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Understanding Epilepsy in Dogs

Understanding Epilepsy in Dogs

Epilepsy is a relatively common condition in dogs, but our Matthews veterinarian neurologist understands that it can be frightening for pet parents to witness their dog having a seizure. Here's more on the types of seizures your dog may experience if they have been diagnosed with epilepsy, as well as the available treatments for this condition.

Epilepsy in Dogs

Epileptic seizures in dogs are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Not all seizures are the same, there are three types of seizures that your pet can experience, and each type of seizure displays different symptoms.

Symptoms of Focal Seizures in Dogs

Focal Seizures occur within a specific region of only one half of the dog's brain. If your dog is experiencing a focal seizure, symptoms will depend upon which region of the brain is effected by the seizure. 

  • Unusual movements such as head shaking, repeated muscle contractions of just one limb, or rhythmic eye blinking are called episodic movements, and stem from abnormal activity in the motor region of your dog's brain.
  • Abnormal electrical activity within your dog's autonomic nervous system will produce symptoms such as excessive salivation, dilated pupils, or vomiting.
  • Focal seizures that occur in other areas of your pet's brain may cause uncharacteristic behaviors such as restlessness, unexplained fear, attention seeking or unusual anxiety.

Symptoms of Generalized Seizures in Dogs

If a seizure occurs on both sides of the dog's brain it is called a generalized seizure. Dogs experiencing a generalized seizure will typically lose consciousness, and may also urinate or defecate while unconscious. Movements caused by generalized seizures will effect both sides of your dog's body rather than a single limb, and fall into five categories:

  • Tonic seizures lead to muscle contractions or stiffening.
  • Clonic seizures cause rapid contractions of the muscles or a jerking motion.
  • Tonic-Clonic seizures begin as muscle contractions of a tonic seizure, then evolve into the jerking contractions of a clonic seizure.
  • Myoclonic seizures are series of sporadic jerks.
  • Atonic seizures are sometimes called 'drop attacks' because the dog experiences a sudden loss of muscle tone which causes them to collapse and sometimes lose consciousness.

Symptoms of Focal to Generalized Seizures in Dogs

The most common type of seizure in dogs is one where a focal seizure evolves into a generalized seizure. The focal seizure may be very short then quickly followed by a generalized seizure. Often pet parents are unaware of the focal seizure, however if you witness your dog having a generalized seizure it is a good idea to try and think back to what the dog was doing immediately before the seizure began. Letting your vet know what the dog was doing before the seizure began can help your veterinarian to better diagnose your dog.

Diagnosis of Epilepsy in Dogs 

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that some dogs are born with, and while there is no cure as of yet, treatments are available. 

Before treatment can begin the vet will run a series of tests on your pup in order to look for an underlying cause for your dog's seizures. If an obvious cause for the seizures is detected your pet will be diagnosed as having structural epilepsy. A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy indicates that there is no apparent cause for your dog's seizures.

On occasion a dog may be diagnosed as having a reactive seizure. This form of seizure occurs in response to a temporary problem such as poisoning. Reactive seizures will stop once the underlying problem is cleared up.

Treatment for Epilepsy in Dogs

Sadly there is no cure for epilepsy in dogs. Treatment with anti-epileptic drugs (AED) is available and focuses on reducing the severity and frequency of your dog's seizures without causing unacceptable side effects. Treatment with AEDs is successful in approximately 15-30% of dogs.

There are a number of different anti-epileptic drugs available for treating dogs with seizures. Following a thorough examination, testing and diagnosis, your primary care veterinarian or veterinary neurologist will prescribe the best medication for your dog based on they type of seizures your dog is experiencing as well as your dog's age, overall health, and size. In cases where the first drug is unsuccessful at controlling the pet's epilepsy other drugs may be tried.

If your dog is taking medication to help control seizures it's important to administer the meds at the same time every day, be sure to give them the correct dose prescribed by your vet, and never discontinue the medication without consulting your veterinarian first.

Diet For Dogs With Epilepsy

A recent study has shown that diet can play a key role in helping to control epilepsy in dogs. If your dog is being treated for epilepsy it is important not to change their food without consulting your veterinarian first. Changes in what and when your dog eats can affect how well the anti-epileptic drugs work. Consult your vet if you regularly offer you dog table scraps or treats since it could be important to the efficacy of their treatment.

There have also been promising results in controlling epileptic seizures in dogs by feeding a special prescription diet. In the study, many of the dogs that are switched over to a diet that was rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) experienced a decrease in the number and severity of their seizures. Your vet may prescribe a special food to help control your dog's epilepsy.

If you feel that diet might play a role in your pet's seizures, speak to your veterinarian about trying a prescription food for your dog.

Treatment Success

Treatment is considered successful if your dog is experiencing notably fewer seizures than before, and that the seizures are shorter or less severe. The overall goal is to reduce the incidence of seizures to about half.

Side Effects of AEDs

Dogs taking AEDs may experience side effects although they often resolve themselves over the course of a few weeks. Possible side effects from anti-epileptic drugs may include sleepiness, increased appetite and thirst, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, weight gain, restlessness and other behavioral changes.

Blood Tests For Dogs With Epilpesy

Monitoring the amount of the anti-epilepsy drug in your dog's blood is an essential part of their treatment. The concentration of the drug in your dog's blood determines the effectiveness of the medication but also the toxic effects. Dogs taking phenobarbital or potassium bromide must be monitored to ensure that levels of these drugs stay within a therapeutic range.

Different dogs react differently to the range AEDs available, and response to treatment can be somewhat unpredictable. Not only that, over time your dog may need a higher dose of their AED in order to keep their blood concentration within the therapeutic range, and keep seizures under control. To find just the right AED and dose it is important to have your dog visit their veterinarian regularly for blood tests.

Living With a Dog With Epilepsy

Often concerned pet parents wonder if they will be able to leave their dog at home alone ever again. Truth is, even the most adoring pet parent will need to go out at some point. If your dog experiences seizures the best thing to do when you leave the house is to make sure that your pet is in a safe and comfortable space so that if a seizure does occur while you're away your dog will be as safe as possible.

For advanced neurological care for your dog, ask your vet for a referral for your pet to see one of our veterinary neurologists. The board-certified veterinary neurologists at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the brain, spinal cord, muscles and nerves of animals. .

Caring for Pets in Matthews

Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews accepts new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service accepts all clients.

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