Canine Epilepsy: Seizure Disorder in Dogs

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Dogs can have seizures for many reasons, for example; epilepsy, hypoglycemia, trauma, nutritional reasons, infections, toxins, and blood disorders, among others. The list could go on forever, but one of the most common causes for seizures in dogs is idiopathic epilepsy. Epilepsy is a nonprogressive brain disorder that induces recurring seizures, idiopathic means no one knows the exact cause for the disorder. The disorder is usually diagnosed by eliminating other reasons for the seizures.

  • Breeds most affected: Idiopathic epilepsy is most often diagnosed in the: German Shepherd Dog, Miniature and Toy Poodle, Saint Bernard, Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Irish Setter, Golden Retriever, Dachshund, Boxer, and Labrador Retriever. This seizure disorder can also affect mixed breed dogs as well as breeds not included in the list above.
  • Epilepsy Symptoms: This seizure disorder generally affects dogs between the ages of one to three years of age. Prior to having a seizure some dogs act “needy” while others want to hide, sometimes they are described as acting abnormal. Many times dogs are very vocal prior to having seizures.
  • Description of seizure in dog: Seizure episodes will vary with severity. Many times they can be described as “uncontrolled movements.” In some cases the dog falls over and the limbs will paddle or swim (please don’t confuse this with dreaming, which is completely normal). The dog will at times lose consciousness and there will be a loss of bladder and bowels. Foaming at the mouth or hyper-salivating can also be noted. The seizure will typically last 1 – 2 minutes but can be shorter or longer.
  • What should I do during the seizure? – Seizures look scary but the best thing you can do is stand by and time the seizure. Make sure the dog can’t hurt itself by falling down the stairs or off a high object. If you need to, move the pet carefully so not to get bit, use a towel or blanket to cover the head. Dogs cannot swallow their tongues so don’t try to stick anything in the mouth. Seizures can be stimulated or prolonged by loud noises and bright lights so it might be helpful to turn off most lights and the television and/or radio until the dog fully recovers.
  • Post seizure activity: The period right after a seizure is called the postictal period. The dog can be disoriented, confused, unresponsive, aggressive, restless, and sometimes blind. This period can last several seconds, minutes, or in severe cases, days. Many people want to hurry to comfort their dogs but it is important to remember following a seizure, that while in a confused state, a dog may bite its owner.
  • When do I call my veterinarian? If your dog has never had a seizure then call your veterinarian the same day and alert him/her to the seizure. Seizures are generally not dangerous singly. Veterinarians start to worry when a seizure lasts 5 minutes or longer or when seizures happen in clusters (multiple seizures over a 24 hour period of time). If a dog is having multiple seizures a day or if the seizures last 5 minutes or longer the dog needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Status epilepticus is a condition where a dog will have continual seizures over a prolonged period of time, 5 – 10 minutes,, this is an emergency that if untreated can lead to coma, brain damage, and death.
  • Veterinary Visit: If the dog is seizing the doctor will want to set an IV catheter so anti-seizure drugs like diazepam (valium) and/or pentobarbital can easily be given directly into the vein. If needed diazepam can also be given rectally. If the pet is not seizing an exam will be done and blood pulled so a complete blood work up can be done. The veterinarian will want to rule out hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hypocalcemia (low blood calcium), infection, and toxins. The veterinarian may also recommend other tests like x-rays, MRI, and/or a CT scan. If the pet is still in the postictal phase a neurological exam may not show the dogs true neurological state so the veterinarian may ask to see the dog when it is back to his oldself.
  • Treatment: If idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed then treatment consists of controlling seizures. This is done primarily with oral medications like phenobarbital. Sometimes potassium bromide is added to help control the seizure activity.

Additional Information:

  • This disorder is not curable but the dog can lead a quality life once the seizures are controlled.
  • While on anti-seizure medications dogs will continue to have occasional seizures, talk to your veterinarian about the frequency of the seizures. Medications may need to be adjusted to keep the seizures under control.
  • Usually medications are needed for the life of the dog, doses should not be missed and medications should not be stopped without first talking to your veterinarian.
  • Blood work will need to be done once or twice a year to check the concentration level of the anti-seizure drug in the dog’s blood. The dose of the drug will be adjusted accordingly.
  • Follow your veterinarians recommendations regarding blood work and medications.
  • Epilepsy is rarely seen in cats. Causes of cat seizures include, but are not limited too; toxins, infections, hypoglycemia, hypertension, and trauma.

Canine Epilepsy: Seizure Disorder in Dogs

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