The hardest decision any dog owner will ever have to make is when to determine their best friend can no longer enjoy a good quality of life.
Conditions ranging from blindness to cancer will all lead to a dog losing their strength, stamina, playfulness, ability to perform simple tasks, and bodily functions.
If your dog has epilepsy, or is at risk of developing epilepsy, you may be struggling with many emotions — anger, fear, frustration, and above all sadness.
The seizures that result from epilepsy may be too much for both yourself and your pet to bear.
For pet owners coping with a dying dog, euthanizing their pet is a hugely difficult decision, but it may be the right one for your beloved dog.
What is Canine Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a medical condition where abnormal brain functions result in inability of the neurons to correctly fire and communicate.
The most common, and most severe, symptoms of epilepsy are seizures — specifically two seizures within the span of 24 hours.
Epilepsy in dogs is often genetic and is most common in purebred dogs, while males are more commonly affected than females.
These seizures usually present in epileptic dogs between the ages of 1 and 5.
Just like humans who suffer from epilepsy, dogs who have these seizures are at risk of serious harm, capable of severely injuring themselves and anyone around them.
An epileptic seizure may last as long as five minutes, furthermore, and no matter the length or intensity, will require immediate attention from a primary care veterinarian.
Other Causes of Seizures
While epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in dogs, no pet owner should rush to think that their canine has an incurable condition.
A veterinarian will not only check to see the extent of harm to the dog, but will rule out a diagnosis of any other condition that can create seizures (like brain tumors or parasites).
A veterinarian’s inspection will involve several health screens, such as blood tests, that help to narrow down a diagnosis.
These tests can be several hundred dollars each depending on the rigor of the analysis and the veterinarian’s decisions.
The veterinarian will also ask questions about your dog’s health, history, and the intensity of the seizures, and the more information you can provide, the more help they can be about a potential treatment.
Some breeds are more prone to seizures and epilepsy than others — including some of the most popular dog breeds in the United States.
Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers are particularly vulnerable to genetic epilepsy, as are beagles, huskies, and dachshunds.
As dogs in the United States are increasingly purebred, these conditions are more and more common.
“Mutt” crossbreeds are less likely to develop epilepsy, as well as other health concerns that are hereditary.
What Do I Do During A Seizure?
If you find yourself panicking when your dog begins to convulse, you should know that there are several steps to take during a seizure that will help improve their health and outcome.
Move your dog to an open place where their body motions cannot hit a hard object, like a wall or furniture, with their full force.
If possible, move them from high places, or put soft barriers in their way (like cushions) to prevent them from falling and hurting themselves.
While urban legends say that you should hold open the mouth in a seizure to prevent biting the tongue, this happens very rarely, and trying to open or keep open a dog’s mouth will more likely result in harm to yourself and your pet.
Once a dog comes to from a seizure, they will be exhausted and scared.
Their brain has released about as much energy in a very short period of time as it does in the span of an entire day; they may be unable to stand on their own at first, and may have coordination and balance issues.
Give them time to calm down and cool off, then give them fresh water and fresh air, and a comfortable place to sleep off their exhaustion.
Some dogs can take anti-seizure medication and live relatively normal, healthy lives.
However, the decision to start treatment with this medication requires careful analysis of many different circumstances, ranging from the owner’s ability to provide care to the effectiveness of the treatment to the quality of life of the dog themselves.
Some of these drugs are single-use, while others must be taken frequently.
The emotional and financial gravity of this medication will also influence the decision to start or to not start a medication treatment.
Anticonvulsant drugs are some of the most common medications given to dogs with epilepsy, able to prevent a seizure before it happens, and minimize the length and intensity of seizures it does not prevent.
A very small percentage of lucky dogs, about six to eight percent, will experience remission of epilepsy without needing any medication.
While about 60 to 70 percent of dogs on epileptic medication will achieve good seizure control, according to the Veterinary Health Center of the University of Missouri, that leaves many more dogs who will have their health impacted by the condition — especially if these dogs are older or have other health concerns.
For many of these dogs, euthanasia may be the only humane solution to their suffering, since there is no cure to canine epilepsy.
The Choice to Euthanize
Every dog owner should realize the challenges of living with an epileptic dog.
Not only is their quality of life particularly compromised, but your quality of life is as well.
You may feel like you need to be with them at all times in case of a seizure, affecting your relationships and your mental health.
A seizure can be dangerous for other dogs and for children who do not understand what is going on.
Finally, an epileptic dog usually has a shorter lifespan than a healthy dog, about eight years on average, meaning that the remainder of their life could be short, especially if they are already past middle age for their breed.
While medication can prevent and mitigate seizures, not all dogs respond to medicine, and not all medicines are totally effective.
Any pet owner must come to their own decision about euthanizing their dog, since they carry the responsibility — not just the responsibility of choosing to euthanize, but also the responsibility of choosing not to euthanize.
A veterinarian’s advice is always welcome, since they can provide specific details about the health consequences of canine epilepsy, as well as the impact, risks, and costs associated with epilepsy medication.
A veterinarian will also have experience providing advice and recommendations to pet owners who face serious health concerns, allowing them to know how to frame both the process and the alternatives.
Sometimes you don’t even need a veterinarian’s advice at all, but feel much better with their confirmation that you’re making the right decision for your dog.
Specific risk factors may make a veterinarian recommend euthanizing a dog with epilepsy.
Age, seizure frequency & intensity, and poor response to seizures may all indicate that the dog will not enjoy a good quality of life due to their condition.
Ultimately, however, many pet owners will know when the time is right based on a number of factors: the possibility of healthy life, the cost of seizure medication, and the impact of an epileptic dog on their household.
The decision to euthanize should not be taken lightly, but nor should it be avoided if it drags out a dog’s misery.
Making the right decision is hard, but is ultimately best for your pet and yourself.