Assistance with Australian Shepard having seizures
January 23, 2018 1:14 PM   Subscribe

One of our dogs seems to have seizures during walks specifically. Has anyone else had this happen?

We adopted an Aussie named Jake about 2 years ago. Since then, he has had around 10 seizures or so. When we first told our vet about it she said to keep an eye on it and if it gets bad enough, we should start him on medication.

On New Year's Day he had his first cluster of seizures which prompted a trip to the local 24 hr emergency vet where he stayed overnight and got started on phenobarbital. A follow-up blood test showed that his liver values were off and so they changed him over to zonisamide.

All but 2 of the seizures started during walks when there was tension on his leash for an extended period and we didn't realize it. We have tried a number of different harnesses but he has had a seizure with all of them. As a result, we don't do walks too frequently but he does get exercise in the backyard and at the dog park.

There was one seizure that started not long after he coughed up a piece of undigested toothbrush treat that he had eaten earlier that day. (We haven't fed him anymore of those treats.)

Also, Jake snorts (make some sort of nasally sound?) sometimes when he breathes and I don't know if it's somehow related.

He hasn't been tested for MDR1, but our vet doesn't think that it is what causing the seizures.

My gut feeling is that it doesn't have anything to do with excitement, more there is something physically happening with his neck and the harness or collar that is causing the episode.

Any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.
posted by o0dano0o to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
"Also, Jake snorts (make some sort of nasally sound?) sometimes when he breathes and I don't know if it's somehow related."

I can't click on the link for your dog's photo, but if he has a short snout the noise might be due to reverse sneezing. Good luck!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 1:27 PM on January 23, 2018

You say you’ve tried various harnesses, but have you tried the gentle leader? It’s designed so there’s really no pressure on the neck/chest area. My friend’s dog who has a weak trachea uses one with success.
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:35 PM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I don't know from the seizures, but we used a gentle leader for our Aussie (who we could not successfully train not to strangle herself on a regular collar) for fifteen years, and it worked great. She didn't seem to mind it, but she didn't pull on it. The Snoot Loop is another brand that does pretty much the same thing.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:03 PM on January 23, 2018

Hyperventilation can induce a seizure in people, I wonder if you're encountering something similar here? Like your pup is excited and pulling on the leash and that puts pressure on the chest that causes dog to take shallower breaths? The gentle leader might be something to try to see if it makes a difference.
posted by goggie at 2:03 PM on January 23, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies - yes we have tried the gentle leader. He actually had that on when the cluster seizures started.
posted by o0dano0o at 2:06 PM on January 23, 2018

Response by poster: Looking at the videos of reverse sneezing, that isn't what is happening to Jake, although it does happen to our other dog.
posted by o0dano0o at 2:08 PM on January 23, 2018

Patent ductus arteriosis is relatively more common among Aussies (though still rare) than dogs in general, and it can cause seizures, and it will probably give rise to a heart murmur your vet can detect if Jake has it.

I'd guess any kind of constriction around his neck or chest causes more blood to be shunted from the pulmonary artery into the aorta, and this ultimately results in a seizure.
posted by jamjam at 3:14 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fainting/myotonic goats, since you're looking for examples. They're not dogs, but your description made me think of it.
posted by aniola at 8:23 PM on January 23, 2018

I've known several people who's dogs have injured their necks in gentle leader type devices. They are based on horse headcollars but a prime directive of those is that you never tie a horse to an immovable object in on without a breakaway because they will injure their necks if they pull too hard*, which i easy to do when a dog hits the end of a leash a human is holding and it snaps them around. It tends to cause a type of ligamentous instability that causes fairly sudden and catastrophic loss of function at some unknown time in the future after the initial injury, usually triggered by an innocuous movement or bump. Does your dog show any other lameness or clumsiness? If so and if jamjam's suggestion does not solve it I'd maybe think of x-raying the neck, with the caveat you don't want him to injure himself more.

*I'm aware that American western type trainers do this and let the horses fight it out but no one else in the horse world does and I personally believe it's one of the causes of rampant front end lameness in stock breeds. Also quite a lot of them break their necks.
posted by fshgrl at 8:23 PM on January 23, 2018

My lab has idiopathic epilepsy. Before his seizures were controlled with phenobarbital, he did have a couple on our walks and I also wondered if there was a connection.

The veterinary neurologist told me that it's probably not that the excitement of a walk reduces the seizure threshold, but rather that when you are walking your dog you are absolutely going to notice a seizure. My dog's episodes were usually just absence seizures (easy to miss) so it's possible that he had some when I was in the next room, or asleep, or at work.

My lab is snort-y too (definitely not reverse sneezing) and the vet said they aren't connected.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:42 AM on January 24, 2018

For what it's worth, do a search here -- I recall somebody saying that their dog's epilepsy was more or less eliminated by a diet change (a surprise to all), and others piping up with similar experience. Surely worth a try!
posted by acm at 8:20 AM on January 24, 2018

I have a 12-year-old Schipperke who has had 3 fainting spells over the past year, and we just went through a gamut of tests recently. He also had 2 of the 3 on walks, both after finding something on the ground and eating it, and the third was when he got way overexcited running in the yard (he was also overexcited when he found the whole ham and cheese sandwich on the second time, go figure). He also coughs when this happens and at other times so I was questioning seizures v. choking v. fainting.

Since he does have a heart murmur, the vets started with a workup on his heart and looked for symptoms of tracheal collapse. They found no evidence of anything, but put him on a prophylactic dose of hydrocodone for its cough suppressant properties, and had me switch his harness (we're on an easy leader now)and all has been well since.

I know smaller dogs are more likely to have tracheal collapse, but it might be something to look into if they aren't 100% on it being neurological. We basically ended up with a diagnosis of a vasovagal response, a la the fainting goats linked above.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 9:33 AM on January 24, 2018

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