RVers worried about traveling with dog because of seizures

Ask the RV Vet

With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
YourRVvet@gmail.com

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.

Dear Lindsay,
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.

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. 

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15 Thoughts to “RVers worried about traveling with dog because of seizures”

  1. Donna

    Welcome Dr. Deanna and thank you for this article. We adopted a Chi-weenie, and just before his second birthday he started having seizures. His seizures were dramatic, much like grand mal seizures seen in people. It was very scary as they seemed to just begin out of nowhere. We later learned that some of his litter mates also were having seizures. Our little Jasper is now on Phenobarbital with good results. We are new to the RV lifestyle, currently just weekend or extended weekend travel. Prior to the onset of seizures, Jasper travelled well. Now he seems very nervous (whines – loudly, shakes, does not sit still) almost the entire time the vehicle is moving. At times, I have taken him out of his crate to hold him near me and eventually he will go to sleep. I don’t feel he is as safe out of the crate though. We are wondering if this change could be related to the seizures and/or the medication and what we might do to help him be less anxious when in a moving vehicle.

  2. Dr. Deanna

    Hi Chuck. I’m glad Lola is doing well. She is in the minority of dogs who have shown that kind of reaction to phenobarbital. And you bring up a very good point: any of these anti-seizure medications are powerful drugs, and our furry patients need to be have bloodwork to make sure their bodies are doing okay while taking them.

  3. Chuck

    We travel with Lola who has very well controlled seizures. We give her Potassium Bromide. phenobarbital caused her to become so anemic we almost lost her. It is important to get a good baseline of your pets body functions so you can spot any problems with newly introduced medicines. A month after we took her off The phenobarbital her red cells started to recover and are now normal.

    Welcome Dr. Deanna, I hope we don’t work you too hard.

  4. Linda

    Welcome Dr. Deanna. My Cavalier had grand mal seizures, she was out cold and stopped breathing, I gave her mouth to mouth and applied ice packs to her back, she came around. After that she had petite seizures with several in series.
    I treated Coco with CBDs for three months. She has been seizure-free for the past 3 years. I wish there was more research on this medicine. CBDs also aid in her itching and scratching.

    1. Dr. Deanna

      Hi Linda. You bring up an interesting point. For anyone who doesn’t know, CBDs are derived from cannibas (marijuana). There is currently a surge in researching how these compounds can benefit our four-legged friends. I hope Coco remains seizure-free and that we soon learn more about this medication. Thank you for writing!

  5. kc

    Welcome Doc!! You’ve made a good point…we ALWAYS take note of where the closest vet is, and the route to get there, when we are in new territory. Our pupper has no health issues, but you just never know when one will strike, and I like to know where to go without having to fumble around first. So, soon after we park, even just overnight, I do my research and find a well rated local vet. Thankfully, I’ve not needed the info, but I sleep better knowing I have it.

    1. Dr. Deanna

      Hi kc! You are good pet owners to check out the local vet hospitals/clinics when you travel. I welcome your comments and questions.

      Dr. Deanna

  6. Linda H.

    Welcome Dr. Deanna. We (my husband and I and our three fur babies) look forward to reading your articles. We are at a rally this week and almost every coach has at least one fur baby on board – and most are like us with two, three and four “kids” traveling along. Your advice and knowledge will be a welcome addition to the newsletter.

    1. Dr. Deanna

      Thank you for your welcoming words, Linda! I’m really looking forward to our readers’ questions and comments.

  7. Ric

    Welcome! Looking forward to your articles.

    1. Dr. Deanna

      Thank you Ric!

      1. Karen Willis

        Another welcome! Glad you’ve joined the newsletter. Happy travels!

  8. Julie

    Welcome Dr. Deanna! What a timely article as our 3 yr old Yellow Lab, Zack was diagnosed just this month with Idiopathic Epilepsy. He just started taking Levetiracetam -(Keppra) this morning! We are hoping for many years of traveling with him to enjoy touring these United States in a few years, but for now, it’s just vacations and long weekends. Hope to see you on the road!

    1. Dr. Deanna

      Thank you Julie! I hope Zack does well on his medication. If the Keppra doesn’t keep the seizures in check, ask your veterinarian about adding one of the other medications, like phenobarbital. I’m interested in how he does, so please give me an update in a few weeks.
      Dr. Deanna

      1. Julie

        Here is an update on Zack. 30 days on 1000mg of Levetiracetam -(Keppra) (500mg time release 2x daily). No seizures. Dropped to 750mg -250mg morning(not time release), 500mg at night. On day 13 of that dosage he seized again, so he is now back up to 1000mg. He weighs about 75lbs, so think we will go with this 1000mg dosage and hope he doesn’t have another one. Also, going to switch from Nexgard to a topical. This last seizure, it took him quite a while to be 100% again(like 15 minutes, although the seizure didn’t last that long).

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