Epilepsy in Dogs, Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Epilepsy in Dogs
Epilepsy in Dogs

Epilepsy in dogs? Most dog owners are not aware that dogs too can have fits just like humans. Canine epilepsy is a neurological condition in dogs. It is the most common chronic disorder reported to vets. Here is more on the causes, Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of seizures in dogs.

Epilepsy in Dogs, Causes

Canine epilepsy is a neurological disorder. It is caused by a sudden burst of electrical activity in a dog’s brain. As a result, the dog goes through uncontrolled, unpredictable recurring seizures.

Epilepsy in Dogs
Epilepsy in Dogs

Epilepsy is the most reported neurological related condition in dogs. There are different types of canine epilepsy. Treatment can vary from one to the other. Getting a better understanding of this condition will help you know what to do when your dog gets such seizures.

Seizures can start at any age, most commonly when the dog is a puppy. In some cases the causes of the condition are preventable. In other situations, it’s related to illnesses or genetics; which are harder to manage.

1. Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

These are the unknown causes of epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy usually affects dogs from ages of 5 months and six years. If the cause is unknown, it falls under idiopathic epilepsy which scientists speculate it to be an inherited disorder. 80% of epileptic seizures are classified as idiopathic epilepsy.

2. Environmental Causes

Dogs walk, jump, run, eat and drink about everywhere, anywhere or everything. This results in the dogs coming into contact with foreign objects that might be poisonous. The dog may ingest something toxic. Your dog may also get a head injury that later causes seizures.

Use of the wrong treatment or medication e.g. bad vaccine or from fleas medication. Good thing is that epilepsy from environmental causes is treatable.

3. Structural Epilepsy

Epilepsy may come from problems found in the brain. The brain’s blood supply may be minimal or obstructed. It may also be from brain tumors, brain development issues, brain diseases or brain infections.  The above problems can bring about seizures as they prevent normal brain activity

4. Illness-related

Health problems that may cause epilepsy to include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Strokes
  • Anemia
  • Encephalitis
  • Liver disease

These conditions affect vital parts/organs of the body which coordinate with the brain for quality body operations.

Types of Epilepsy

Seizures are named depending on how they occur. May be localized or generalized. Here is more;

Partial seizures / focal seizure

This kind of epilepsy happens when abnormal electrical pulses occur in some part of the brain. They affect small areas of the dog’s body or one side of its body depending on the brain region hit by the electrical pulses.

Some of the examples include facial twitching, jerky movement of one of the dog’s limbs, bending of the body on one side or excessive pawing. This type of seizure is usually mild, but it should be carefully observed because it might progress to generalized seizures.

Types of Seizures in Dogs
Types of Seizures in Dogs

Generalized seizures

These are the most common types. They are more aggressive than partial seizures. Generalized seizures result in loss of consciousness or falling over due to uncontrollable muscle activity.

Generalized seizures may be termed as

Tonic– the stiffening of the muscles, increased contraction. It lasts for seconds to minutes.

Clonic/ jerking– Rapid, involuntary contractions of muscles

Tonic-Clonic a series or sequence of tonic and clonic phases

Myoclonic– rapid, involuntary jerks, usually on both sides of the body.

Generalized seizures are divided into Grand Mal and Petit Mal. In grand mal seizure, the dog falls and begins paddling its legs, and its mouth making a chewing motion. Petit mal seizure also known as drop attacks or atonic seizures causes loss of muscle tone, unconsciousness. The dog will fall but the body remains still. This happens for a few seconds and the dog slowly starts to regain consciousness.

Status Epilepticus

Status epilepticus happens much more like generalized seizures. Only that in this type of epilepsy, the dog has a single seizure for an hour or more. It is life-threatening and requires prompt action to prevent permanent brain damage on your dog or death.

Cluster seizures

This type of seizure happens when the dog has several episodes, two or more seizures within 24 hours. The dog has a seizure followed by a short period of consciousness, and then another seizure occurs. This condition is fatal, and immediate medical attention is required.

Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs

There are several things to look for if you are worried that your dog may have a seizure. These signs will guide you in determining your mode of action. There are three phases of a seizure;

  • Before a seizure
  • During a seizure
  • After a seizure

What to Watch for

Symptoms may be different during each of these phases. Here is what to check out for;

Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs
Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs

1.  Pre –Seizure Symptoms

In this stage, the dog senses it’s about to go into a seizure. Some of its behaviors may change. It might hide, or appear to be confused. Your dog will experience what is called an aura.

  • The dog may appear nervous, restless or stressed
  • He may hide or while trying to seek attention from his owner
  • Salivation, urination, and loss of bowel control are also common

2.    Ictal Period Symptoms

This is the period when the seizure is actually happening. Symptoms include:

  • The dog collapses
  • Tongue swallowing
  • Muscle twitching
  • Tongue chewing
  • Vomiting
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Paddling motions with the limbs
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control, thus the dog might poop or pee on its self
  • Salivating

A seizure lasts for 1- 3 minutes.

3.    Post –Seizure Symptoms

Post-Ictal symptoms are the after effect symptoms of the seizure. During the seizure, the dog goes through a lot of unwanted, exhaustive activity. After a seizure, the dog will be unresponsive, disoriented, confused, and might suffer from temporary blindness. The dog might be conscious but unresponsive; its recovery from the seizure might take several minutes, hours or even days, the duration depends on the severity of the seizure.

What Do Before, During And After Your Dog Has a Seizure?

Convulsions or seizures often occur during sleep or when your dog is resting- probably at night. Most of the time, your dog will recover before you realize it and consider getting him to a vet. Here is what to do before, during and after a seizure in your dog.

Before a seizure

If your dog shows signs that it’s about to have a seizure, make sure you don’t let it out of your sight. This will help protect your dog from any physical hurt. Note that most of the time it’s very had to notice these symptoms and the seizure may come as a surprise.

During a seizure

When your dog has a seizure, you need to remain calm to avoid mistakes while trying to help. To prevent injury to your dog move the hard object like furniture, knives, working tools, etc. far from the dog and if it’s not possible to, try to slide him away from maybe stairs or a tree.

Remember to avoid the dog’s mouth he might bite you. Do not try to put anything in his mouth.

If the seizure last more than 3 minutes, your dog may be suffering from Status Epilepticus which is a severe case of epilepsy- Get him to a vet as soon as possible. You can also observe if your dog is having a seizure after seizure, this is also a severe type of epilepsy known as Cluster seizures, which can be fatal. Try to keep your dog cool, it can overheat during a seizure.

After the seizure

During the post-ictal phase, the dog will be confused and exhausted. Try to comfort and supervise him. Call his name to see whether he will respond.  After its alert and tries to stand up, help him up and stop him from pacing around before he becomes fully stable. Feed him food full of dynamic properties it helps make him stronger.  If possible staying with your dog during this process also helps because he might have another seizure.

Diagnosis- How Is Epilepsy in Dogs Diagnosed

Epilepsy is diagnosed after the dog has had more than one seizure. Convulsions or seizures may occur due to a number of different other reasons. It may also be possible that he will only suffer a one in a lifetime seizure. Still, do not assume any episodes of seizures in your dog- get him to a vet.

To diagnose epilepsy, the vet first takes into account the symptoms you’ve noted before and during your dog’s seizure. He will then perform thorough neurological and physical exams. A physical exam may reveal symptoms such as low blood pressure, weak pulse, swelling of the brain and difficulty in breathing of the dogs.

The vet will try to take a proper history of your dog. This includes information and records on vaccination of the dog, diet, potential for exposure to toxins, illness history, injuries and behavior changes.

A history of the dog’s family tree or record of the parents is also important.

A number of tests may be done to check for blood infections, systemic diseases, low blood sugar or kidney and liver failure.

Here are some tests conducted by the vet:

  • CBC (complete blood count).
  • Fasting blood and serum glucose levels.
  • Serum led level.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid analysis.
  • EEG, MRI and CT scan.
  • Fecal parasite examination.

Epilepsy in Dogs Treatment

Treatment for epilepsy in dogs depends on causes. There are a number of options including; surgery, medication.

In idiopathic epilepsy, there may be no cure. The causes are not known, it may also be inherited. The focus is placed on the management of symptoms.

To maintain a seizure-free status the vet uses AED (Antiepileptic drug) therapy. These are not meant to cure epilepsy. They help control seizures with the least side effects possible.

Phenobarbital is the most common type of medication used and is effective 60% to 80% of the time. Potassium bromide, felbamate, and diazepam are other types of drugs used by vets to control epilepsy.

Phenobarbital is a potentially toxic drug that may cause liver damage. Thorough blood tests should be done before prescription.

Epilepsy from Environmental, illness, structural causes is the easiest to manage. Environmental factors can easily be removed or changed. Structural problems such as brain tumors may be a little challenging.

How to Treat Epilepsy in Dogs, Naturally -Home Remedies

There are several natural home remedies or home treatment ways that help control epilepsy in dogs. These remedies will mostly help prevent possible seizures.

Diet

The vet will recommend this depending on the effects of medication. The dog gains weight during treatment of epilepsy. Avoid sugary food, food coloring preservatives which have chemicals. They can slow down the healing process and can also trigger epilepsy.

Vitamins

Vitamin E defends the nervous system

Vitamin C should be introduced slowly to the dog. It supports the nervous system and protects the body from infection.

Magnesium

Magnesium helps the dog’s body absorb, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B complex and calcium, which are in important to the nervous system.

Treatment Costs

The cost of treating the epileptic dog is manageable. We can do anything for our dogs. You should get him checked from time to time. Medication may be given for a lifetime. The price of Phenobarbital varies depending on the brand. In cases where surgery is recommended to remove a seizure causing a tumor, treatment may be a little pricey.

Managing Epilepsy in Dogs

If your dog has epilepsy, give proper care so as to prevent further or violent seizures. Here are things you can do to prevent more episodes or even death.

Diet change- as described above, diet is essential in keeping hastening treatment and prevention of potential triggers. Consult the vet on a proper diet in the management of epilepsy.

Regular exercise

Don’t let the dog near the pool if it’s unsupervised. In case dog suffers from an epileptic seizure while in the pool it might drown. Find safe and controlled ways to exercise with your dog to avoid such incidences

Keep a calendar to track the dog’s medication. Drugs used to treat epilepsy are dosed consistently. Sipping doses could trigger episodes.

Finally, check for adverse side effects of the drugs. If side effects from the medication go for more than two weeks, take the dog to the vet. The side effects include trouble walking, behavior changes from time to time or being lethargic.

Other Diseases that can causes seizures in dogs

DO NOT make an assumption that all seizures are epileptic. Get your dog to a vet as soon as possible. He’ll be able to perform tests and rule out from a list of differentials that can present in the same way. Here are some of them;

  • Distemper
  • Lead Poisoning
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Tick-borne diseases

Sources and References

Living with Epileptic Pets: canineepilepsy.co.uk

How to Recognize and Handle Dog Seizures: Cesar’s way

Seizures- General for Dogs: VCA Animal Hospitals

Canine Epilepsy: Canine Health Network

Dr. Winnie
About Dr. Winnie 344 Articles
My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone

1 Comment

  1. Very informative. Thanks. My 3 yr old male miniature schnauzer recently experienced seizures as you describe. He is on medication for canine epilepsy now and doing fine.

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