Disclaimer: I am by no means a veterinarian. If you have an epileptic dog, you should talk to your vet to discuss treatment. The following is only my specific experience with this particular dog.
Since today is national dog day, I thought I would talk about life with Monster dog who is ‘special needs’.
A and I have 2 dogs. We got Tucker, the namesake of this blog, in 2012 when A and I had first started dating. He was, and remains, the sweetest and most friendly little dog. He is also super low maintenance. If you want to chill, he’s down to chill. If you want to go for a walk, he’s cool with that too. It wasn’t long before we started to feel bad about leaving Tucker at home while we went to work. We decided he needed a friend. We didn’t have a lot of qualifications for dog two, other than it shouldn’t be black since we already had a black dog and it should be a female since we already had a male.
We got Frankenstein Monster Dog in June of 2014. We already knew when we got her that she was vision impaired and deaf. They actually had told us she was blind but that’s not totally correct. Her night vision is pretty awful but during the day she gets around just fine. However, she is definitely deaf. For anyone thinking about getting a deaf dog and wondering if they can handle it, you totally can. In that regard, she is just like a normal dog. The only difference is that we trained her with sign language and you can’t yell at her from across the room.
The other thing to know about Monster dog is that she is a double merle Australian Shepherd, also known as a ‘lethal white’. The name is alarming, right? Basically it just means that she had bad breeders. The merle trait is recessive and people shouldn’t breed two merle aussies together. If they do, they are born blind, deaf, both, and about 20% don’t survive at all. Breeders choose to do it anyway because the puppies are born mostly white and they are able to sell them for a premium by marketing them as ‘rare’. From what I understand, the double merle gene is most likely why she is deaf.
Around September 2014, it was time to be a responsible pet owner and take her to be spayed and get her rabies shot. As far as I am aware, the procedure went fine. Nine days later she would have her first seizure. Someone came and rang the doorbell and as per usual, both dogs lost their little minds. I spoke to whoever was at the door and came back in but Monster dog was not calming down. She ran around the house like she was trying to get away from someone. Then she fell over and started convulsing. It was terrifying. I had no prior experience with epilepsy or seizures, only what I had seen on TV. I frantically called A, who was not at home, to meet us at the ER vet that was just down the street. By the time we arrived, she was no longer seizing but they kept her overnight for observation. The Vet told us that the seizure might be a one time event or she might have epilepsy. They wanted to do a spinal tap and some other procedures, but they were extremely cost prohibitive. I think the quote was over $1000. Her overnight visit at the ER vet cost $350.
Several weeks went by without Monster having a second seizure. We definitely had our hopes up that it was a one time occurrence. Then she had the second. And a third. And a fourth. We took her back to our regular vet who recommended that we she begin taking phenobarbital, which is an anti seizure medicine that both dogs and humans take. The medication was $30 per month. Monster dog took the phenobarbital for about 6 months, having multiple seizures per month all the while. When we took her back for a check up, the Vet decided to add potassium bromide to her medicine. This medication was $40 per month. In addition to this, she would require 3-4 check ups per year to check her kidney and liver function because these drugs are very hard on the body. The cost of the check ups vary depending on what blood work is done but are typically around $120.
The seizures decreased but they were still more frequent than we would have liked. At the beginning of 2016, after a lot of urging from my grandmother, we switched both dogs to Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain Free. Cost, $52 per month. This move seemed to help her quite a bit. She started only having one seizure a month and sometimes went as long as six weeks.
As Robert Frost says, Nothing Gold Can Stay. In April of this year, Monster dog began having seizures as often as once a week. As you can imagine, this is not healthy for her. We thought it might be due to having company for several weekends throughout April and May while the bathroom was remodeled but the seizure frequency continued through June and July. We took her for her quarterly check up and let the doctor know her seizure frequency was back up. He recommended she begin taking Keppra. Let me let you know, Keppra sounds like a miracle drug. Ideally it will be able to replace the phenobarbital she is currently taking, it is cheaper, and it is less hard on her body. He did mention that the cost of Keppra could increase though. The downside is that you can’t immediately remove someone from taking phenobarbital. They have to be weaned off. As such, Monster is currently on three medications. She has been on the Keppra for about a month and has only had two seizures which seems promising. We haven’t begun to wean her off the phenobarbital yet. Hopefully we will be able to soon.
Owning Monster dog is very expensive. Between her three medications, we spend $90 per month. People have told me before that we should put her down. First of all, no. Second, when she is not having seizures, she is a normal dog. She likes to play roll the ball fetch and tug o’ war. She goes on daily walks. She sleeps in our bed and she lets me put my arm around her. She is incredibly affectionate and she loves us fiercely. A and I are part of her pack. It was fate that she ended up in our family. Her last family gave her up after they found out she was deaf. There is no way they would’ve been able to handle epilepsy. Instead she is with us and we are fortunate to be able to afford these medications for her.
Finally, to relate this back to finances, having a dog is expensive. They have ‘start up’ costs, such as a leash, harness/collar, food and water bowls. You should be responsible and get your dog spayed or neutered and vaccinated. And after all of that, you still have to feed them. You shouldn’t get a furry friend unless you are prepared for these costs.
TL/DR: Having an epileptic dog is super expensive, but we love her anyway.