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Seizures...brain tumor?

Species: Dog
Breed: Australian Shepherd
Age: 11-15 years
Hello Dr. Marie, I have an interesting scenario for you.

Our Aussie is 13 and as half years old. She is very sweet kind and gentle. In October of last year she started suddenly flailing around loss of rear legs and eyes darting side to side. This lasted for 45 minutes we were able to calm her down and she layed nervously panting. Contacted vet told to give motion sickness meds for possible vestibular disease. After an hour or two it was like nothing had happened.

Exactly one week later same episode. Exactly two weeks later same episode. After vet doing some digging around, blood work urine etc. She felt as though possible brain tumor. Because of her age we did not want to do ct or mri (anesthesia) and cost. So result was high dose of pred initially, then maintenance dose which is now 5mg every other day, she's 40lbs.

So from Oct till yesterday no issue. Last night she had an episode that lasted approx 3hrs with eyes darting and panting, my wife gave her 2 mg of valium rectally 1/2 hr in to calm her down, then afterwards she was a little slow but today normal.

My question is what are your thoughts on diagnosis and whats is your opinion on where we go from here.

Zoey is slowing down obviously at her age, but still gets spunky around the yard and seems like a normal happy aging dog until these episodes hit. It scares us to think she may be suffering and we worry it may happen when we are not home.

I know if its a tumor things would worsen but I was hoping we could manage it.

Please advise and thanks for any input ~ Tom

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Situations like this are difficult because coming to a diagnosis may not be possible.

Initially, the symptoms do sound like vestibular disease which is very common in older dogs. However, vestibular disease is a one time event. It doesn't keep happening, even months later.

Most likely what you are describing is some type of seizure. If a dog starts to have seizures when they are older then the most common cause is some type of a brain tumor. The problem is that the only way to diagnose that is with an MRI or CT scan and not only is this expensive, but there is no guarantee that it is going to give us a diagnosis.

At this point, what most of my clients with cases like this do is just take things day by day. You may find that Zoey goes months in between seizures. Or, you may find that they happen much more frequently. If so, you can ask your vet if an anti-seizure medication like phenobarbital is a good idea. This obviously won't cure a brain tumor but it can make seizure episodes happen less frequently.

The good thing to know is that seizures do not cause a dog pain. She probably feels a little bit confused before and after the seizuring but she is not likely to be painful.

Your vet will help you in making decisions about euthanasia if the seizures get worse. If you find that they are happening closer and closer together and it is very upsetting to the whole family then it may be time. Or, if the episodes are lasting longer and longer then this can be a sign that things are not going well.

Hopefully it will be a while before she has another episode. I have also seen dogs that have one or two seizures and then never have another. That would be a great thing if that happened!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

During the episode she is coherent, her eyes are side to side but she is trying to see you as we try to talk to her to calm her. It's very odd, then hours later as if nothing ever happened. What do you think about uping the prednisone dosage in case there may be some swelling or enlargement of the tumor?

It does not seem to be a full on seizure, more like she's having a panic attack because her rear legs are out and the eyes. If you stop consoling her she tries to stand but cannot. Once the eyes stop typwritering she is able to walk. ???? My thoughts are to up her dose by 2 mg and see how it goes. Thanks again ~ Tom

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Seizures can have many different forms. They don't always have to be full out convulsions. The thing you are describing with her eyes is called nystagmus and this means that something is affecting a particular part of her brain. It could be that a seizure is affecting this part of the brain, but it could be a stroke. However, we don't see a lot of strokes in dogs.

As far as the prednisone dosage goes, this is something you will need to discuss with your vet as I can't legally discuss medication dosages online.

Customer reply:

OK sounds good, thank you.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.