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Epilepsy in Dogs – Understanding and Dealing with Seizures

Picture of a dog with brown ears

Can dogs suffer from epilepsy? The answer to this question is a short one: Yes. And if you didn’t know, it is a rather common long-term neurological disorder that can affect our canine friends, with up to 1% of dogs in the world suffering from it.

Did you know that there are dogs prone to epilepsy and that some breeds are more likely to experience it in one form or the other? It also has a hereditary basis, which means that it is more common for some dogs to experience it if it was present in their genetic line.

Let’s look at some facts about epilepsy in dogs, its clinical signs, whether there is any dog epilepsy medication that actually works, and other such aspects.

Epilepsy in dogs – Symptoms

It can be very challenging for a veterinarian to conclude that your dog is suffering from epilepsy if you aren’t able to describe the seizures that your canine friend suffered in as much detail as possible. Usually, your vet will suspect that your Fido has this medical problem if there were at least two epileptic seizures that happened unprovoked and that were more than 24 hours apart.

As weird as it might seem (to a pet parent who’s trying to protect their dog during a seizure), the truth is that a video of the event is a lot better and can make your vet draw the correct conclusions, at least in this case. Epileptic seizures are usually characterized by loss of voluntary control, irregular attacks that begin and finish abruptly, and attacks that seem to have a repetitive clinical pattern (and that might be caused by the same triggers, in some situations).

Different types of seizures

Not all seizures are the same, both in terms of how they can affect your dog and in terms of what happens in his or her brain. Seizures can also differ in relation to how long they last, whether there are convulsions involved, and even depending on their severity, since some dogs can be injured during such an event.

Focal seizures

Focal seizures affect just one part of the brain, and that’s why they can consist of head shaking, muscle contractions in one body region, facial twitches, or head shaking. Some focal seizures are characterized by autonomic signs (such as excessive salivation and dilated pupils, for example), and naturally, these are quite alarming to pet parents.

Additionally, some focal seizures manifest through behavioral signs such as anxiety, an unexplainable fear, restlessness, and a need for attention. These happen only occasionally.

Generalized seizures

Generalized seizures involve both parts of the brain, and that’s why their clinical manifestations are a lot more impressive. In many cases, the dog eventually loses consciousness, no matter if the seizure begins at a lower intensity. Muscle contractions happen all over the dog’s body and can last for seconds to minutes.

Seizures can be tonic, clonic, tonic-clonic, and myoclonic. Tonic seizures involve a muscle stiffness for a period of time while clonic ones are characterized by involuntary muscle contractions (jerking). Tonic-clonic seizures are what happens when there’s a a sequence of the two (tonic and clonic) and there’s a very short phase that separates them; a dog suffering from a myoclonic seizure will show sporadic jerks on both sides of his or her body.

Focal seizures can turn into generalized seizures

Because seizures are caused by an electrical impulse in the brain, they can often change their clinical manifestation as they affect the dog. While a focal seizure is usually short and typically lasts for several seconds or, in some cases, for several minutes, generalized seizures can last longer.

However, one can lead to the other, and by this we mean that a focal seizure can be quickly followed by a generalized one. Your vet has to be aware of this, so if you notice that your dog seems to have been affected by a seizure, it seems to have stopped, and then another, more severe began afterward, make sure to avoid forgetting this detail.

Causes of epilepsy

As we have noted in the beginning, sometimes the genetic cause is the most probable one. Epilepsy is considered a structural or idiopathic disease, which means either that the cause can only be identified in the brain, or that there is no underlying cause to be identified other than the genetic predisposition.

However, idiopathic epilepsy is more prevalent in young to middle-aged dogs (6 months to 6 years). It is usually the result of a genetic predisposition and one or several environmental factors that trigger the first seizure.

Structural epilepsy has an actual cause and it pertains to the brain. Therefore, dogs that have brain inflammation, bleeding, that have gone through trauma, that have a brain tumor or a degenerative disease, are likely to develop epilepsy or show it as a manifestation of their illness. Even metabolic disorders of the brain can cause a modification in its structure – and Lafora’s disease is just an example.

On top of everything, any dog can have a reactive seizure if he or she was poisoned. However, in such cases, if the cause is eliminated and the dog receives treatment, the behavior is rectified and the seizures do not reoccur.

Dogs and epilepsy – Treatment options

The hard truth is that most epilepsy cases can’t be cured. What this means is that, for example, idiopathic epilepsy in dogs can be kept under control with the help of antiepileptic drugs, but the treatment doesn’t guarantee that the dog will never have seizure again. On top of everything, most AED therapies are continued for the remainder of the dog’s life, so that means that you will have to make sure to give him or her the pills forever, and also bring him to the vet for regular check-ups with the purpose of assessing whether the treatment works.

The dog epilepsy medication must be chosen judiciously so that it does not affect the animal’s internal organs. Many drugs can have a negative impact on the liver and kidneys to such an extent that they could eventually cause kidney or liver failure.

If your dog was prescribed one drug and you’ve received reassurances from your vet that it’s safe, you should always give your pet the medication at the same time every day, continue the treatment without stopping until you speak to your vet, and always give your dog the right dosage. You might try homeopathic treatment for epilepsy in dogs, too, but keep in mind that if your dog has just had a first seizure, it’s better to stick to the vet’s recommendations.

Some of the natural options you have available are Belladonna, Aconitum, Ignatia, or Silicea Silicea.

What to do if your dog has a seizure

Here are some pieces of advice you should consider just to make sure you know what to do.

  1. Remain as calm as you can.
  2. Don’t touch your pet’s head or put your hands in his/her mouth. You can either cause choking by accident (your dog could swallow his/her tongue) or you can hurt yourself — remember, your dog doesn’t have the ability to control himself in these moments. Even if your dog has never bitten anyone (especially you) before, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen now.
  3. If you can, time the seizure and memorize as much of it as possible – your dog’s body position, whether there were any contractions, whether you noticed any foaming at the mouth, if a short seizure was followed by another, and other such details. You will need to describe it in great detail once you take your dog to the vet.

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