Understanding dog Epilepsy

Learn about epilepsy in dogs; which breeds are known to have hereditary instances of epilepsy, possible causes, description of the different types, usual treatment plans


The condition known as epilepsy does indeed occur in dogs.

In fact, the problem is broken down into two different types of Epilepsy.

1.    Idiopathic Epilepsy- Idiopathic epilepsy is when there is no known cause for the condition and it is assumed it may be an inherited condition.
Secondary Epilepsy – This diagnosis is used when a specific cause for the seizures can be found. A veterinarian will normally run a variety of tests to rule out possible physiological or toxic causes before diagnosing the dog as having the idiopathic version.

There are several types of seizures that are seen in dogs and there are many times an owner isn’t even aware of the problem. An epileptic seizure is the clinical manifestation of abnormal brain activity in the cerebral cortex.

These abnormalities can create seizures that vary from the mild “petit mal” to the generalized, full body “grand mal.”

An epileptic seizure itself can be broken down into four stages.

1.    The Proteome – This stage can last from minutes to hours or even days before the manifestation of the actual seizure activity. This stage is typically characterized by changes in the dog’s mood or behavior.

2.     The Aura – The aura stage is when owners first notice the initial signs. Some dogs will begin pacing, licking, salivating, trembling, vomiting, wandering aimlessly, hiding, whining or urinating. Other dogs may exhibit stranger activities such as excessive barking and attempts to get an owner’s attention.

3.    The Ictus- This stage is the actual seizure itself. It is a period of abnormal activity in which the most common symptoms are that the dog may lose consciousness, gnash their teeth or appear to be chewing gum, thrashing about with their head and legs, drooling excessively, crying, paddling their feet as if running as well as losing control of their bladders and bowels. There are stranger types of seizures though.

Some dogs will frantically run in circles, others will just chew gum, some suddenly go blank and stare into space, and then there are the ones that only have partial seizures in which the twitching is localized in one area. This could in the face, one leg, in the shoulder or over the hips.

4.    The Ictal – This stage occurs immediately after a seizure. Owners often report the dog acts drunk, doped, blind, or deaf. Other dogs will show signs of pacing endlessly or drinking large amounts of water. Some will seem to pass out and just sleep.   
Some of the physiological reasons a dog may have secondary epilepsy are:

1.    Hypoglycemia or “low blood sugar.”
2.    Hypothyroidism – A condition in which the thyroid functions inadequately.
3.    Disease – Seizures are a common symptom of diseases such as encephalitis and distemper
4.    Lead poisoning – This can be seen in dogs that like to chew on items such as painted wood.
5.    Brain Tumors – This is the most common cause of seizures that begin after the age of 5.
6.    Hydrocephalus – The accumulation of excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the brain.
7.    Eclampsia – This occurs when a lactating female’s calcium levels drop to dangerous levels.
8.    Toxins – Pesticides, fertilizers, poisonous plants, arsenic, strychnine, and chocolate.
9.    Trauma – Trauma can occur from some type of severe blow to the head such as being hit by a car, bat, kicked, or fall.
10.    Organ failure – End-stage liver or renal failure can often cause
11.    Parasitic – Severe cases of intestinal worms, end-stage heartworms, or even anemia from fleas and ticks can cause seizures.
Idiopathic Epilepsy is also called primary or hereditary epilepsy.

It has been proven that epilepsy often runs in bloodlines and new studies are showing that certain breeds are more likely to have the disorder. Some of the breeds it occurs in more often are Belgian Tervueren, Beagles, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, Keeshonds, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Schnauzers, Poodles, Dalmatians and St. Bernards.

In some instances, the seizure will be a one-time occurrence with no further episodes or after-effects. In other dogs, epilepsy will be an ongoing battle for the owner and the dog. Just because a dog is diagnosed with epilepsy doesn’t mean he or she can’t live a long, happy life.

There are several medications that are often used to control or stop the seizures. The most common medications are:
·    Primidone (Mysoline)
·    Phenobarbital*** Dogs on Phenobarbital need to have their liver enzymes tested every few months to check for possible damage***
·    Potassium Bromide*** Dogs taking this drug need to be careful with salt levels in the diet and whenever the brand of food is changed.
·    Dilantin
·    Potassium Bromide
·    Valium (Diazepam)

There will be cases where the medications seem to have no effect and the seizures not only continue to occur but actually worsen. In most instances, dogs that are kept on medications can lead pretty normal lives with few restrictions or changes in routine. Occasionally they will build up a resistance to some of the drugs and will need to change over to others or receive Valium injections to stop the seizures once they occur.

As with any disease or condition, your personal veterinarian is the best source for making a diagnosis, education, and offering treatment options. If you suspect your dog may have either type of epilepsy and you see seizure-like activity, take note of the time, date, length, and type of seizure, as well as the way the dog acts after the seizure, has ended. Keep a record of these things for each episode and discuss the problem as soon as possible with the veterinarian. Remember to follow up on the conference with information as to any further episodes so he or she will be able to layout a plan of action for both you and your dog for the best possible results.