Epilepsy in Dogs

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Canine Epilepsy

Causes, Stages and Treatments

Epilepsy in Dogs
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Epilepsy is a brain disorder, in which the dog suffers from recurring seizures over a period of time. These are caused by an imbalance of the chemicals that transmit the electrical impulses in the brain. Grand mal seizures, which are most commonly associated with epilepsy, are characterized by loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

What Causes Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can be idiopathic, which means it comes from an unknown cause, or it can be acquired. The idiopathic epilepsy represents about 5 percent of dogs, which accounts for 80 percent of recurring seizures. The acquired epilepsy has an identifiable cause, which is usually a head injury. The mass of scar tissue or lesions on the brain can be identified by performing different tests, such as skull X-Rays, EEGs (Electroencephalograms), CT (Computed Tomography) scans or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

True epilepsy involves the seizures to be recurrent and similar. They usually become more frequent with age. The seizures start between six months of age to five years old. For certain breeds, inheritance of epilepsy has been proven.

This is the case with breeds like the Beagle, Dachshund, Keeshond and Belgian Tervurens. Other breeds that are most commonly associated with suspected inheritance are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, Miniature Schnauzers and Akitas to name a few.

Stages of an Epileptic Seizure

Aura

A typical epileptic seizure consists of three stages. The first stage is called an Aura. This is when the dog becomes restless and anxious, and may demand affection or seek seclusion.

Ictus

It is followed by an actual seizure (the Ictus phase), which lasts less than two minutes. The dog loses consciousness, may stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds and has rigidly extended legs. It’s followed by rhythmic jerking of the legs (known as “paddling”), chomping, chewing, defecating and urinating.

Post-Ictal

In the post-seizure (known as Post-Ictal) stage, the dog will regain consciousness, act confused and become disoriented. He will exhibit poor coordination and balance, including possibly stumbling into walls or appearing blind. Less common behavior can include frenzied barking, licking or nibbling himself, staring into space, or snapping at invisible objects. This stage can last from a couple of minutes to an hour. All of these stages may not be observed by the owner, especially if the animal is resting or sleeping.

Status Epilepticus Seizures

Status epilepticus seizures, or cluster seizures, are multiple seizures lasting more than five minutes without the dog regaining consciousness. This is an emergency. If you can, call the hospital you’re heading to and advise them you’re on your way to their facility with a dog that is having seizures that won’t stop.

The veterinary assistant will remind you to safely handle the dog so you don’t get injured. For precaution, you should use a comforter or towel to wrap and pick up your dog. Your dog is having involuntary muscle contractions and may bite unknowingly. The veterinarian will need to administer intravenous (in the vein) anti-convulsion medication to stop the seizure and prevent brain damage or death. This is urgent and time sensitive.

What to Do

During your dog’s seizure, make sure he’s safe. Make sure he’s not able to injure himself by doing something like falling in the pool or tumbling down the stairs.

Also, note the length of the seizure and inform your veterinarian. You will be asked to describe the seizure to the veterinarian, veterinary technician or the veterinary assistant. Since the veterinarian’s treatment is going to be based on your information, a log should be kept. Note the date, frequency, duration and the behavior before, during and after the seizure.

What Not to Do

Try not to disturb your dog during the seizure, as it may trigger further seizures and you could put yourself at risk of being injured.  Never open the dog’s mouth to pull out the tongue and don’t put any objects in his mouth no matter what you may have heard.

Epilepsy Treatment

Since epilepsy is not curable, the goal of treatment is to minimize the frequency and severity of seizures. There are different types of medication used to treat this condition. However, anti-seizure medications are not 100 percent effective. A combination of multiple drugs may be used.

The rule of thumb for the veterinarian to start your dog on medication to manage seizures is if your dog is having two or more seizures per month. If this is the case and your dog is put on medication, the goal is to reduce that number to 10 or less per year. The levels of certain anti-seizure medications will be monitored with a simple blood test. Dosages may need to be adjusted so frequent follow-ups with your veterinarian are required.

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