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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A fitting companion

I have an eight-year-old Jack Russell Terrier called Taz who is epileptic. We have had him for two years now and he's a wonderful little dog. His fits are controlled by medication and they happen roughly once a month, mostly overnight.
We are thinking of getting another dog - a companion for Taz. I have put it off for a while now due to fears about how another dog would react to Taz having a fit. Is it safe to have another dog in the family? I have heard that dogs can attack other dogs when they are having a fit. Would it be wise to keep them separate overnight for example? It is a query that I've been unable to have answered so I would appreciate any help or advice you can give me.
Tracy Lopez, Northamptonshire

Alison Logan, vet, advises:
I am a great believer in natural instinct: if you feel you would like to find a canine companion for Taz, then go for it. The fact that you have e-mailed in this query, and you imply that you have asked other people as well, means that you are giving it careful thought. It does need careful consideration, but then doubling up the canine content of your family is always a big decision to make, whether or not the first dog is epileptic!
That Taz is fairly settled on medication is a great plus point. You will already have gone through more than the owner of a dog who does not have a long-term health problem such as epilepsy, so to be even thinking about taking on another dog means that you feel in control.
It would always be a good idea to separate the two dogs at night in the initial stages, irrespective of whether or not Taz was epileptic. It is always going to be unsettling to some extent for the resident dog when a new dog joins the household, and night-time should be when both dogs can relax and sleep, re-charging the batteries ready for a new day and different challenges. Likewise, you will be able to relax and have a good night’s sleep if you do not have to worry about what might be going on down stairs, providing the new dog does not howl and pine for his previous home and keep you awake in that way!
If you do decide to go ahead with finding a new companion for Taz, I hope that all goes well. Best of luck!

Jon Bowen, behaviourist, advises:
Epilepsy is a serious condition. If a fit is severe or prolonged it can lead to a fatally high temperature, and the risk of this happening in the future is probably greater if your dog has already had one severe seizure. The aim when treating epilepsy is to medicate the dog to the point that fits stop or hardly ever happen, but the dog is still active and happy.
Initially most dogs are treated with phenobarbitone, because this is a reliable and effective treatment for epilepsy. However, it sometimes needs to be combined with other treatments such as potassium bromide (KBr). There is no standard dose of phenobarbitone that works for all dogs, so your vet will need to take regular blood samples to check what level your dog is getting. If a dog continues to have regular fits and has adequate blood levels of phenobarbitone then it is time to consider adding another drug.
Although one seizure per month sounds pretty manageable, if Taz were my dog I would hope to get a better level of control than this. On top of the fits you know about he may well be having others when he sleeping, while you are out, and he may be having a number of milder seizures that you don't notice. Your vet may have tried everything that he or she can think of, in which case Taz may be as good as he is going to get. However, despite being a common condition, epilepsy is a complex problem to treat and it often helps to have the involvement of a specialist neurologist. I suggest that you discuss the various options for improving control of this condition with your vet.
Epileptic dogs can happily share a home with other dogs, but there is always a risk of a problem. In Taz's case his fits are still quite common and the risk of there being a problem is therefore quite high. Due to the fundamentally competitive relationship between dogs, there will almost always be a need for one dog to compromise on something. This can cause stress, and stress aggravates epilepsy. You are right that some dogs may react aggressively to another dog while it is having a fit, but it is also possible that Taz may show signs of aggression if the other dog sleeps nearby and disturbs him when he is coming out of a fit. During the time immediately before and after a seizure the dog's perception may be altered; they may hallucinate or feel fearful. This can make them irritable or aggressive if another dog pesters them. To avoid this you would have to keep Taz separate from the other dog at night and when you are not in the home. My suggestion is that you don't get another dog until Taz's epilepsy is really well controlled.


  1. My flatcoat was diagnosed with epilepsy at a year old - I also had a golden retriever. Flattie didn't attack goldie - the only problem was one night she fitted & turned the gas cooker on, the glass smashed and I came downstairs to find one very frightened golden. Shortly afterwards we got the medication to the right level and she didn't fit again in ten years. I can't comment on other dogs' fitting - I guess they're all different. However you could always separate them for your own peace of mind. The Canine Epilepsy Support Group may be able to help you.

  2. We would advise against introducing another dog, you barely have control now and the extra stress may well make matters worse. You would need to separate both dogs when unsupervised since most dogs would attack another dog having a fit. Then there is the problem of actually finding a mild mannered companion for Taz and that would not be easy, please dont underestimate the potential for an attack during a fit.

    We have about 6 epileptic dogs here and would aim at 3 months between fits or better and we always separate whilst unsupervised.


  3. I have two Border Collies, one with Epilepsy, there's no problem with them being together when she's fitting, my other dog shows concern and usually gives her the space she needs, I've never had a problem with them being together, if your dogs are happy balanced dogs I don't see why one would attack the other just because it's fitting,