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Can Dogs Get Epilepsy?


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What do Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Vincent Van Gogh, Lord Byron, and Alexander the Great all have in common? Reportedly, all of these famous people suffered from epilepsy, a seizure disorder characterized by abnormal electrical activity in the brain resulting in abnormal behavior, movements and seizures. Seizures are a result of uncoordinated firing of neurons and can last anywhere from a few seconds to many minutes, they may occur sporadically or multiple times a day or even an hour. Sometimes the cause behind epileptic seizures can be identified and treated, other times no cause can be identified. The term epilepsy can be confusing as sometimes it is used to describe any seizure disorder, even when an underlying cause can be identified, and sometimes it is only used to describe the condition when no underlying condition can be identified. If no treatable cause can be identified, epilepsy is a chronic condition and when seizures occur they can be very distressing for both the sufferer and their loved ones.

Can Dogs Get Epilepsy?


Epilepsy is among the most common neurological disorders identified among people and, believe it or not, is also common in dogs. Just one of many disorders we unfortunately share with our canine counterparts.

Does My Dog Have Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a term used to describe several types of seizures disorders and there is some confusion around its usage. Primary epilepsy is epilepsy that has no known cause, it also tends to have an inheritable component and may be referred to as true epilepsy. Secondary epilepsy describes a seizure condition that is the result of another identifiable medical condition, which may or may not be treatable.

Secondary epilepsy causes include:

  • Degenerative neurological disease

  • Developmental disease

  • Toxicity

  • Infectious disease

  • Metabolic disorder

  • Neurological injury

  • Brain tumor

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Chemical imbalance, low blood sugar, calcium deficiency

  • Low oxygen

  • Disorder in organs such as the liver or kidney

  • Autoimmune disorders

Although epilepsy can occur in any dog, it seems to be more prevalent in some breeds including:

  • Belgian Tervueren

  • Beagle

  • Dachshund

  • German shepherd

  • Keeshond

A genetic factor is strongly suspected in the above breeds. In addition, the following breeds are also associated with a higher than average incidence of epilepsy.

  • Boxers

  • Cocker spaniels

  • Collies

  • Golden retrievers

  • Irish setters

  • Labrador retrievers

  • Miniature schnauzers,

  • Poodles

  • Saint Bernards

  • Siberian huskies

  • Wire haired terriers

Epilepsy is characterized by recurring seizures. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy often begin to have seizures around 6 months of age. A seizure may last from a few seconds to several minutes and may occur infrequently or several times daily.

Seizures may include:

  • An aural phase, characterized by abnormal behavior, restlessness, and anxiousness or may have sudden onset with no noticeable aural phase

  • An ictal phase when the actual seizure takes place

  • A postictal phase when your pet may be disoriented and uncoordinated

Seizures are characterized by the following signs:

  • Muscle twitching

  • Loss of voluntary muscle control

  • Involuntary muscle movement

  • Convulsions

  • Shaking, jerking movements

  • Excessive salivation

  • Repeated movements

  • Dilated pupils

  • Head shaking

  • Rhythmic blinking

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Incontinence

In order to diagnose epilepsy, your veterinarian will make a thorough physical examination, take a complete medical history, and perform several routine physical and neurological tests. Your veterinarian needs to rule out other conditions, and identify any underlying cause for seizures. There is no specific test for epilepsy, instead history, symptoms and several test results will be taken into account. Tests such as CT scans and MRIs of the brain may be performed to identify irregularities in electrical conductivity in the brain that will help with diagnosis.

Read more about this condition and get advice from a veterinarian at Epileptic Seizures in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Epilepsy?

If a cause for seizures can be identified, such as chemical imbalance, metabolic disorder or infections, treatment and resolution of that condition will hopefully bring an end to your dog experiencing seizures.

For dogs whose epilepsy is primary in nature, with no underlying cause, there is no cure. Treatment will involve managing seizures and medication to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures.

Medication such as phenobarbital, primidone and diazepam may be used to control and reduce seizures in your dog.

Potassium bromide is a useful drug for dogs with epilepsy associated with liver disease.

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and dietary supplementation may be attempted to aid in treatment of epilepsy, but should always be conducted under the supervision of a veterinarian and usually in conjunction with traditional treatments.

If triggers for the dogs seizures can be identified, removing the dog or the trigger can help reduce seizures. Triggers may include:

  • Lack of sleep

  • Stress, thunderstorms or travel are common stressors

  • Certain foods

If your dog has a seizure:

  • Stay calm

  • Ensure your dog can not injure himself by removing hazards and lowering the dog to the floor if possible

  • Do not approach your dog's mouth, as this can result in an unintentional bite

  • Remove children or other pets from the area

  • If the seizure is prolonged, longer than 3 minutes, or several seizures occur in a row, call your veterinarian.

How is Epilepsy Similar in Dogs and Humans?

Epilepsy in humans and in dogs has several similarities.

  • Both are considered to be common neurological disorders

  • Seizures are characterized by similar neurological symptoms including involuntary muscle movements, twitching, convulsions and loss of consciousness

  • Both dogs and humans appear to have an inheritable component to epilepsy, with it running in both families and amongst certain breeds of dog

  • Seizures are caused by electrical abnormalities in the brains and random firing of neurons

  • May have sudden onset with no warning or an aural phase may be experienced.

  • May be frequent or infrequent

  • May have an underlying cause, or be idiopathic

  • Idiopathic epilepsy has no cure and treatment focuses on control seizures

How is Epilepsy DIfferent in Dogs and Humans?

Medication and treatment options for your dog may be more limited than in humans, as many drugs for epilepsy used in humans are not approved for use in dogs.

Case Study

A young male Belgian Tervueren suddenly had a seizure characterized by loss of muscle control and consciousness while sitting on the couch with his owner. After a few minutes, the dog relaxed and regained consciousness, but wa tired and disoriented for about an hour afterward. Later that day he seemed fine. Occasional seizures continued, infrequently and did not require treatment, but were managed with supportive care. The cause of his seizures was later identified as hyperthyroidism.

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