So, Bertie has been diagnosed with epilepsy.
It’s not life-threatening, nor limiting, and can be managed (with expensive drugs), and apparently it’s not uncommon in Jack Russells around his age of about three. I wish I’d known all that the first time he had a fit.
It happened on May Bank Holiday. Bert and I had been away for the weekend in the West Country visiting family; Graham was away running a holiday in Shetland. We were out on our morning walk, at pretty much exactly the mid-way point, about two miles from home, when suddenly Bert’s back legs seemed to stop working and he collapsed, quivering at the side of the road, struggling to get up and get his feet under him again. One minute he was rootling around in the verge as usual, the next he was struggling to stand up. I had no idea what to do; I just held on to him, talking to him, praying it would stop.
After a few minutes – I’d no idea at the time how long it was – it did stop, and when I put him down, Bert set off again as if nothing had happened. Confused but relieved, I followed. A chap in a tractor drove past us, and in a few minutes we caught up with him as he was parking it in a barn. As we rounded the corner past the barn, Bert’s back end started to go again – it was like he was drunk; he had no control over his back legs and then they collapsed under him and as he kept trying to stand up, he just fell over again, shaking.
Now I was completely frantic and in floods of tears, and I scooped Bert up, and ran back to the chap with the tractor, begging him to help me. To cut a long story short, the poor man (I hadn’t really given him any choice), jumped on his quad bike and went to his home down in the village to pick up his van and come back so he could drive Bert and me home. Of course, by the time we got there, Bert was fine again, behaving as if nothing had happened, and wanting to chase his ball. Anyway, I thanked my helper profusely and then had to get in my own car to drive back to the top of the drive to get a mobile signal to phone the vets. (This was before the landline had been connected, of course!)
After a long chat with the vet, we decided the best thing was to keep an eye on him, and take him in to the surgery the next morning to be checked over. The worst thing about it was feeling so alone, and wishing Graham was home, but thankfully our friend Beryl was visiting that afternoon, to stay a couple of nights – and, thank goodness, was bringing wine…
So, it was the next morning that I discovered all about canine epilepsy and how common it is in Jack Russells. At the time, I still wasn’t convinced that was it – he hadn’t lost consciousness at any point and hadn’t been making running motions with his feet, so it certainly didn’t sound like a typical seizure. The other advice the vet gave was to video him the next time it happened, so they could get a better idea of what was going on.
So… the months went by and the horrible memory faded, and then, suddenly one September morning – again when we were out on our walk, and, bizarrely, again when Graham was away in Shetland – he had another fit, just like the first one. This time it was easier to cope with emotionally, because I kind of knew what was happening; also I was much nearer home, so I started off carrying him back, but once again, he recovered quickly and then acted as though nothing had happened – he was running around wanting to chase his ball again, showing no ill effects whatsoever, and finished the walk at high speed.
Then, about 10 days later, things got more serious. This time it was Graham’s turn to have a worrying day. I was at work, and Bert was acting oddly all day, moving around as if he was stiff and old, squeaking and groaning as if effort hurt him, and spending most of the day sleeping on the sofa and not moving. I got home from work that evening and soon afterwards he went into what we now know was a full-blown epileptic fit. He had no control over his limbs at all, his pupils were completely dilated, he was unaware of us and where he was, shaking, and hot and panting. It lasted about 10 minutes – which is a long, long time.
So the next morning it was back down to the vet’s, where he was given a thorough check over, and had blood taken for a test. Apparently you can’t test for epilepsy – it doesn’t show up in anything – you have to rule everything else out. And apparently his strange behaviour before the fit isn’t that uncommon either, though it did go on for an uncommonly long time. Dogs often know when they’re going to have a fit, by all accounts, and owners come to recognise the behaviour patterns.
So, the blood results came back and showed nothing wrong; therefore, said the vet, it was epilepsy. It was just a question of when to start medication.
We discussed it long and hard, and at the moment have decided that, because he’s had just three seizures, and two of them very mild, we will wait to see how long it is before (and if – oh, hope!) it happens again. The medication won’t stop fits completely, but reduce them to two or three a year – and if that’s all he’s having anyway, then maybe there’s no point. We certainly would rather not give him drugs if we don’t have to: once he’s on them, he’s on them for life. And although these are, according to the vet, new drugs that don’t have the nasty side effects of the old epilepsy drugs, still … who would want to put their dog on drugs for life, if they could avoid it?
Otherwise, we’re told there’s no reason he shouldn’t live till a ripe old age.
So that’s where we’re at. Maybe other Jack Russell owners reading this blog might get some useful information out of it, or even some reassurance. We’re watching Bert like hawks, and he’s getting away with even more than usual, and being spoilt even more rotten than ever. He might be epileptic, but he’s still an excellent dog.