Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes frequent seizures. Seizures are caused by brain cells causing an electrical storm in the brain. Excitatory or inhibitory communication in the brain can cause a seizure to occur. These seizures are uncontrollable and can happen suddenly without warning. The dog may or may not lose consciousness. Epilepsy is often caused by genetics and heredity, while some cases have no known cause.
Epilepsy is more common in dogs than in other animals. It is estimated that 4% of dogs may have epilepsy, but since it runs in families, up to 14% of a dog’s family may be afflicted with the disease.
The seizures caused by canine epilepsy have no set pattern. They can happen at any time. Some dogs have regular seizures, while others only have them when certain events occur, such as an increase in stress or weather change. Seizures mainly occur while the dog is resting or sleeping.
Seizures are the most common sign of epilepsy. There are also symptoms that may occur before the seizure strikes. Some dogs may become frightened and hide. Others may want attention. When the seizure starts, the dog will fall over, stiffen and chomp its jaw. The dog may drool and make paddling motions with its limbs. It is also common for dogs to urinate or defecate during a seizure. Seizures are fairly short-lived, lasting up to 90 seconds.
After the seizure, the dog will appear disoriented. He may wander aimlessly and have an increased hunger and thirst. It may take up to 24 hours for a dog to fully recuperate from a seizure.
Because epilepsy is often genetic, there is not a lot a dog owner can do to prevent seizures form occurring. However, salty treats can sometimes cause seizures, so avoid feeding them to your dog. When your dog is on anti-seizure medications, do not change the dose or frequency without consulting your vet, as changes in medication can make seizures occur more frequently.
Your dog’s age and seizure pattern are important factors that the veterinarian will need to know in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Genetic epilepsy often starts anywhere from six months to five years of age. Epilepsy that occurs outside that age range may be metabolic or idiopathic in nature.
Your veterinarian will order a variety of tests to rule out any other diseases. The vet will perform a physical exam, neurological exam, complete blood count, urine analysis, bile acids assay and thyroid function test. If the test results do not indicate anything, then other tests may be performed. These may include an MRI, brain scan, toxin tests, antibody titers, spinal tap and electroencephalogram (EEG).
Epilepsy is often a life-long disease. Since it cannot be cured, medications are used to prevent seizures and symptoms associated with them. Anti-epileptic and anti-convulsant drugs, such as sodium bromide, phenobarbital and diazepam, are prescribed to control the seizures. These drugs may be used separately or in combinations. Special diets and surgery are currently being looked at as possible future treatment options.
Depending on the type of medication your dog is taking, his blood levels may need to be checked often. It is important to have your dog avoid swimming if he is epileptic, as a seizure in the water can cause drowning. Some drugs can cause weight gain, so monitor your dog’s weight closely.
It is important to see your vet every year for a follow-up. If seizures start to occur more frequently, see your vet right away. Ask your vet if there are any dietary or exercise limitations that you need to be aware of in your dog.
The Canine Epilepsy Network has a lot of great information for dog owners who want to learn more about the research and studies done to determine genetic factors that increase the risk of contracting this disease.