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What is Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus)?

Myoclonus, or a myoclonic seizure, is an uncommon form of seizure. The more common form of seizure is known as a tonic-clonic seizure, previously known as a grand mal seizure. This type of seizure has a two-step process; the first stage is loss of consciousness, then the body jerks rhythmically for several minutes. With a myoclonic seizure, the first step is skipped and the jerking motions will be exhibited without loss of consciousness. This may affect the whole body or it may target only specific muscle groups.

Myoclonus is an uncommon seizure disorder characterized by sudden jerking motions in which the animal retains consciousness during the seizure.

Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) Average Cost

From 46 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,500

Average Cost

$3,000

Symptoms of Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) in Dogs

The myoclonic seizure will present differently than a typical tonic-clonic seizure. You may see any or all of the following signs if your pet is experiencing myoclonus. The myoclonic seizures are often triggered by flashing lights and sudden sights or sounds that may startle the canine.

  • Constant movement of a specific group of muscles
  • High-pitched vocalization
  • Involuntary twitching of limbs
  • Jerking of the head backward
  • Rapid shuttering of head
  • Sudden jerking movement
  • Uncontrolled rhythmic “bouncing” 

Types

There are several disorders and diseases that can cause myoclonic seizures, or that have myoclonus as a symptom. Two of the most common disorders that cause myoclonus in dogs are canine distemper and Lafora’s disease.

Canine Distemper

  • A highly contagious viral disease that can be found worldwide
  • Distemper is often fatal, and those dogs that survive often develop lifelong neurologic disorders, including the frequent development of myoclonic seizures

Lafora’s disease

  • A late-onset form of epilepsy that is characterized by myoclonus
  • Some dogs with Lafora’s disease will develop tonic-clonic seizures later on
  • Recent research indicates that problems with blood sugar regulation may play a role in the development of Lafora’s
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Causes of Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) in Dogs

Dogs acquire the distemper virus from contact with an infected animal. Distemper can affect not only canines, but also the bear, weasel, elephant and primate families. Domestic dogs are considered to be the reservoir species for this highly contagious virus, and can continue shedding the virus for several months after initial infection. Although distemper induced myoclonus may start during or shortly after the disease, it is also common for neurologic disorders to be delayed for weeks or even months. 

Lafora’s disease is caused by a genetic mutation that can occur in any breed and either gender. Signs of this disorder usually don’t develop until the dog reaches somewhere over seven years old, and miniature wire-haired dachshunds, basset hounds, and beagles are predisposed to developing this unusual form of epilepsy. Myoclonic seizures may be induced by toxins, infections, or trauma to the brain or spinal cord as well, albeit more rarely. 

 

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Diagnosis of Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) in Dogs

Diagnosing the seizures themselves as myoclonic can be done by simple observation, however diagnosing the underlying cause of the disorder can be more complicated. 

Your veterinarian will get a full history of your pet from you, including when the symptoms began and under what circumstances. Your dog will also undergo a thorough physical exam, and tests will be run to analyze blood chemistry and check for imbalances or toxins in the system. A neurologic examination may be taken as part of the physical. X-rays may be examined to screen for tumors, and a sample of the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid may also be analyzed. 

Depending on the situation, your veterinarian may recommend additional imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI or a nerve conduction study. If Lafora’s disease is suspected, tests will be run to determine if the mutation is present and a biopsy of the liver, muscle or nerve will reveal if any Lafora bodies can be identified. The liver is the most reliable of the biopsy sites for Lafora’s disease.

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Treatment of Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) in Dogs

Any underlying conditions, such as toxins or active infections, will need to be addressed either before or concurrently to addressing the myoclonus itself. Once this has been completed, your veterinarian will assess the severity of the condition to determine what steps will need to occur next. 

If the seizures are mild and infrequent further treatment may not be required. If the disorder becomes more difficult to live with antiepileptic medications such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide can be prescribed to manage the symptoms. Although these medications are often quite effective, they can have a degenerative effect on the liver over time. Some dogs may respond positively to immunosuppressive therapy with glucocorticoids as well. The strain of the disorder in the beagle breed is particularly resistant to drug therapy. 

Research shows a possible connection between the severity of Lafora’s disease and the amount of simple carbohydrates in the diet. Diets lower in simple carbohydrates may slow the progression of the disorder and starchy or sugary treats may exacerbate the symptoms.

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Recovery of Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) in Dogs

Seizures are often made more frequent and severe if the patient is under stress, so removing some of the stressors in your pet’s life may reduce the number of attacks. Pheromone sprays and diffusers may be recommended to further reduce their stress levels. Having your dog don sunglasses designed for canines may also reduce the number and severity of the episodes when walking in sunlight. Although myoclonus is usually not curable, it is often manageable with medication and patience. In some cases, the shaking is not medically controllable, and if the patient’s quality of life is severely adversely impacted, euthanasia may be recommended.

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Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) Average Cost

From 46 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,500

Average Cost

$3,000

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Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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nike

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Pit bull

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28 Months

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Severe Head Jerking

I Have Pure Bred Pitbull who just turned 2. All of a sudden she has developed tic like head movements out of the blue. She lays down 4 seconds later her head jerks back or 2 the side like she looking for a fly. I used to be able to lie with her but since shes been twitching I cant shell keep me up all night. I took her to vet she spent all day with her vet did bloodwork all if fine she said she was all normal. I showed her videos of what it looks like she said maybe seizures. Showed another Dr. he doesnt think it serizures. She will not demonstrait this behavior until she is at home lying down or comfortable. She she lives her puppy life and youll never know she has an issue. I can only video it to prove it happens. When i do lie with her u can tell its gotta be neuroligical vet suggested muscle relaxers for 2 days to see where we get. Please help

Sept. 2, 2018

nike's Owner

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Bella

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Lab mix

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Muscle Twitching

My adopted dog was diagnosed with distemper when she was 6 months old. She went through the respiratory, mucosal and GI phases and had to be hospitalized for a couple days, but she made it through. She completely skipped the neurological phase. It's been 3 years, she is as healthy as can be and 2 nights ago she woke me up with body twitching (like really large hiccups). She was completely aware of them, not in pain, but was confused and uncomfortable. I took her outside and they stopped but once she laid back down, they started up again. They lasted for about 2 hours. Last night, she started them again and they lasted for a couple hours. Could this possibly be the neuro side of distemper finally popping up? I was hoping we were completely over it. I took her to our vet and they think it is possible but believe we should wait and see what happens because she is acting normal otherwise and healthy... Just interested in other opinions.

Aug. 14, 2018

Bella's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I'm sorry that Bella is having that problem. It is unlikely that 3 years later, the neurologic side effects of Distemper would be happening, but it isn't impossible. I would tend to agree with your veterinarian and see what happens as long as she is actin normally and doing well otherwise.

Aug. 15, 2018

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Louie

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Lab mix

dog-age-icon

7 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Head Twitching
Gum Chewing

Our 7 month old puppy has distemper with myoclonic ticks in his head and jaw. At this time, the ticks aren't severe enough to warrant anti convulsive medication, but I would like to provide any help I can nutritionally to support his brain and central nervous system health. What type of supplements would be most appropriate?

July 18, 2018

Louie's Owner

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0 Recommendations

There are no specific supplements in cases like theses, generally nutritional support and ongoing vitamin supplementation (vitamin B complex) is recommended. There are some alternative treatments, but you should consult an holistic Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 19, 2018

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Jag

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Puggle

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6 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Trouble With His Hips And Knees

My dog was sleeping and his whole body started bouncing up and down he woke up and looked at me and you could see he was scared but his body kept bouncing. He does this occasionally I am worried.

June 30, 2018

Jag's Owner

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0 Recommendations

There are various causes for a dog to suddenly start jolting or jerking especially from being asleep; these may include trauma, stroke, poisoning, hereditary disorders, cerebellar disorders among other causes. If these episodes are getting more frequent you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to rule of some basic things and to see if a cause may be determined. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 30, 2018

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Peyton

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Golden Retriever

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Myoclonic Jerks
Rear Legs Momentarily Giving Out

I strongly suspect my golden is having myoclonic seizures and perhaps Lafora's disease. A few weeks ago, he was standing in the living room and his whole body looked like it experienced a sudden jolt. I figured it was a muscle spasm (I tend to over-worry, so I didn't want to jump to conclusions). Unfortunately, they have become more and more frequent, and seem to be worse in the evenings. He gets these sudden jolts, that look like he's being shocked. They are very quick, and although it has happened a few times while he's simply standing, it seems to be petting him and touching his face that triggers them. Most worrisome, is that twice now his back legs have completely collapsed. He regains use of them immediately, but of course it's scary when it happens. We did go to our vet last week (at that point he had only had his legs give out once), and we decided to do a wait and see. I keep trying to get video to show our doctor, but the episodes happen so quickly and unpredictably. Yesterday evening, his back legs went out from under him for the second time. Both times this happened I was petting him. The first time, he had a myoclonic jerk first, but this time his legs just gave way with no warning, though he did have myoclonic jerks the rest of the night, including later when he gave me his paw and it seemed like he was dizzy and might topple over. He does have a history of possible focal seizures and strabismus (which has since self-resolved) which we saw a neurologist for this past fall. He had an MRI of his brain, which was perfect. Though we discussed medication, his symptoms dissipated and never became frequent enough to warrant it. I am very concerned with how quickly these episodes came on (seemingly out of the blue), and the fact that they are progressing in severity. I am currently waiting for word back from our doctor and the neurologist, but I found this page myself and it seemed to perfectly describe what was happening to him.

June 26, 2018

Peyton's Owner

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The symptoms you are describing do fit with Lafora Disease which is a rare condition with Miniature Wire Haired Dachshund, Basset Hound, and the Beagles being over represented statistically but this condition may occur in any breed. If this is determined to be the cause by your Veterinarian or a Neurologist it may be managed with diet, medication and removal of trigger (like petting). Without examining him I cannot give you any further insight into this condition. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/condition/lafora-disease

June 27, 2018

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Ripley

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Great Pyrenees

dog-age-icon

5 Years

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Fair severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Eyes Rolled And Jaw Clamped
Shuttered Breathing

My baby is a 5 year Great White Pyrenees. Looked like a seizure but was conscious during the 1 - 1 1/2 minutes. Her eyes rolled \ turned white, jaw clamped and had a hard time breathing (was chewing a rawhide when I noticed her breathing changed and she came to me). Small growls during the process as I gently rubbed her face trying to get the eyes to come back. She walked away then came back to my hands. Very concerned as this is the first time I have seen this.

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Paz

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Teacup Poodle

dog-age-icon

14 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Jerking

My almost 14 yr old teacup poodle has this uncontrollable seizure like spasms when she is in very bright light. I first noticed it about a year ago. She loves to lay in the sun spots and walk in the sun, but when we are walking and she goes from shade to bright sun, she stops and her whole body jerks for a few seconds. Sometimes it happens even when she is not going from shade to sun, but it is always when she is in bright light. It used to only happen once every couple of months, but now it happens several times a day (or even multiple times within less than a block) when it is very sunny. She had distemper as a puppy and had multiple broken bones as a puppy from a previous owner who was not very nice to her. She recently had bloodwork that came back within normal parameters.

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Blodwen

dog-breed-icon

Border Collie

dog-age-icon

11 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

As Above

I have a double merle border collie who is completely deaf and visually impaired (her eyeballs are small, she has little variation in pupil size and no peripheral vision). At 6 months old she started to be disturbed by changes in air pressure (sudden stormy weather was the trigger) but had been shadow chasing from about 5 months old. When she became obsessed and I tried to stop her she would try to bite me. The response to air pressure is different and she circles and digs frantically, accidentally pees and will try to bite. She will wake suddenly, tilt her head, jump up and run off, following the same route each time. She then comes back to where she was sleeping and goes back to sleep. She also 'stamps' her front right leg repeatedly. It has been suggested this is epilepsy and I wondered if this sounded likely. She has had cbd oil for a few months now which greatly reduces the problems but they are still apparent when the wether is unsettled. Thanks!

Muscle Contraction Disease (Myoclonus) Average Cost

From 46 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,500

Average Cost

$3,000

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