Thirty years, I’ve owned dogs. Lots of dogs. I acquired some of them as puppies, and more of them as adults – seniors, even – from rescues. Sometimes I amuse myself by recalling all the names, and enjoying the mental images of the dogs that come to mind with that:
Sander – Alexander Prince Charming
Sundance – Lynnlea’s The Sundance Kid
Shiri – Shofar’s Summer Song
Angus T Bang
Those were the Shelties; it was 20 years before I brought in another breed, and then I got a Finnish Lapphund, Heikki. Changed his name to My Dog Mike and helped him deal with ehrlichiosis for four years before he departed. Charlie Bear wandered in: he was a Pom/Sheltie mix, and a battered little fella who’d been found on the streets of Brooklyn.
Now, of course, the crew is Rowley (BC), Alex (Lapphund), Dee (Sheltie/SharPei mix), Beau (Sheltie) and Peekaboo (senior Sheltie).
In all those years and all those dogs, I’ve dealt with all kinds of health issues. Briar Rose had dermatomyositis and my then-veterinarian vaccinated her to death. I’m older and wiser now, and he’s not my vet any longer. Sander lived with cancer for 7+ years, in what has to be some kind of record – no surgery, no chemo, no radiation, just truckloads of supplements, and raw food, and avoidance of toxins. He had a heart as big as all outdoors, Sander did. Mikey arrived with chronic ehrlichia, and I learned about platelets and the Bio-Mat and chlorophyll supplements. It did kill him, eventually, but what a fight we gave it for more than four years! I’ve seen numerous incidents of vestibular, and the signs of HGE are all too familiar. This year I treated Rowley for heartworm, which was a learning experience of the terrifying kind. But I’ve never had a dog with a seizure disorder.
In 2012, Rowley was three years old and the other dogs in my house were seniors. I felt that Rowley – and I – needed a younger dog in the group; so we drove to Bloomington and met some of the Shelties that were available for adoption through the Central Illinois rescue. There was a 3-year old sable, named Sonny, whose nice build and very good head spoke to some good breeding in his pedigree; he was said to be something of a ‘handful’, according to the rescue director. I had a young Border Collie, my hands were already full. There was a 4-year old tricolor boy who worked his way over to us, as I sat on the lawn in the big dog yard, and took a seat in my lap, and stayed there. He was a bit shy. He’d been an only dog, owned by an elderly woman who surrendered him when she went into a nursing home. He was a catalog of conformation faults, but he had those sweet, trusting Sheltie brown eyes, and he came home with us. Immediately, he attached himself to Rowley. His name was Bogey, but Beau suited him better, so Beau he became and Beau he remains.
Seven years later, Beau is the only one of my Gang of Four who doesn’t have work to do – Rowley is my agility dog, Alex is a nosework dog, and Dee is an AAT dog. Beau’s job is to be Beau. He goes everywhere with the group, he is as reliable off-leash as Rowley and Alex (never Dee, her hunting instinct prevents her being off a leash EVER), and he is one of the Busy Boyz. He is devoted to me and to Rowley, and fond of Alex. From Dee he maintains a respectful distance, which I take to mean he’s afraid of her. He’s a smart dog.
Two weeks ago, Beau woke me at about 3 am, and I found him on his back on the floor next to his bed, unable to right himself, which his legs and paws moving – ‘paddling’, I have since learned it is called. I picked him up and set him upright on the floor, but he pancaked. I picked him up again and held him, and after some minutes, when he seemed calmed, I put him down; this time he walked carefully over to his bed and lay down in it. He was soaked with saliva. That was the first ominous sign that made me think ‘seizure’, and my thought was confirmed soon enough.
We went to the vet clinic, where they drew blood to see if anything was amiss in his liver and kidney functions, or maybe his thyroid. Nothing looked unusual or elevated. The SDMA test, an indicator of decreased kidney function that identified kidney disease earlier than BUN and creatinine readings, was one point higher than it had been in 2017. One point. Not a lot. But … he is a Sheltie, and kidney disease is the disease of this breed.
Nine days later, he had another seizure. This one was worse than the first one, and lasted almost four minutes. I learned that four minutes is a LONG time, and that two seizures so close together is a bad sign. We did a blood pressure test: it was about 10 points above ‘normal’, which is elevated, but not drastically so. I started him on CBD oil, and agreed to consider medication if he has another seizure that is as serious as the second one was.
I’ve been given a lot of useful information by friends who have dealt with seizures in their own dogs, in some case for years. I’m truly impressed by the resilience of those people, and those dogs, as my two experiences with Beau’s seizures have completely unnerved me. I’ve read up on triggers, on things to avoid, on dietary tweaks – but the big question is still unanswered: What caused an 11-year old dog with no history of seizures to have two within ten days?
It’s not idiopathic epilepsy: that starts younger. I truly doubt that it’s kidney disease: I believe his kidneys are crummy, but for kidney disease to cause seizures, it would be advanced enough to show other signs, and there are none. I think the blood pressure is a piece of the puzzle, but I keep coming back to what a couple in one of my agility classes told me had caused sudden-onset seizures in their 10-year old Bearded Collie: lesions on the brain. Why do I think this? I’m not normally a doom-and-gloom person about my dogs. When Sander had cancer, I refused to even admit the thought that he might die from it. And he didn’t, he died at 14 ½ of liver failure. When I adopted Mikey, I knew the ehrlichia would be a pain to deal with, but it was just part of the picture. But now, with Beau, I’m feeling nothing but foreboding, and I’m acknowledging that for some time, I’ve not had a comfortable feeling about this dog’s old age, based on how really poor his breeding is. I feel like his genetic inheritance is not good.
Maybe I just have to face the worst and think through it so I can gain some equanimity. Maybe Beau will live to be 15 and have only occasional seizures; maybe the CBD oil will work; maybe Keppra will stop the seizures. That would be great. And surprising. Two seizures in ten days, after 11 years of no seizures, is not a positive indicator. So I consider what I will and won’t do: I will not put Beau on the heavy-duty seizure meds, phenobarbital and potassium bromide. I will not make him stay here when his life is no longer one continuous round of hanging with the other Boyz and hiking in the Izaak Walton Preserve. I will keep Beau’s wonderful life wonderful, and when it ceases to be wonderful, I will let him go join the other Hooligans at the Bridge. I hate thinking that that day may come any time soon. Beau has brought nothing but affection and activity to my group, and it’s hard to think that those things may be taken from him by some organic defect.
Maybe I’m worried for no reason. But I don’t think so.
Hang in there, Beau, we’re all with you and you’ll never be alone so long as you’re here. And when the time comes you’re not here, you’re still in this family – that’s forever, and for always too, as the old song says.