What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic condition which causes repeated seizures. It affects around 1 in 130 dogs and can often be described as ‘funny turns’ or ‘fits’. Usually, epilepsy is a lifelong condition with some dogs suffering from frequent seizures and others very rarely having them.

What happens during a seizure?

Seizures occur when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain which leads to sudden changes in behaviour or movement.

What are the signs that my dog may be epileptic? 

If your dog has had two unexplained seizures more than 24 hours apart, we may suspect that your dog has epilepsy. It is really helpful for us if you record any unusual events, funny turns, or seizures such as how long they lasted, what your dog was doing beforehand, and a video recording if possible.

Different types of seizures:

Seizures can affect dogs in various ways and can be different each time. Most epileptic seizures happen quite suddenly without warning, last only a few seconds or minutes, and stop by themselves. Dogs can have subtle signs called focal seizures which can manifest as twitching, blinking, salivation, behaviour changes. Generalised seizures present with stiffening, rapid jerking, or convulsing. It is also possible for focal seizures to turn into generalised seizures so it is important to keep a close eye on your dog if they are displaying any signs of focal seizures.

Causes of epilepsy?

  • Idiopathic epilepsy (no known cause)
  • Usually affects young to middle age dogs
  • Assumed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors
  • Some breeds may be more predisposed to epilepsy than others
  • Structural epilepsy (caused by a known issue in the brain)
  • Problems with blood supply, bleeding, inflammation, trauma, or infection can be causes
  • An MRI scan is usually needed to diagnose this
  • Genetic defects in some dogs can lead to structural changes in the brain leading to seizures
  • Reactive seizure (temporary changes to the brain)
  • A response to a temporary problem in brain function
  • Poisoning or toxins can cause seizures
  • Metabolic changes such as Addison’s disease, liver disease, portosystemic shunts

What to do if my dog has a seizure?

  • Stay calm
  • Usually seizures are brief and dogs are totally unaware
  • Try to keep your dog safe by moving any furniture out of the way so that your pet cannot hurt themselves
  • Try to keep yourself safe by not touching your dog, especially not around their mouth as they may accidentally bite you
  • Try to keep the room your dog is in as quiet as possible; close curtains, turn off lights, turn off television and radio
  • Your dog may urinate or pass faeces during a seizure
  • We may prescribe medication to reduce the length of an epileptic episode
  • Time the seizure and note down what happened and what lead up to the seizure
  • Cluster seizures: two or more seizures in 24 hours (call us at the vets if this occurs)
  • Status epilepticus: seizures longer than five minutes, or two seizures without the dog returning to ‘normal’ in between (call us at the vets if this occurs)

What can trigger my dog’s epilepsy?

Some dogs may have certain triggers which can lead to seizures, whereas others appear random with no trigger. Tiredness, lack of sleep, stress, or not taking medication are all common triggers. Stress can occur in situations such as changes in environment, routine, car journeys, changes in foods, or vet visits(!)

How is epilepsy diagnosed in dogs?

A diagnosis for epilepsy is usually achieved through a process of elimination. This will include a physical examination by the vet and possibly some diagnostic tests such as blood tests, urine tests, and possibly even recommending an MRI to determine any abnormalities in the brain.

What treatment options are there?

Usually, epilepsy in dogs cannot be cured but we can improve the quality of life for your dog and yourself by reducing the frequency or severity  with anti-epileptic medication. It is important to try to stay consistent with your dog’s medication timings and doses as well as their routine. We will talk through the types of medication we would recommend for your dog and when and how to administer them.

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