Bridging the Divided

Seizures Triggered By Separation Anxiety; Who Knew……?

After a long and stressful week, I needed to sleep in an extra hour or so on Saturday morning. My husband rose early to let the dogs out to potty and padded back to the bedroom, four dogs in tow. He lifted each onto the bed and crawled back under the covers. Chardonnay prefers to nestle in at the end of the bed. Rowdie, Tasia, and Kaiah burrow under the covers against my side. On this particular Saturday morning, Char decided to get under the covers with the rest of us. An hour later, my husband got up again, this time to make coffee. 

I awoke to the sounds and jerky movements of Char in the throes of another seizure. This was her third in as many weeks. I tossed back the covers, assured her I was with her, then gently lifted her onto my lap. After the seizure subsided, I put her on the floor, called for my husband, and we watched as she stumbled this way and that recovering from the electrical storm in her brain. As she regained her balance, she became very anxious, as if she didn’t understand what had happened. Again, we reassured her, and she calmed.  I called the vet and scheduled an appointment. The vet would see us within the hour.

A nurse by trade, I have seen my share of seizures. Most are terrifying for the onlookers more than harmful to the victims,  a momentary interruption of electrical brain activity. Being a nurse and experiencing medical issues in yourself or your family, including our pets, is a different ballgame. Suddenly medical knowledge takes a backseat to being a patient or family member. This seizure was longer than the previous two, and this time Chardonnay lost control of her bladder. It scared me.  Googling reasons for seizure activity in dogs is even scarier. Brain tumors, metabolic disturbances are possible; most are deemed idiopathic seizures meaning there isn’t a known reason. The reality is one day the seizures could become so serious the dog cannot recover from the onslaught and dies. 

The vet checked Chardonnay over thoroughly and ran blood tests. The physical exam and blood work all looked good, nothing out of the ordinary. She laid out the options: an MRI to rule out brain tumors, start Chardonnay on seizure medications, or watch and see. An MRI, she estimated, would cost upwards of $2,000, and we would need to go out of state. Financially, this was not a feasible option. Chardonnay is seven years old. The vet said developing idiopathic seizures or brain tumors at that age was not uncommon. Again, the nurse in me rose to the surface. Surely, brain tumors would have other neurological signs associated with the seizures, right? Her answer was yes and no, not exactly definitive. Neurological signs are dependent on the location of the brain tumor, which I knew as well, but I was trying to be hopeful. We discussed medications, all of which have side effects and do not guarantee Char will be 100% seizure-free. We talked about other patients of hers who have seizures and agreed on journaling Chardonnay’s seizures for a time to see if patterns develop, triggers become evident, or there are indications she is worsening. 

We identified two triggers before the vet appointment; heat and separation anxiety. The first and third seizure were triggered by heat; Char was under the covers when she started to seize. The second seizure was triggered by me leaving to take Tasia for a walk. My husband told me Char had a seizure while I was gone. Char has always suffered from separation anxiety, the difference is separation is now triggering seizure activity. The vet and I talked about behavior modification to reduce Char’s anxiety when I leave the house. It would take commitment but if it lessened the number of seizures she has I am willing to give it a shot. 

The vet told me she has seen quite a few animals of late for severe separation anxiety due to their fur parents transitioning back to the workplace. We are not yet out of the woods in terms of COVID but many need to return, nonetheless. Fortunately, I am permanently remote. 

At the beginning of the pandemic our pets were confused, as were we, by the sudden change in routine. We adapted, but our animals became more dependent on us, and we on them. I suspect fallout from the pandemic we didn’t anticipate was separation anxiety for both humans and pets. 

As many transition back to their workplace, separation anxiety will rear its head in one way or another. Please, consider the gift of companionship you and your pet afforded one another during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognize the difficulties both will face going forward…..

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