What is Epilepsy in Dogs?
Epilepsy is the most common neurological condition in dogs and is a disorder in which dogs have seizures, which is when a dog may collapse and flail uncontrollably, often instead of a one-off incidence. It’s believed that epilepsy affects about .75% of the canine population. There are three types of epilepsy:
- One is idiopathic epilepsy is inherited after there is no evidence of structural damage or cause in the brain. Because of this, it’s assumed that it’s genetic. Idiopathic epilepsy is most common in border collies, Australian shepherds, Labrador retrievers, beagles, Belgian Tervurens, collies, and German shepherds.
- Structural epilepsy is due to observable damage to the brain that can be brought on by a number of causes. Some causes of structural epilepsy include inflammatory disease of the brain, growth of an intracranial tumor, or after trauma to the head.
- The third type of epilepsy is where there is no known cause and no structural damage is seen but it’s assumed to exist.
Epilepsy itself is not a painful condition but it can be a sign of another disorder such as liver disease, kidney failure, brain tumors, brain trauma, or toxins.
How is Epilepsy in Dogs Diagnosed?
A visit to the veterinarian is required if you believe that your pet may have epilepsy as it’s a condition that should be managed by medication to prevent brain damage. To diagnose epilepsy, classification of the type of seizure is needed. The two seizure types are generalized and focal. At the onset, generalized seizures affect all sides of the brain and are marked by symptoms on both sides of the body. The majority of generalized seizures are characterized by bilateral spontaneous muscle movements or abrupt changes in muscle tone. A dog’s perception of their surroundings is usually diminished during a generalized seizure, and salivation, urination, and/or defecation can occur. Owners should keep a detailed diary or journal of their dog’s seizures including the date/time of day, the affected body parts, and how long they last. The vet will do a physical exam and blood work to try and determine the cause of the epilepsy.
Can You Predict a Seizure in Dogs?
The answer is, sometimes! Prior to a seizure, a dog goes through the pre-ictal phase (aura) which is characterized by a time of altered behavior in which the dog can hide, become anxious, or seek out the owner. They may be agitated, jittery, whining, crying, or salivating. This could last anywhere from a few seconds to several hours. This cycle occurs before the seizure happens as if the dog is anticipating something.
What Happens During a Seizure?
This is called the ictal phase which can last from seconds to minutes but the longer it goes on, the more at risk of brain damage and overheating increases. Seizures actually vary in intensity and can be as mild as minor changes in mental memory, such as a dazed appearance, slight trembling, aimless gazing, or licking lips, to total lack of consciousness and body control. A grand mal seizure is a full-blown seizure when the dog loses self-control, collapses, and shakes aggressively with paws flailing while the rest of their body seems to be paralyzed. During a grand mal seizure, your dog may urinate, defecate and salivate excessively. Status epilepticus is when the dog has had a seizure for five minutes or longer. Immediately call your vet if the seizure is lasting more than five minute (status epilepticus).
You can watch a video of an epileptic seizure in progress below.
What Should I Do During My Dog’s Seizure?
Don’t panic! Yes, your dog having a seizure is honestly a very scary experience, especially the first time. Try to time if possible but your dog’s safety should always come first. If your dog has collapsed in an unsafe spot where they could hurt themselves, gently slide them away. Don’t put your hands near their mouth as they could bite down and their mouth can stay shut.
The Seizure Is Done, Now What?
The period after a seizure is called post-ictal in which they are often confused, disoriented, and restless. They may even have temporary blindness but don’t worry as they will soon be back to their normal selves. They may often have to potty so lead them outside.
What Treatments Are Available for Epilepsy in Dogs?
Your veterinarian will be able to further assist you in prescribing epilepsy medications but the following are common most epilepsy medications:
The following are other anticonvulsant medications that are undergoing continuous research:
When a medication is being chosen, numerous factors need to be taken into consideration including the seizure type, cause of the seizures, risk of recurrence, and side effects of the medication. Once a dog is on anticonvulsants, they are on them for life anddoses cannot be skipped.