COPING WITH THE STRESS OF CANINE SEIZURES


HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOUR EPILEPTIC DOG

Learning how to cope with stress is one of the very best things you can do for your epileptic dog. If you are stressed out, your dog will sense this and become stressed out in turn. Stress can be a seizure trigger, as we all know. And, if you are stressed, you simply can not be there as effectively for your dog as you can be if you are not stressed. Taking care of yourself, therefore, is a very important part of what you need to do to take the best care possible of your dog. By doing this, you can create a relaxing environment for yourself, your dog, and your family.

THE STRESS OF CARING FOR AN EPILEPTIC DOG

First of all you should be congratulated for taking on the awesome responsibility of caring for an epileptic dog. It is not an easy task and it is not for everyone. You are extremely special to adjust your life for a helpless dog and you will be rewarded for it.

We love our dogs dearly and we give up a lot to care for them. Medications,
blood tests and vet visits are all very expensive. How about the worry of
paying for all these things? That is a big stress. The bond between a mom
and dad of an epileptic dog is the exact same bond occurs between parents and a sick child. We worry about getting their medications on time along with hundreds of other concerns for their well being. All someone has to do with a normal dog is put their food down, play with them, and let them run... maybe once a year take them to a vet. None of our friends or relatives are telling us to put a normal dog to sleep. That is another stress we have. Caring for an epileptic dog is like caring for a baby. The responsibility can be overwhelming and we need to look at that and cushion it where we can.

There was an article in the February 24th, 2003 issue of Newsweek that
talks about how living with fear affects the mind and damages the body. The
article is about the stress we are all under because of the uncertain weak
economy and the fear of war and terrorist attacks.

While reading the article I realized that every mom and dad of an epileptic dog is also living with fear...the fear of seizures. There is also the anxiety when
a seizure happens. In the article it says, "Even at low levels, anxiety
causes muscle tension: aches, pains and twitching eyes."

THE EFFECTS OF STRESS ON YOUR BODY

To quote from the article in Newsweek: "Acute fear is not the only kind that can hurt you. Constant, low-grade adrenaline baths may subtly damage the heart, raising the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease." --Who of us has not had an adrenaline rush with hands shaking when a seizure happens? "Continuous exposure to cortisone (cortisol?) (adrenaline) can dampen the immune system, leaving stressed people more vulnerable to infections and possibly even cancer. Stress hormones can harm the brain, too, severing connections among neurons."

Even when it doesn't wreck the heart or the brain, prolonged stress can have
countless subtler effects. "People are reporting headaches, insomnia, back
pain, neck pain and disorientation. Such complaints are common among worried people, and you don't have to be a hypochondriac to experience them. Stress almost always comes out in a bodily symptom," says Afton Hassett, an expert in psychosomatic illness. Even at low levels, she says, anxiety causes muscle tension, which leads in turn to aches, pains and twitching eyes.

"Coping with anxiety?" Newsweek asks. "Science shows that meditation, yoga
and even laughter can change bad habits in the brain."

We all should recognize that we are under a certain amount of stress with the fear of seizures and then anxiety when they happen. Who has not awakened in the middle of the night, panicked when you hear a thumping noise? And, how many times do you panic when you see your dog lying very still in a strange place he/she doesn't normally lie? How many times a day to you get an "adrenaline bath" when your dog simply "looks strange."

TIPS FOR STRESS REDUCTION

One of my Ph.D.'s is in physiology and endocrinology. I understand how the
body reacts to stress and the changes it makes to the metabolism. In my
private practice I work with clients on stress reduction and rebalancing
the metabolism. Maybe I can share with you some of the things that can
reduce your stress. We work so hard to reduce seizures, now how about reducing the stress that comes with caring for an epileptic dog?

DEEP BREATHING

First of all, BREATHE. This is the most important thing to reduce stress. So
many times you will find yourself not breathing or holding your breath.
Your lungs deliver needed oxygen to every cell and organ in your body.
Those organs need a constant source of oxygen. You know what happens
with bloat, when the stomach is cut off from oxygen: the cells die and so can
the dog. Similarly, if you hold your breath or breathe shallowly, you deprive every cell in every organ of vital oxygen.

So BREATHE. When you are under stress, frightened, anxious, or fearful,
breathe deeply for 5 breaths and then count your breaths to make sure you
take in deep breaths. Fill your lungs with oxygen so that all your vital
organs remain pink and healthy.

"Take a deep breath right now. Yes, I mean now. Take a deep breath; a slow, long, deep breath. Breathe all the way in as much as you can - big breath -and then let it all the way out. All the way out, every last little bit of air in your lungs."

"Take another breath. A big, long, deep one. All the way in. Feel the relaxation go all over your body. Doesn't that feel good? Slowly let the air all the way out and feel all the stagnant air going out of your lungs. Yes, stagnant. If you don't take deep breaths occasionally, the air in your lungs gets stale."

"OK, one more time. Take a deep, long, leisurely breath. Take all the air you can in your lungs, all the way in. Now gently blow it all the way out until there is no more air in your lungs."

"Once more now, a long, deep, big breath. Take all the air in you can in your lungs right up to the tip of your lungs in your shoulder. Now gently let it all out, all the way out."

Now, didn't that feel good??? You have just reduced the stress from reading the quotes from the Newsweek article. You may be a little light-headed but that is because your brain is full of oxygen....but you did great!!! I'm very proud of you.

LAUGHTER: AN EXCELLENT STRESS-BUSTER

Now that you have oxygen in your body, the next is laughter. Do everything
you can to amuse yourself so you laugh. The harder the better. Watch movies
that you know are funny and laugh as loud as you can. Watch your dog, he/she
will make you laugh. Find funny situations to laugh at and don't care what
anyone says, even if they look at you funny. Laugh at them for not seeing the
humor in something. Laugh at them for being so serious. Not everything in
life is earth-shattering. Find the funny things. Watch Animal Planet's
Funniest Video's. They will make you laugh for sure. I deliberately watch
them every night at 11 PM before I go to bed and I always laugh at the funny
actics of dogs.

TREAT YOURSELF TO SPECIAL THINGS

Now comes the treats. Every day you should have a treat. Just like a good
pup, you are a good mom or dad and you should have treats to reward you for
caring for a helpless epileptic dog. So you should do something nice for yourself EVERY day. Some kind of a special treat. It could be a bubble bath, a forbidden little piece of chocolate, a small dish of ice cream, an extra hour with your favorite book or what ever you consider a treat. These are your rewards and they are IMPORTANT.

TAKE A WALK

Walking is a great stress reducer especially if you have your dog with you.
Breathe the air, look at the flowers (in spring), look up at the sky and see
the birds. Walk leisurely so that you don't miss any of the beauty in
nature. Wave at people, say hi, be friendly. You will be amazed at how good
it feels when they smile back. Those that frown are doomed to a life of
frowns. Ignore them. They don't know how to enjoy life.

OTHER WAYS TO REDUCE STRESS

There are lots of stress reducers. There is yoga, there is meditation
(counting your breaths), there is watching a sunset, there is cuddling, a
glass of wine with dinner, there are phone calls to friends, a great sale, a
hug from one of your kids or friends, a hobby you enjoy, some exercise, read
a book. or even dance by yourself to your favorite music. That is great
fun.... There are a hundred ways to reduce stress. Each one of you knows what feels best to you. My belief is that it if feels good, do it, as long as it
is not harmful to yourself or others. Doing things that feel good puts
positive chemicals in your body that negate the "adrenaline bath" that
seizures cause, and which is harmful to you. This is important information to tuck away and remember.

COMMUNICATE WITH FAMILY, LOVED ONES, FRIENDS

I always want to be helpful. That is my nature. I have been a "rescue
worker" since I dragged my first stray pupper home when I was 3. Just
typing this out and sharing my experience and knowledge has made me feel
better. How about sharing with those you love what helps you reduce stress??? It will make you feel better. Communication is a great stress reducer.

REMEMBER TO BREATHE!

Oh, by the way, didn't deep breathing feel good? Well, to remind yourself
to breathe, why not put a post-it up on your computer or around the house
that says "BREATHE." It will be a good daily reminder and you will feel so
much better.

I hope this is helpful and has given you a tool to use to reduce the stress of dealing with seizures. You should be congratulated

Joanne, Lucy, "wild child" Zoe and Angels Asia, Pooh Bear and China
Founder - Epi Guardian Angels
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Joanne Carson, Ph.D.
Metabolic Therapist
Los Angeles, California