Saturday, February 20, 2010

Update on NIKKI

The last month as been a little tough for NIKKI. I have been reluctant to blog as I have been a little sad about what has been happening. NIKKI started to have seizures in January. I have been around for 3 of them but I don't know if she has been having more when I am not around. The seizures have lasted less than 5 minutes and she has tremors. Her eyes remain open but she seems dazed and cannot move. I have consulted with my vet all along and we finally made the decision after the third one to put her on a low dose of phenobarbital once per day. While phenobarbital is a common treatment for a fairly common problem in dogs, it is the side effects of this drug that could quite possibly impact NIKKI's ability to work. Two of the most common side effects are increase in appetite and increased lethargy. Additionally, her phenobarbital levels will need to be monitored to make sure it doesn't damage her liver. My vet decided to give her half of what he would normally give a dog her size. If she continues to have seizures he will add that additional dose. He said that typical dogs spend much of their day sleeping so that is why the larger dose is ok for them. For NIKKI she needs to be alert and ready to work several days per week. She has now been on the phenobarbital for a little over a week. It takes a week or two to build up in their system. It has definitely caused some of sleepiness and at times I think she has lost her balance. It is sort of like she makes a turn and her back end keeps going! The increased appetite was the one side effect that I most worried about. The vet indicated that some dogs become so hungry that they will steal food off the table! NIKKI is already highly food motivated and to increase this could have huge consequences when working with children! All I can imagine is her grabbing the fruit loops out of some unsuspecting child! But so far she still has her manners and will wait to be told to take the food. We have taken some precautions at home - such as blocking off the cat food - but this doesn't seem to be an issue right now. The vet did say it would take about 2 weeks for NIKKI to acclimate to the medicine and perhaps the side effects will lessen or disappear. I am hopeful that all will be well.

As far as the cause of the seizures...that is not known. We did try to link the seizures but only the first two seizure had a link and the last did not share anything with the first two. The first seizure occurred after facing a smart board in a classroom and the second after facing the computer at home. The third happened in a darken room with no computer. The only other change I have noticed in her over the last few months is a slight increase in separation anxiety. I had attributed this to us working together in our weekly obedience class and on her tricks. Now, in retrospect, I wonder if she has been having these seizures, they frighten her and she wants to be near me. I am just not sure. It is frustrating that finding the root cause is not really a goal. I would rather eliminate whatever is causing the problem than to medicate it!

On the flip side, NIKKI now has a connection to many of the students that she works with. My friend Amy says that NIKKI is a special dog working with some very special kids. Seizures are common in many of the kids I work with. Maybe there is a reason for NIKKI's seizures that has yet to be seen. As for me, this gives me a different understanding of the families and students I work with. Watching NIKKI have a seizure is heart wrenching. I can't imagine what it would be like to watch your child have a seizure.

But I must, must, must end this blog on a happier note! NIKKI did work this week. As you would suspect I am watching NIKKI very closely. I don't know if she is different or if I am watching so closely that I am seeing things that have always been there and I wasn't paying attention!! After the first seizure I switched NIKKI from Fruit Loops to Cheerios. After all, I justified in my mind, I wouldn't give my children all that sugar! (We use a lot of treats when in the classroom.) What I noticed this week was that she really was not excited to do her tricks. I would have to ask her to do something twice and she really wasn't listening to the kids. Of course I immediately attributed this to the seizure medication....but then I had an idea. I did have some apple flavored treats in my pocket. Once I brought these out - there was the old NIKKI! Ears perked up, eyes widened and she was right on with her tricks. I guess the Cheerios have no value to her and quite frankly I can't blame her! Without sugar, Cheerios taste like cardboard. Lesson learned...I must use high value treats with my food motivated dog! Yesterday I let the kids give her the cereal and I gave her a really smelly dog treat and she did great!

I am now optimistic that NIKKI will adjust to the medication and she will be able to continue to work. She really does make a difference with the students and I feel we were really just getting started! I will keep you posted..... : )