Ask the RV Vet
With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
Dear Dr. Deanna,
We have finally made the decision to sell our home and travel full-time. We want to take our dog, Dolly, with us. But recently she’s been having seizures; at least, we think that’s what happening. She might whine a little at first, then hold very still and her eyes kind of glaze over, and she trembles. This lasts just a few minutes and then she kind of wakes up and after another few minutes, she seems normal. She’s a terrier mix, only 3 years old. Is she going to die? Should we take her with us on the road? — Lindsay N.
I certainly understand how concerned you must be for Dolly. Seizures can be scary for both the dog and its owner.
What you’ve described sounds like a “typical” seizure in dogs. The severity of a seizure can be less than what Dolly shows. For example, the dog may stare off into space and seem “out of it” for a few seconds, then return to normal. Or it can be much more dramatic, where the dog may fall down, the limbs may stiffen, there are convulsions and there may be loss of urine and bowel control.
Seizures are basically an electrical storm in the brain. There can be many causes including viral disease (like distemper), liver disease, and some toxins. But what we most commonly see in dogs is called idiopathic epilepsy, meaning we don’t know the cause. We do know, however, that there may be a genetic component, so dogs with epilepsy should not be bred.
The “typical” epileptic dog is 1-3 years old, and it is more prevalent in certain breeds: Beagles, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Shetland Sheepdogs, to name just a few, but it can occur in any breed or mixed breed.
Some dogs may have a seizure and never have another. But again, the “typical” scenario with epilepsy is that the seizures start to occur more often and may increase in intensity.
ALTHOUGH THERE IS NOT A CURE for idiopathic epilepsy, there are medications to help control the frequency and severity of the seizures. Phenobarbital is the drug most veterinarians will prescribe initially. It has to be given twice daily, and there is a period of 10-14 days after first taking it that the dog may seem groggy until its liver is able to make an enzyme to break the drug down faster. Most dogs have normal doggy lives if their medication controls the seizures.
Back to Dolly: You need to get a diagnosis to see what may be causing her seizures. That means taking her to your veterinarian. Dolly’s doctor will want to do some diagnostic tests, such as a CBC, Chemistry panel, and possibly a thyroid test. There is not a test just for epilepsy; rather, the diagnosis is one of exclusion. This means if no other possible causes are found, the likely cause is idiopathic epilepsy.
If this is found to be the case with Dolly, and she responds well to the medication, there is no reason she cannot enjoy your new lifestyle with you. Before leaving, you will need to make sure you can refill her medications on the road. Ask your veterinarian if he/she will call in her prescription to a chain drugstore (CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, etc.). You will also need to check to see if the prescription can be filled in another state: phenobarbital, for example, is a controlled substance and can fall under different pharmacological rules than other medications.
If you find you cannot refill the medications in a given state, you will need to see a local veterinarian to have the medication refilled.
While traveling, it will be important for you to look up the local veterinary hospitals in your area, in case Dolly has any problems. Knowing where to go ahead of time will save you valuable time in an emergency. Good luck, and have fun on the road!
Deanna Tolliver, MS, DVM
Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com . She’ll do her very best to answer you or feature you in her column. Opinions she expresses here are based on limited information she receives from readers. Always consult with your own Vet about concerns about your pet. If you appreciate this column as well as others, please consider becoming a “voluntary subscriber” to RVtravel.com.
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Dr. Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for a little more than 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She pulls a fifth wheel with her 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs (3 Chihuahuas: Tootie, Chiquita, and BooBoo, and a Yorkie, Janie), and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot named Toby. She has BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. Her hobbies include sewing, especially quilting, crafts, reading and writing.