Seizures are the most common neurological disorder diagnosed in dogs. Epilepsy is defined as recurrent seizures over a period of time. Idiopathic means the underlying cause of the epilepsy is unknown or no brain disease can be found. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common type of epilepsy. Other more rare causes are brain tumors, brain diseases, and other brain disorders too extensive to get into here.
Certain breeds are predisposed to epilepsy as it is thought to have a genetic basis. Common breeds are Beagles, Dachshunds, Poodles, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Collies, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers among several others. Epilepsy affects 0.75% of the dog population. While this may not seem like much it makes it fairly common. Most epileptics have their first seizure between 1 and 5 yrs. of age although this can vary.
Seizures are described as generalized or focal. Generalized seizures are the most common and involve both sides of the brain. During a generalized seizure the dog first becomes unconscious, stiffens up like a saw horse and falls over on his or her side. Then, they start with the limb paddling, jerking and biting or chewing movements.
Epilepsy is diagnosed by ruling out other causes of seizures by your veterinarian by various neurological exams and lab tests. If you ever see your dog have his or her first seizure always have it looked at by your vet.
Treatment consists or various antiepileptic drugs. Usually, your vet will decide if meds are needed and which one to use based on frequency, length, and severity of seizures. Guide lines are more than 2 seizures in 4-6 mos., cluster seizures, and seizures lasting over 5 min. as reason to start medication. The goal of the anti seizure medication is to decrease the frequency and severity of the seizures while minimizing the side effects of the medications which must be monitored and tested for by your vet. A drug that decreases seizure frequency by 50% is considered efficacious. Most vets get much better results than this by adjusting dosages of meds or adding more than one antiseizure drug to the regimen. CBD oil has been said to help but we are not allowed to prescribe it for specific diseases as more research is needed as to it’s dose and effectiveness. With a wink, I go ahead and tell clients they can try it as it seems to be harmless.
What should you do if your dog as a seizure? Number one, stay calm and remember your pet is not in pain. Do not put your hands near your dog’s mouth as he may bite during the seizure. Do not pick up or cuddle your pet during a seizure.
Make sure obstacles near your pet are moved and he or she is free of dangers. If you are used to them time the seizure and make note of when and what your pet was doing before the seizure. Also, make note of how long it takes your pet to get back to normal after the seizure. This information is a big help to your vet. Some vets including me give pet owners with known epileptics with injectable meds to quickly help stop a seizure to keep on hand at home.
Idiopathic epilepsy is not curable and management requires long term commitment from the pet’s owner. Up to 25% of patients will be refractory to one or more of the antiseizure drugs. That means they may not completely make the dog seizure free but they sure make things better by decreasing them. Working with your vet for the best treatment and management is essential. Regular blood work up to twice a year to monitor side effects is also necessary. Remember, always seek veterinary care if your pet has a seizure lasting over 5 min., if he or she has more than one in 24 hrs., and always if it is the first seizure your dog has.