Beautiful Saturday morning. We're out shopping for garden supplies, maybe a bed of flowers. My cell phone rings. It's my sister; our second oldest puppy is choking, she thinks. "Call the vet, they'll know what to do." We rush home, worried about our beautiful baby collie.

"They think she had a seizure..." my sister begins, softly. We laugh. Yeah, right. The dog had a seizure. Everyone knows dogs don't have seizures... or, at least, that's what we thought. But two weeks later, it happened again. This time I was home to see it. The dizzy look, the stiffening paws. She fell over onto her side and began to kick her legs, foaming at the mouth and making yipping noises from her throat. After a few horrible minutes, it subsided and Belle slowly pushed herself up onto her paws. Dazed, she stumbled into walls and chairs, and even into me. She was thirsty and drank massive amounts of water. And then she fell into a big, fluffy ball on the floor to sleep.

That was over a year ago, and since then my family has been living with epilepsy. I know now that what she had was called a tonic-clonic , or grand mal seizure. The tonic phase causes the dog to fall over, lose consciousness, and become rigid. No more than a minute later, the clonic phase begins, where the dog paddles its limbs, gnashes its teeth, salivates, or soils itself. Grand mal... Big bad... and it is.

Belle's on medication now, phenobarbitol (the most common med given to dogs with epilepsy). She is still having seizures, although she's stabilized a bit. There's danger with phenobarb, though. Too much or too little can cause liver damage; missing a dosage could actually induce clustering (more than one seizure at a time).

When she takes her meds at 7 pm, she becomes lethargic and sleepy. We take that time to cuddle her, coo to her, to let her know how much we love our seizure pup. You can be trained to see the seizure coming, based on the dog's behavior just prior. Belle's aura hasn't really become obvious to us yet, as she is a very gentle and mild-mannered dog, but we're still looking for a warning sign, a cause--anything that can help.

Canine epilepsy is common in certain breeds, particularly collies and poodles. While there is no cure, it is definitely a treatable condition. They (whoever that is) say that it isn't painful for the dog; I can attest, however, that it is very painful to watch.

August 21, 2002: Belle was put to sleep this afternoon at home. She'd come down with pancreatitis from all the medications after fighting through various kidney and liver infections, severe weight gain, lethargy and other problems. She was such a beautiful dog, and so sweet and kind and cuddly and gentle and there will never be another Belle. I miss her so much.