Last Friday night, as we were heading upstairs to go to bed, my golden retriever Indy stopped short on the landing. He would not continue up the stairs, he would not go back down. After standing there for a few minutes, he sat down and began to tremble. This often indicates that a seizure is imminent, but I couldn’t be sure – his seizures are sudden but not that sudden, and are usually preceded by a period of ataxia (i.e. the inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements, resulting in unsteady movement or staggering gait). So I sat down on the stairs beside him and tried to figure out what was going on.
Before I go any further, some background on Indy. He will be 14 years old on April 8, 2011 and has been experiencing focal seizures since the age of 5 as a result of being infected with Lyme disease. In July of 2009, at the age of 12, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (which manifested as an extremely high white blood cell count accompanied by enlarged mandibular and prescapular lymph nodes).
Fast forward to the other night… I couldn’t be sure if Indy was having a seizure or not. It had not been long since his last one, only a few weeks, but in recent months his seizure activity had increased from approximately every 3 months to once a month or so, which I assumed was tied to the progression of the cancer. But I couldn’t rule out some kind of pain he might have been experiencing – perhaps abdominal, as he was also passing a considerable amount of offensive gas as he stood on the landing, which was unusual for him. And when he finally lay down, he curled up into himself facing away from me, which was also unusual for the type of seizure activity he tended to experience. This is always the dilemma when treating animals – they can’t just tell you where it hurts and what it feels like, which are key pieces of information in the selection of homeopathic remedies.
As I sat beside him, rubbing his paw, the tears starting to flow, I wondered if Indy was ready to cross the bridge. It had been almost 20 months since his diagnosis, and I had not expected him to be here more than 4 or 5. Although he had been relatively symptom free in that time, in the last few months he had lost a significant amount of weight, and a fair bit of muscular mass, despite a hearty appetite. It has also been my experience that dogs treated with homeopathy can have good quality of life right up until the end, which can come very suddenly and may not require intervention. This is what went through my mind as I considered what remedy, if any, to give him.
Once I was sure he could not attempt to get up and fall down the steps, I went downstairs to get my vial of Belladonna 1M. Over the years, I had found that if I gave him a dose of Belladonna 1M as soon as a seizure was starting, the seizure was almost always less severe and would pass more quickly (see Key Takeaways below). I was not sure Indy was having a seizure – as a matter of fact, I doubted it. But the sudden onset fit the Belladonna symptom picture and I had nothing more to go on except the gas I mentioned previously. Had the gas been followed by collapse, gasping for air and blue mucuous membranes, I might have grabbed a vial of Carbo Veg 200c. But that was not the case, he was lying there very quietly.
Shortly after I administered the 3 pellets of the Belladonna, Indy fell asleep and I continued my vigil beside him on the staircase. I have to admit thinking that as difficult as it would be to lose him, I could only hope that the end, when it came, would be this peaceful. But this was not to be the end, not yet, as he awoke with a start. I fished in my pocket for the bedtime treat he usually receives when he gets to the top of the stairs and up he went.
When you don’t have enough symptoms to take a case, try the last remedy that was used successfully to treat whatever the dog had been experiencing. The last remedy I had given Indy was Belladonna 1M, to treat a focal seizure.
If a dog falls into a deep, restful sleep soon after a remedy is given, it is often a sign that the remedy is doing some good.
Belladonna is only one of many remedies that can be used to treat chronic focal seizures. In Indy’s case, Belladonna was an appropriate choice because:
He appeared to experience some sort of seizure aura in his front legs. He would often come over to me and lift up his front paw as if it felt funny. In the early days, I used to think he had hurt his paw, but then the ataxia would set in and I would realize a seizure was imminent.
He usually exhibited ataxia as the seizure began.
At full onset, his seizures were tonic (rigid tail and back legs) in nature.
When a seizure was over, the symptoms departed as quickly as they began, with no residual symptoms.
We can repertorize these four symptoms as follows:
Extremeties, convulsions, spasms epileptic aura upper limbs
Generals, convulsions spasms tonic
Generals, sudden manifestations coming and going
Based on these symptoms, the top three remedy choices are Belladonna, Sulphur and Calc Carb. Belladonna is sometimes considered the acute remedy for chronic cases that respond to Calc Carb. This is true in Indy’s case – I used Calc Carb to reduce the seizures to as few as once a year for several years. Calc Carb has also worked well to reduce the size of his lymph nodes subsequent to his diagnosis of cancer.