What is Canine Epilepsy?
Like humans, epilepsy in dogs is a brain disorder that causes the pet to have sudden fits. Fits can be brought on by head trauma and brain tumours.
However, there is often no known cause for the condition. In this case, it is called idiopathic epilepsy, which can be linked to genetics.
Between 0.5-5-7% of dogs suffer from epilepsy. Common breeds of dogs that suffer from epilepsy include Beagles, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Border Collies, Boxer Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, Keeshonds, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles etc.
Types of Epilepsy/Seizures in Dogs.
There are TEN known types of seizures in dogs such as:
- Generalized Seizures
- Status epilepticus
- Petit mal
What Triggers a Canine Seizure?
Many known and unknown triggers can lead to a dog suffering a seizure; however, the most common are:
- Liver disease
- Ingested poisons such as chocolate, garlic, caffeine, salt, artificial sweetener, alcohol, rubbing alcohol, bread dough (raw bread), varnishes, paints, windshield washer fluids, adhesives, antifreeze, Zink, Lead, bee stings, illicit drugs, prescription medicines, pesticides, plants, etc.
Most dog owners will inform you about specific triggers that can lead to their pet suffering a seizure. With that said, when photographing an epileptic dog in a studio setting or at home, special care should be taken on your part, too, such as:
- Always remain calm and positive because dogs can sense when humans are anxious or stressed. For example, if you’ve had a bad day that’s raised your stress levels, try to de-stress and remain calm. If this isn’t possible, contact the pet owner and try to arrange another date for the shoot should you feel it may interfere with your subject’s health condition. At the end of the day, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Try to avoid the shoot interfering with your subject’s daily routines because a change in routine is a known trigger. For example, if your subject has to take medication or eat at a certain time, try to work around this rather than disrupting it.
- Make your studio or working area a safe haven because fits can happen anytime, with or without warning. For example, remove any clutter, furniture, wires, lights, etc. Therefore, should a fit strike, your subject can ride it without harming themselves on nearby objects.
- Avoid rewarding your subject with treats unless the owner has told you it’s okay. While many known foods can trigger a fit, there are also unknown food triggers we must learn about.
- Don’t overstimulate your subject. Seizures can occur when the brain of an epileptic dog is overstimulated with playtime, noises, excitement, etc.
- Avoid fans, flashing lights, strobe lights, LED and overhead bright lighting.
- Take regular breaks to avoid overstimulating, stressing or overheating an epileptic dog.
- Pick a nice day if you’re shooting outside, such as a day that’s not too warm or cold. While little evidence suggests weather or barometric pressure can trigger a canine seizure, sudden weather changes are considered potential triggers.
- Try to avoid loud noises or environments where there is a lot of noise. Some dogs that suffer from Reflex Epilepsy are more prone to noise-induced epileptic fits than others.
- Turn the studio thermostat down or up notch before photographing an epileptic dog; excessive heat and cold are known triggers.
- Mid-day shoots are advised. Epileptic dogs are more prone to seizures during the morning when they wake up, early hours or late at night. While this may interfere with your working hours, it’s best to be safe than sorry. My mother’s dog suffered from Idiopathic Epilepsy, and his seizures commonly occurred in the evenings or early mornings.
How to Photograph an Epileptic Dog.
My best advice is to avoid being a “professional photographer” and shoot away from a distance.
Dogs that suffer from epilepsy must remain calm and stress-free; in addition, avoid over-exciting an epileptic dog during the shoot.
Leave out all the backdrops, lights and setups. With that said, if the dog feels comfortable sitting on, next to or in front of a set with or without their owner, then snap away by all means. Make a den in the studio before the shoot because dogs often shy away when entering unfamiliar places.
Don’t be tempted to stage the dog, force them into a position or repeatedly ask them to move from one place to another because this can lead to anxiety, a known trigger.
Disable your camera flash and artificial lights, any audio the camera emits, and the small red flashy light at the front of the camera.
Ask the owner to play with their furry friend. Cuddles and kisses also go a long way and make for excellent snaps.
Take as many snaps as possible because you never know when a seizure may occur or how long the owner has left with their furry friend.
Don’t lure over an epileptic dog because it could induce fear, a known trigger. Also, please don’t speak with a low and daunting voice. Raise your tone a little because this comes across as friendly rather than intimidating?
As mentioned, keep your distance and let the pet owner and their furry friend be themselves. Take snaps of them playing, walking, cuddling, etc.; don’t shout commands, and always get down to their level.
You will encounter an epileptic dog that doesn’t want to have their photo taken or engage with you or even the owner. This is often a sign of anxiety; therefore, wait until the dog feels comfortable with you and the owner or rearrange another time. However, don’t raise their anxiety levels because it could lead to a seizure.
You will likely witness one of your furry subjects suffering from a seizure, which is highly distressing for all parties involved, not just the dog.
If your subject does begin fitting, turn your camera off; please do not take any snaps or video footage, and make the area around your subject safe; for example, remove any chairs, tables, backdrops, or lights.
Give the owner space and help them if you’re asked to. Have towels, cold water, and pet-friendly cleaning products ready because epileptic dogs often lose control of their bladder and bowels during a seizure.
It’s also handy to have some surgery cold sweet treats to hand. During a seizure, a dog’s sugar levels can drop considerably. A little all-natural vanilla ice cream, honey, or maple syrup will help raise their sugar levels back up.
Seizures that last more than 2-3 minutes can also lead to the dog overheating; therefore, having cold water, wet towels or tissues ready is also helpful for the owner and dog.
Cold compresses to the neck, groin, paws and head will help reduce your furry friend’s temperature, thus improving recovery.
Most of the time, the pet owner will already know what to do; therefore, try not to panic and offer assistance when asked.
Furthermore, be prepared for the worst because sometimes an epileptic dog cannot ride out their seizure, resulting in death, even with veterinary assistance and medication.
Try to comfort the pet owner, and call a friend or member of the family who will take over.
Special care must be taken when photographing an epileptic dog because anything could trigger a seizure.
A thorough risk assessment must be undertaken before the shoot, whether in the studio, at home or outside, to mitigate any triggers.
Studios must be clutter-free to avoid any injuries to the dog should a seizure occur.
Please take notes about known triggers, such as flickering or flashing lights, noises, smells, etc.
It’s also handy to have emergency phone numbers written down in the event the pet owner needs you to call an emergency veterinarian, friend or family member.
In addition, keep the shoot as low-key and natural as possible to reduce your furry friend’s anxiety and stress.
Thank you for reading.
British Veterinary Association, RSPCA, PDSA, Alder Veterinary Practice, Royal Veterinary College.
J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer
My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscapes, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.