an added precaution, we fitted a safety gate at the top of the stairs.’

If you’re calm it helps to minimise your dog’s stress

Stress factors can play a big part in epileptic fits.

‘It was terrifying in the beginning, especially when Baxter would have ‘cluster fits’ – one after another,’ admits Stef. ‘But finding out more about his condition, how to react and planning ahead gave me confidence. Dogs are very good at picking up on human emotions and I think my calm approach rubs off on him and keeps him on an even keel. It also helps with handling the seizures themselves, which he has every two and a half weeks.’

Routine is key for us

Dogs thrive on routine and changes can be a risk factor.

‘Baxter loves his routine and I’m convinced it helps him,’ says Stef. ‘He has the first of his two medications at 6am, before I take him and our other dog Ollie out for a walk. Then it’s home for breakfast, after which we’ll potter around the house and have our next walk at 2pm. After dinner and more medication at 6pm, plus a seizure-buster drug if he’s had a recent fit, it’s time for a small feed and a drink before bed at 10pm. I was working when Baxter was diagnosed but took redundancy to be at home with him, especially as my husband’s job takes him away sometimes. If anything crops up, I’ll plan around it the best I can.’

Keep an eye on blood sugar levels

Dogs run a very strict internal clock and know when it’s time to eat.

‘Low blood sugar levels have been linked to seizures, so I keep an eye on Baxter’s eating routine,’ explains Stef. ‘He has a wheat-free, gluten-free diet, although some people prefer a raw diet to avoid certain herbs such as rosemary, which can be a trigger, and I never allow him to go long between meals. After a seizure, he’s exhausted and his sugars drop dramatically, so I make sure he eats something and then he has an hour’s rest. It reduces the chance of another fit, balances his sugars and enables his body to recharge. Gavin may take Ollie out for some exercise so the house is quiet, and Baxter can recoup in peace.’

Holistic treatments are worth trying

Supplements are readily available online, but always check with your vet first.

‘I’m always adding supplements to Baxter’s food – anything to protect his health and minimise the risk of more fits,’ says Stef. ‘His anticonvulsant medication is an essential part of his treatment, but it can have side effects. A milk thistle supplement may help boost his liver function, while CBD oil, an extract from cannabis plants (which is perfectly legal), has been shown in scientific studies to reduce epileptic seizures in dogs.’ If prescribed by your vet Petplan can help to cover the cost of CBD oil.

Make your home a safe haven

Fits can happen after over-stimulation of one kind or another.

‘Bright lights, loud noises and over-activity can all result in stress for your dog, which can bring on a seizure,’ says Stef. ‘Before being diagnosed, Baxter used to enjoy agility classes; recently I made the mistake of letting him join in again and he had a seizure later on. Our home is clutter-free, so Baxter can’t hurt himself on furniture or wires. I have a friend who clears all her epileptic dog’s toys away at times in the day to limit stimulation and help him relax. Another has a dimly-lit house and won’t use air fresheners or scented candles. Raised voices are a no-no in our home, as dogs can assume any anger is aimed at them and this can be the worst kind of stress for your dog. We keep tranquilizer medication all over the house for use when Baxter’s epilepsy strikes, and in both our cars, even though he enjoys rides out. Trial and error will show you what’s best for your dog.’

Don’t leave your dog on his own for too long

Being left alone for too long can upsetting for your dog and bring on a seizure.

‘Baxter is never left alone in the house and, except for Gavin, my son Luke is the only other person I’d leave him with,’ says Stef. ‘It’s not worth the risk, and I’m convinced his condition would worsen if we weren’t around as much. But of course, people have jobs and life goes on. You have to do what works for you and your dog. Baxter is typical of his breed and loves a lot of fuss, so he gets more attention than your average dog.

There isn’t a cure but there’s help out there

Epilepsy is a life-long condition and in the beginning it can feel lonely.

‘When it comes to living with the condition, there’s lots of advice, help and support at your fingertips via social media,’ says Stef. ‘There are some excellent canine epilepsy groups you can join that’ll help boost your knowledge and mean you won’t feel so alone.’

Fight the urge to wrap your dog in cotton wool

Sometimes you just have to enjoy life!

‘As you can see, our life revolves around Baxter,’ admits Stef. ‘I’m always thinking in terms of what’s best for him and planning for his next seizure, which can be exhausting. There’s very little spontaneity, but one exception I make is our yearly summer break when we pack up the car and head off to Devon or Cornwall. Yes, it’s risky, but he loves the open road and it’s good therapy for us all.’

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