Epilepsy

Approximately 1% of dogs and cats suffer from epilepsy.

Overview

Epilepsy describes the brain disorder that results in seizures. It is the diagnosis used when no underlying cause can be established. Without proper management, epileptic dogs can have a shortened lifespan, are at a higher risk of developing neurobehavioral changes and a decreased quality of life.

A seizure is a once-off event. Multiple seizures of unknown cause are referred to as epilepsy. Primary epilepsy starts between the age of 6 months and 3 years with seizures occurring at night or early morning.

Breeds commonly affected by epilepsy:

  • Beagles
  • Border collies
  • Collies
  • Dachshunds
  • Poodles
  • Retrievers
  • Spaniels
  • Terriers

Signs

Seizures or tremors are caused by abnormal brain activity. They can be generalized and affect the whole body or partial, where the dog often remains conscious but may show changes in mobility or behavior.

In a generalized seizure, animals become stiff, with a chomping jaw, salivating, urinating, defecating, vocalizing, and paddling of the limbs. They cannot be roused from the seizure and they do not feel pain.

Seizures are generally brief and don't cause permanent damage to your pet. Those that last more than 30 minutes are likely to cause permanent brain damage.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is made based on the regularity and similarity of the seizure activity. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend a full neurological examination to rule out causes other than epilepsy such as poisoning, brain cancer, or brain injuries.

If a pet experiences 2 or more seizures a month, medication is usually warranted. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-epileptic medications to help manage the seizures. It is important not to change or stop the medication without your veterinarian's advice. Your pet may also require at least 1-2 visits to the vet each year to ensure the seizures are being managed appropriately and this may entail a blood test.

Management

Treatment with anti-epileptic medication results is variable with few dogs becoming completely seizure-free for life. Studies have shown that less than a third of dogs have reduced seizures - males less likely to respond than females to treatment and Border Collies and German Shepherds less likely to respond. Although epilepsy is an unpredictable condition, it is important to ensure that pets lead a good quality of life through long-term monitoring.

Tips

Tips to help manage a pet with epilepsy:

  • Time the seizure. Short seizures do not cause death in pets but severe, long-lasting seizures can be life-threatening
  • During a seizure, remove objects around the pet to prevent it from harming itself
  • Keep a calendar to note the frequency of seizures, the behavior before and after each seizure
  • Be strict about your medication regime

If the seizures become more frequent or longer in duration, seek veterinary attention immediately.

References

Berendt M, Gredal H, Ersbøll AK, Alving J. Premature death, risk factors, and life patterns in dogs with epilepsy. J Vet Intern Med. 2007;21(4):754–9.

Berg AT, Berkovic SF, Brodie MJ, Buchhalter J, Cross JH, Van Emde BW, et al. Revised terminology and concepts for organization of seizures and epilepsies: report of the ILAE Commission on Classification and Terminology, 2005-2009. Epilepsia. 2010;51(4):676–85. Berg AT, Scheffer IE. New concepts in the classification of the epilepsies: entering the 21st century. Epilepsia. 2011;52(6):1058–62.

Chang Y, Mellor DJ, Anderson TJ. Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs: owners' perspectives on management with phenobarbitone and/or potassium bromide. J Small Anim Pract. 2006;47(10):574–81.

Kearsley-Fleet L, O'Neill DG, Volk HA, Church DB, Brodbelt DC. Prevalence and risk factors for canine epilepsy of unknown origin in the UK. Vet Rec. 2013;172(13):338. Heske L, Nodtvedt A, Jaderlund KH, Berendt M, Egenvall A. A cohort study of epilepsy among 665,000 insured dogs: incidence, mortality and survival after diagnosis. Veterinary journal. 2014;202(3):471–6.

Lord LK, Podell M. Owner perception of the care of long-term phenobarbital-treated epileptic dogs. J Small Anim Pract. 1999;40(1):11–5. Shihab N, Bowen J, Volk HA. Behavioral changes in dogs associated with the development of idiopathic epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2011;21(2):160–7. Shorvon SD. The etiologic classification of epilepsy. Epilepsia. 2011;52(6):1052–7. Wessmann A, Volk HA, Parkin T, Ortega M, Anderson TJ. Living with canine idiopathic epilepsy: a questionnaire-based evaluation of quality of life. J Int Med. 2012;26:1.