Seizures in Senior Dogs: Maia’s Story

In senior dogs, epilepsy is the least likely cause of seizures.

Brain tumors are common but not the sole cause of seizures in older dogs. Potential causes of seizures in senior dogs include:

  • tumors
  • inflammation
  • infection
  • secondary to insulinoma or liver failure
  • vascular issues
  • trauma

It can be any of those things though some of them should be easy to confirm or rule out.

Further information: Approach to New Onset Seizures in Senior Dogs and Cats

The essential thing is not to jump to conclusions. Thank you, Nicole, for sharing Maia’s story.

Seizures in Senior Dogs: Maia’s Seizures Missed Diagnosis

Maia’s story

My girl Maia was a lab/collie mix, but if you asked her, she’d tell you she was a goddess/queen mix, through and through. Ever since we brought her home as a rambunctious 4-month-old pup, she knew how to wrap everyone around her little dewclaw, including Tasha, her German Shepherd “sister.” Tasha was only about three months older than Maia.

They didn’t just grow up together, they were so close that we practically renamed them both “TashaMaia,” as you couldn’t refer to one without mentioning the other.  In fact, they practically even trained each other. Just when I was at my wit’s end trying to house train my German Shepherd, Maia came along and did it for me. True story! Maia took right to it, and Tasha wasn’t about to be shown up by her.

Throughout most of her life, Maia was an incredibly healthy and happy dog. She had a few issues here and there—a benign lump that we had removed when she was around 7, a few skin tags as a senior-but nothing catastrophic or terribly painful. In fact, even as a 14—year-old dog, she was still active and vivacious.

Everything changed when we lost Tasha

Then, we lost Tasha or rather, had to let her go. She developed significant hip problems, as Shepherds do, and letting her go the most loving thing we could do for her. We knew that Maia would be heartbroken, but we didn’t truly understand the level of grief dogs feel until the day we came home without her “sissy.”

At first, we thought Maia would be okay. She was eating, drinking, sleeping, and even playing with us. Every morning, though, Maia began her search for Tasha. She looked in every room, in the yard, in the rooms again. she would take a break, nap, play, then search. Until one morning, about two weeks later, she just stopped searching. I thought that was a good sign. Then, she had a seizure.

Something wasn’t right

At first, we didn’t realize she was having a seizure. We just thought she had something in her ear.

In the past, when any of my dogs had a bug in there, they’d kind of loll their head to the side and paw at it. That’s how she looked. As if her head was just tilted to the side a bit. Within minutes, though, I realized that something was amiss. She began panting, walking in circles, and acting totally out of sorts.

Fortunately, we live right down the street from an emergency vet clinic. Unfortunately, we learned a little too late that they don’t have the best reputation when it comes to making the right diagnosis, something that’ll be important later in the story.

Maybe stress, maybe a seizure

When we arrived at the vet, it took a good 45 minutes for them to see Maia. During that time, she walked into the glass window (thankfully, she didn’t get hurt from it) and started pacing in anxious circles, all the while lolling her head and looked dazed.

The vet examined Maia and essentially told us that she was fine. Maybe it was a small seizure, but it was probably just stress or panic attack. I get those, too, so it seemed rational enough. After all, I’m not a vet.  He said that since she had no history of epilepsy, it was unlikely to happen again. 

He gave us some pills to calm her down and told us to give her half of one if she ever seemed anxious again. Then he charged us a small fortune and sent us on our way. Since Maia started acting normal again, I assumed he was right. Just stress, just some random strange thing that past and would never return. Everything would be fine. 

Everything was fine…for a couple of months

I’d like to say that this story has a happy ending. If you stop reading here, it does. Unlike me, you can imagine Maia as a happy, healthy, beautiful little Diva.

Seizures in Senior Dogs: Maia’s Seizures Missed Diagnosis

For the next couple of months, I watched Maia like a hawk. Thankfully, I work from home and my mother lives with me, so I never had to leave Maia alone.  She seemed okay. Healthy, happy. Like her normal self. Old and a little achy, yes, but not in pain. We doted on her. Realistically, we knew that our days with her were numbered. We didn’t know how numbered.

On July 4th of that year, just four months later, Maia had another seizure, and this time there was no mistaking it for something else.

My son – 11 at the time- found her and screamed, “Something is wrong with Maia!”  Still, we gave her the meds. We frantically called around to find an open vet (a different one, because the nearby one was closed for the holiday). We even got our neighbor to drive us to one because I was shaking too much to drive.

Unfortunately, Maia was braindead before we even arrived. The vet told us she was likely gone before she even hit the ground. She went to be with her sissy, a single unit once again in the doggy afterlife.

Questions remain

Did Maia die because I didn’t trust my instincts and push for more tests? Because I didn’t research seizures in senior dogs well enough? Was this something we could have treated? Did she just give up after she lost her best friend? Unfortunately, I’ll never know. Losing Maia did teach me to trust my instincts better and stand up for my dogs.

About the Author: Nicole is a writer and editor at AlphaTrainedDog, a site dedicated to helping both new and seasoned dog parents lead the very best lives possible with their canine companions. She’s currently a pet parent to a Pharaoh Hound dog and three cats.

Related articles:
Seizures or Convulsions in Dogs: What Can Seizures Look Like and What Can Cause Them?
Really Angry Vet on Seizures: Winston’s First Seizure

Categories: ConditionsDog health advocacyReal-life StoriesSeizures

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like Maia had a wonderful life with you. I’ve had my share of second guessing myself and it is incredibly painful

  2. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t read past the few couple of paragraphs. It hit just too close to home. My beloved Shep went into severe seizures on his last two days. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the fact I didn’t see soon enough that he was ill and that I could have ended his pain earlier.

  3. Marjorie Dawson

    Knowing what we could do looking back is painful and thinking we could do better is the worst.

    I know that the brain is an astonishing and delicate thing that never ceases to amazing us in the human and animal world. Animals can be resilient and then surprise is with their frailty THEN you find out if your vet is not up to the job and that is hard to deal with.

    I had experience with this and one of our cats,. Vet leading us on, racking up a bill then a second opinion gently told us the truth – no hope. (The first vet immediately lost all of our custom). You can’t beat yourself up about what did and didn’t happen. You are human, you do your best – it is all we can do. Like you I have learned to trust my gut and no vet in the world tells me what to do without me knowing exactly WHY.

  4. Nice Informative Post. It is so hard when you loose a dog, and it makes it harder when the other dogs in the house don’t understand. Our Dog Bastian started having his periodic seizures after he was 3 years old. He usually has one when he is too excited or scared, or stressed. They usually last 5-7 minutes, so we just talk quietly to him, turn down the lights, and hope that he will make it through each time. He is now 14 years old and hasn’t had one in at least one year. (From Ava Jaine – Dachshund Station)

  5. I’m so, so sorry about Maia! I hate that feeling of questioning after a pet passes, of not knowing if you handled everything 100% correctly or if there was something you should have done differently. I think that’s something a lot of us have experienced at one time or another, although that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. It’s harder with pets since they can’t tell us what’s wrong or what their wishes are. I’m sure Maia had a great life, though, and I do think that’s always what matters most.

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