Epilepsy is a long-term (in most cases, life-long and incurable) condition that causes repeated seizures (or “fits”). Around 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, and in dogs, it affects around 0.75% of the canine population.
Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs
An epileptic attack will typically have a repetitive pattern and appear to be very similar each time they happen. A dog will normally lose voluntary control of their body, jerk, shake and twitch and the attacks will start and finish very suddenly with no warning. A vet will want to investigate for epilepsy if they’ve had two seizures, seemingly unprovoked and more than 24 hours apart.
Seizures will typically occur when there’s abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Most fits will only last for a very short amount of time and stop by themselves. Sometimes a seizure can be hardly noticeable (they may just twitch, blink or salivate and these are referred to as ‘focal seizures’), or they will be obvious and involve entire body stiffening and rapid jerking movements.
Injuries can occur during seizures but aren’t too common in dogs. Your dog should see a vet if:
- The epilepsy isn’t diagnosed, but suspected
- If they seem to have hurt themselves during a seizure
- They’ve had more than two seizures in a 24-hour period
- The seizure has lasted longer than 5 minutes
- They’ve had two seizures but have not returned to their normal self in between them
Observing your pet during a seizure and keeping a record of each one is advisable. Note the types of movement that occurred during it, what time, when, and where it occurred, and how long it lasted – this can be incredibly helpful for your vet during the diagnosis period.
Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs
Causes of epilepsy vary. Idiopathic epilepsy is where an underlying cause cannot be identified. This type of epilepsy will typically affect dogs between 6 months and 6 years of age and be put down to a genetic predisposition or it’s thought that something is triggering them in their environment.
There are many different seizure classifications when it comes to epilepsy. For example, structural epilepsy is when a known cause like observable brain damage or a stroke can be directly attributed to epileptic seizures. You can find a comprehensive list here on the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation website.
The most common things that are thought to bring on an epileptic fit are tiredness, stress or not taking medication. Some owners claim certain foods induce seizures in their dogs too. This is another way keeping a record of your dog’s seizures can help – it can help you identify what seems to be bringing them on.
What To Do During Your Dog’s Epileptic Seizure
First things first; try to stay calm. Remember, seizures are typically brief, and your dog is mostly unaware that it’s happening because they’re unconscious. It’s not thought they are in pain or suffering during the attack. Move any furniture or hazards out of the way which will reduce the risk of your pup hurting themselves and simply observe them. Do not put anything near or inside your dog’s mouth.
Canine Epilepsy Treatment
If you think your dog has epilepsy, you need to have a consultation with your vet and obtain a diagnosis. Leaving the suspected epilepsy untreated means your pet is at a higher risk of severe brain damage or other organ damage. The earlier a diagnosis takes place, the more normal a life your dog can lead!
A will most likely prescribe AED (anti-epileptic drug) therapy which can help to minimize the frequency of seizures with the aim of achieving a seizure-free status. As with all medications, some dogs may experience minor side effects, but this can all be discussed in detail with your vet. It can take several weeks for the medication to begin working.
They will most likely be on this medication for life with regular check-ups and assessments with your vet. Your vet may also want to discuss their diet with you as a consistent, routine diet with very limited variation can help with reducing seizures.
If you have any health concerns regarding your pet, always seek out the advice of a professional, qualified veterinarian.
Author Dr. Packer, Rowena and Prof. Volk, Holger “Epilepsy” The Kennel Club https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health-and-dog-care/health/health-and-care/a-z-of-health-and-care-issues/epilepsy/
“Seizures And Epilepsy in Dogs” Blue Cross, Feb 07. 2020 https://www.bluecross.org.uk/advice/dog/seizures-and-epilepsy-in-dogs