BY HEATHER DOWDY
Have you ever noticed your pooch pal exhibit out-of-the-ordinary behavior, such as biting at the air or licking his lips, front legs or the floor? These signs could point to complex partial seizures.
In 2007, at five years of age, my rescued shepherd mix, Shelby, began displaying some odd behaviors one evening. It was around 10pm, and he'd been calmly lying in his favorite spot. Seemingly out of nowhere, he jumped up and began a brisk walk through the house, incessantly licking the floors and walls. Nothing I tried would divert him. When I attempted to hold him close to me, he began trying to eat my hair and sweater. He clearly had no control over the behavior, although I couldn't imagine why.
Alarmed, I rushed him to the nearest emergency vet, where they assumed he had ingested some sort of toxin. I argued that he'd been with me all evening, sleeping on and off, and that there was nothing in reach. After a lot of tests and money, the vet seemed baffled, and we were sent home with no answers.
Several months later, the episode recurred, and again, the emergency vet had no answers.
Then, one afternoon several more months later, I came home to find Shelby in the midst of a similar episode. Unfortunately, because I had not been there to stop him, he had ripped apart and consumed a canvas tote bag, part of a shower curtain and a chunk of my area rug... and then had vomited them all back up, along with a good amount of blood and bile.
This time, I was able to make it to our regular vet, who delivered a diagnosis I'd never before heard of: Complex Partial Seizures, a secondary type of epilepsy.
Complex Partial Seizures (otherwise known as Psychomotor or Behavioral Seizures) are associated with bizarre or complex behaviors that are repeated during each seizure, rather than the Grand Mal type seizures that are more readily recognized. According to According to canine-epilepsy.com, "people with complex partial seizures experience distortions of thought, perception or emotion (usually fear), sometimes with unusual visual, olfactory, auditory and gustatory sensations. If dogs experience the same things, it may explain the lip-smacking, chewing, fly biting, aggression, vocalization, hysterical running, cowering or hiding in otherwise normal animals. Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal distress, salivation, blindness, unusual thirst or appetite, and flank biting are other signs. There is an obvious lack of awareness though usually not lack of consciousness. Abnormal behaviors may last minutes or hours and can be followed by a generalized seizure."
In 2008, the vet began Shelby on a low dose of Phenobarbital to help control the seizures. Over the next couple of years, he'd experience a break-through seizure every eight months or so, at which time we'd increase his medication accordingly.
Now an old man at age 12, the past year has been a rough one for sweet Shelby. He underwent TPLO surgery on his knee in March, followed by a seizure. In May, another seizure. And more recently, he experienced four seizures within a week span--the most recent lasting over two hours (part of which you'll see in the video below). We have increased his Phenobarbital once again, and might have room for another increase, but after that, we'll be looking at needing to add Potassium Bromide into the mix to gain control over these break-through episodes. Unfortunately, Valium does not seem to help in the case of these partial seizures.
While every episode is stressful for Shelby and scary for us, we have learned that the best thing we can do is calmly wait it out with him, keeping him lying at our side and gently stroking his fur and talking to him, and keeping him from ingesting anything during the manic licking and biting phases. His seizures tend to come in waves: ten or fifteen minutes on, followed by a five-minute pause, and so on. They have ranged anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours in total length.
I am incredibly thankful that our vet has been able to help control the seizures through medication, and that we still have options available as the problem progresses. And I am grateful that our vet was able to make sense of Shelby's bizarre behaviors so that we could develop a plan of action to help him.
If your pet has exhibited a similar episode, please schedule a visit with your veterinarian to determine if Complex Partial Seizures are the cause. With proper medication management, these stressful episodes can be greatly controlled over time.
VIDEO CLIP: The below video was taken during Shelby's most recent two-hour Complex Partial Seizure episode. Both my husband and I were with him. We filmed this clip to share with our veterinarian, and with our readers so that you can see what such an episode looks like. I hope this might be helpful if you have seen the same type of behavior in your pet.