What are Epileptic Seizures?
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Symptoms of Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
Epilepsy can begin as early as 6 months or as late as 5 years of age. A seizure can occur at any time of day while the pet is awake, resting or sleeping. On average, seizures may persist for between 30-90 seconds.
The initial “prodrome and aura” stages of a seizure may include:
- Startled or panic behavior
- Clinging to owner
The seizure or “ictal” stage may include:
- Teeth grinding
- Drooling/foaming saliva
- Kicking/paddling limbs
- Shivering/jerking movements
Seizures can be categorized as follows:
- Generalized – Pet falls down, loses consciousness, and becomes rigid. Breathing stops for 10-30 seconds. Pet may begin to paddle or kick, chew or grind teeth, salivate, urinate and defecate. Milder forms may not involve rigidity, kicking or loss of consciousness.
- Absence/Petit Mal – Short period of unconsciousness, may or may not collapse, blank stare. May be difficult to observe.
- Partial – One part of the body or face may twitch, move or contort. Can progress to the entire body (a generalized seizure).
- Complete Partial – Abnormal behaviors such as chewing, biting at a limb, biting the air, vocalization, hiding, vomiting, diarrhea, salivation, blindness. May last minutes to hours and may be followed by a generalized seizure.
- Cluster – Multiple seizures in a row with short periods of consciousness in between. To be considered a life-threatening emergency.
- Status – One continuous seizure lasting 30 minutes or longer (may be many small seizures with no consciousness in between). A life-threatening emergency.
Causes of Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
Epilepsy in dogs can be the result of a number of conditions including:
- Ingestion of a toxin
- Head injury
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Brain tumor
- High blood glucose
- Low blood glucose
- Congenital abnormality
- Idiopathic epilepsy (no known cause)
- Genetic predisposition
There is no identified trigger of the seizure itself. Seizures may occur during periods of excitability, rest or sleep.
Diagnosis of Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
If you feel your pet is exhibiting symptoms of epileptic seizure, you will want to schedule an appointment to bring her to the veterinarian for an examination. Video recording of the seizure activity can be helpful for the veterinarian (if possible). As seizure times are short, your pet may be over the episode by the time you reach the clinic. An examination is still important to identify the cause of the seizure and rule out any life-threatening possibilities.
Your veterinarian will need a detailed history including when the seizure occurred, how long it lasted, the behaviors of the pet during the seizure, and how many (if any) seizures have been observed in the past. Note any possible toxins the pet may have been exposed to, recent vaccinations, behavioral changes, and any recent injuries or falls.
A physical and neurologic examination will be performed. Depending on the pet’s history, a number of laboratory tests will rule out possible causes, including a complete blood cell count, blood chemistry and urinalysis. These tests will evaluate liver and kidney function and look for anemia and blood glucose levels.
Your veterinarian may order a CT scan or MRI of the brain.
If no cause of the seizure can be identified, the condition is diagnosed as primary idiopathic epilepsy (epilepsy of no known cause).
Treatment of Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
If an underlying cause of seizure is determined, the veterinarian will treat the pet according to the diagnosis. If this is your pet’s first seizure, and no cause of seizure was identified, the veterinarian will likely ask you to continue to monitor your pet for future seizures and report back if one occurs. Treatment is not begun for epilepsy until multiple seizures have occurred or are so severe that treatment is warranted.
Each single seizure is not necessarily an emergency requiring a veterinarian visit. During each seizure:
- Remain calm
- Note the time of onset
- Place your pet on the floor, on his side, away from sharp objects or furniture
- If outdoors, bring your pet in the shade to prevent hyperthermia
- Keep hands away from your pet’s mouth
- Speak quietly and gently to your pet
- Note the time the pet has recovered
- Record any specific seizure behaviors observed
Notify the veterinarian when possible to give them the date, time of onset, and duration of any seizure. This information will help the veterinarian determine the treatment protocol.
If your pet does not come out of the seizure within a few minutes or if you have other concerns for your pets safety, always visit the veterinarian.
The usual treatment for epilepsy is oral phenobarbital, potassium bromide (KBr), or Gabapentin given daily, often for life. A blood test may be required prior to beginning treatment to examine kidney and liver function. Blood tests every 2-4 weeks will determine blood concentration of the medication. The veterinarian will increase or decrease the dose as needed until an optimal treatment protocol is determined.
If a pet is having a long or severe seizure, the veterinarian may give intravenous diazepam to bring the pet out of the seizure. The veterinarian may supply you with valium to be given rectally should your pet have a seizure at home.
Recovery of Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
Follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely. Never skip a dose of seizure medication or stop medication abruptly as this can result in severe seizures. Keep your home environment safe. Swimming can be particularly dangerous for an epileptic pet. Pets on potassium bromide may need to eat a reduced salt diet.
Blood tests for certain seizure medications including phenobarbital will need to be conducted every 2-4 weeks until a proper dose is determined and then every 6-12 months to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Treatment for epileptic seizures is not curative. It is an attempt to decrease the frequency and severity of the seizures. Once your veterinarian decides to begin treatment, it takes time and trial and error to find the correct medication dose. Follow your veterinarian's instructions closely, keep a record of seizure activity, and notify your veterinarian when seizures occur.
Epileptic Seizures Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Yes, he gets very close to me when he is going to have one. In between seizures he lacks his paws. After he is very tired, thirsty, and vomits at times
Seizures may occur for a number of reasons; if you know when a seizure is going to occur, record the seizure on your phone and when you visit your Veterinarian they can have a better idea about the type of seizure, leg stiffness and try to get a shot of the eye position. Depending on the type of seizure your Veterinarian may manage the condition medically or may give you suppositories for use during a seizure. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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