Epilepsy can be a very frightening experience for both your pet and you. With little warning your companion will start to shake, fall down and be unresponsive. Understanding what to do if this happens may prepare you to handle the situation better.
“All the most acute, most powerful, and most deadly diseases, and those most difficult to be understood … fall upon the brain.”
Epilepsy is one of the more common neurologic diseases in dogs. There are studies that estimate up to 4% of all dogs are affected. The repeated seizures are due to abnormal activity in the brain. Not all seizures are epilepsy, some can be caused by other problems in the body like heart disease where oxygen is deprived from the brain. If your pet has any seizures at all you should visit your vet to determine what the cause of the seizure is.
Canine epilepsy is often genetic. Breeds most prone to idiopathic (generic)epilepsy include the Beagle, Keeshond, Belgian Tervuren, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Vizsla, Shetland Sheepdog, Dachshund, German Shepherd, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Irish Setters, Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, Saint Bernards, Siberian Huskies, and Wire-Haired Terriers.
Epilepsy occurs less frequently in cats and other pets because there is no hereditary component to epilepsy in these animals.
There are 3 forms of epilepsy:
- Idiopathic or Primary Epilepsy
Genetic, and usually shows up in a dog at somewhere between about six months and five years of age.
- Secondary Epilepsy
Chemical or physical abnormalities of the dog’s brain, which may have been caused by an injury or disease.
- Reactive Epilepsy
Caused by a condition as low blood sugar, heart disease, cancer or an infection.
There are 4 basic stages to a seizure:
- The prodome
This precedes the actual seizure by hours or days. There will be a change in mood or behavior.
- The aura
You may notice signs of restlessness, nervousness, whining, trembling, salivation, affection, wandering, hiding, hysterical running, and apprehension.
- The ictus
This is the actual seizure. There is an involuntary contraction of muscles and loss of consciousness. The dog usually falls to his side with the legs stretched out and the head back. The seizure usually lasts from 1-3 minutes.
- The postictus
The aftermath of the seizure may last for minutes to days. Your pet is conscious but not totally functional. You may notice your dog is confused, disoriented, restless, unresponsive, may wander around or suffer from transient blindness.
If you suspect that your dog does have epilepsy by all means visit your vet. If your pet has a seizure longer than 5-10 minutes or 3 seizures in a day, seek veterinary care immediately! Phenobarbitol and primidone can be prescribed if your pet has one or more seizures per month. The abnormalities are genetic so there is little you can do to prevent them. Educate yourself about your pet’s disease and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Holistic veterinarian Roger DeHaan, DVM states that some forms of epilepsy respond to supplementation of vitamin B6, magnesium, and manganese.
During a seizure keep your pet as quiet as possible. Keep other animals away from the area. Stay with them to keep them calm with physical and voice contact. Once they return to consciousness your presence with be a comfort they need.
Keep a journal of each seizure so you will be able to let your vet know if the frequency increases.
As with any ailment your pet may have, the more you know the better. Understanding Your Pet’s Epilepsy by Dennis O’Brien, DVM, PhD is an excellent source for more detailed information.