I post this story about our dog’s gulping seizures in hopes that it will help someone with a dog grappling with a similar health issue. This is the story of how the anti-seizure medicine Zonisamide unexpectedly changed our lives!
When I adopted Hines from the Humane Society in Rochester on the day after Christmas in 2011, it seemed like the perfect time to adopt a dog. I had just started my job at Colgate, and I was looking at living all on my lonesome in an enormous house (seriously, three floors, five bedrooms, and four bathrooms all for only me!) for the next six months at a minimum.
I took my buddy Billy and my father with me to meet a few dogs, and they helped me select Hines (then “Cupid”) from the crowd. He was friendly, active, around five years old, and as we soon learned he was very good in the car.
The first few weeks were somewhat like what I expected: vet visit, he sucked on a leash, we played fetch, he had some stomach issues as he adjusted to his new state of being… in short, I had adopted a dog. It was actually quite a struggle as a single person trying to be solely responsible for another living thing for the first time ever.
And then the gulping began, and I really learned what it meant to struggle. It was the middle of the night and Hines was in his crate in my bedroom. We were both sound asleep, when out of the blue Hines started gulping. He would stick his tongue out and swallow. Again. And again. And again.
At first, it was a little bit funny. It almost looked like he had a bad taste in his mouth. Then it was infuriating. Loud, wet gulping noises were not conducive to sleep in the middle of the night. But no matter how angry I got, he would not stop. I finally gave up, and slept on the couch.
I quickly learned that these bouts of gulping were uncontrollable and had some very serious consequences. And over the next few months, they would get steadily worse.
Every gulping episode would cause Hines to bloat, which would make him nauseous. This would make him devour almost anything he thought would settle his stomach: shoelaces, blankets, rugs. When he was able to devour such things, it prolonged the agony as his body tried to vomit up or pass all kinds of materials a dog simply was not meant to consume.
Hines would have a bout of gulping like this — lasting up to 48 hours — roughly every two weeks. It was exhausting.
I held his head up seemingly for days on end to keep him from eating things. We made innumerable visits to the vet, including a late-night emergency room trip. They prescribed nausea medicine. We bought prescription dog food for sensitive stomachs that smelled horrible, and that Hines only ever ate reluctantly. Hines lost weight, and I lost thousands of dollars. The best I could really do for him was put him in his crate without any bed or blanket (or he’d eat it), until the gulping subsided.
But thank goodness for the Internet. After a year of diagnosing and researching gastrointestinal symptoms, my (to-be) mother-in-law found video of another dog doing something similar. And from the comments and some additional digging that included posting to Youtube, Facebook, Reddit, and more, we learned that Hines was likely having “complex partial seizures” (sometimes referred to as “fly-biting,” as one manifestation makes dogs look like they are snapping at flies). Essentially, the muscles controlling swallowing would fire repeatedly, and all the gastrointestinal stuff that resulted was simply a byproduct.
The drug Zonisamide changed Hines’s life. Hines now takes this anti-seizure medication twice a day, and instead of dealing with seizures every two weeks, we work through shorter, less-intense bouts twice per year.
And let me tell you, life is so much better with a healthy companion than it was with a dog who was… well… sicker than a dog!