Fudge looks like a perfectly normal poodle, living a contented life as a small pet in the suburbs. But he has a hidden problem that is only known to his close family: Fudge suffers from an unusual form of epilepsy.
Full-scale epilepsy in dogs causes so-called “grand mal” seizures, where the dog falls to the ground, legs thrashing in a violent fit that lasts for a couple of minutes. This is surprisingly common, and it can usually be treated effectively with a range of drugs that are similar to those used for humans with epilepsy.
Fudge suffers from a variation on this theme, and it was first noticed when he was just four months old. One morning, his owner noticed that he was trembling all over. He brought him in to see me, and by that stage, the trembling was affecting the way he walked, so that he moving in a jerky, irregular fashion, like an electric toy rather than a living dog. I immediately referred Fudge to a specialist neurologist, but by the time he was examined, he had returned completely to normal. The episode seemed to have been a one-off incident. For a long time, we presumed it must have been something odd, like an allergic reaction or a strange response to a worm infestation.
The next episode did not happen for over a year, and it was much milder this time, with an mild twitchiness that passed after a few minutes. From that point on, the Keenans realised that there was something a little odd about Fudge. They did not worry too much, because he was such a healthy little dog in every other way, and he recovered so rapidly from his episodes.
In the past year, the odd turns have become more regular, and they have been lasting for longer than previously. The Keenans asked me to carry out a full review of what is going on, in case any more can be done to help Fudge.
I asked the Keenans to tell me precisely how Fudge behaves during an episode, but as I listened to them, I realised how difficult it was to give a full descriptive picture of what was going on using words. Instead, I asked them to see if they could use a video camera the next time Fudge had a strange turn. The Keenans always know that an episode is going to happen in the near future, because the day before, Fudge is not quite his normal self. His back legs tremble slightly, and he is just a little more quiet than normal. When this next happened, they kept a video camera handy, and so they were ready to film the full episode as soon as it took place. Once they had done this, they left a CD of the video into my office, and I was able to see for myself exactly what happens.
Fudge was just waking up from a sleep, and as he tried to stand up, it was obvious that he was disorientated. He walked up and down in a staggering fashion, as if recovering from an anaesthetic. As his owner talked to him, he did not seem to hear them. Then his legs started to splay out from beneath him, and he fell to the ground, still with his head up, but unable to hold himself up on his legs. His muscles went rigid, and as Mr Keenan held him, he seemed unable to move normally at all. After a minute or so, he began to come around, looking around him in a confused way. He started to stagger around again, but it was obvious that he was blind, because he was bumping into things. Within five minutes, he was more-or-less back to normal, although he still seemed dazed. He went to his basket and slept for a couple of hours, and when he woke up, he was completely back to normal.
The video gave a very clear picture of Fudge’s strange turn. I sent a copy by email to a neurologist for an opinion, and meanwhile, I gave Fudge a careful physical examination. Everything was normal now. A blood profile was carried out, and again, everything was normal.
The neurologist came back with the same opinion that I had formed myself. Fudge is suffering from a mild form of epilepsy, probably due to some abnormality of his brain biochemistry that he has had since an early age in life. Treatment is possible, using normal anti-epileptic drugs, but these can have some side effects. At the moment, Fudge only suffers from an odd turn once every six weeks, and the Keenans have decided not to start treatment unless they begin to happen more frequently.
The Keenans have learned to live with Fudge’s problem, like a mild disability. They know that he is very unlikely to come to any harm during a turn, so they do not worry unduly when it happens. The turns have become part of “what Fudge is”, and he is such an adorable little dog, that they accept that this is just part of “the package”. As for Fudge? Well, he recovers very rapidly from the odd episodes, and he enjoys himself so much for the rest of the time that it really isn’t an issue for him!
- Dogs can suffer from epilepsy, just like humans do
- Treatment can be highly effective, using daily tablets to control the seizures
- If the seizures are mild, and only happen occasionally, some owners may decide not to give treatment unless the situation gets worse.