Epilepsy in dogs is a frightening condition, as no pet owner wants to witness their pup having a seizure. Here, our Vancouver vets discuss epilepsy in dogs including the symptoms and how it is diagnosed and treated.
Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs
In dogs as with humans, epileptic seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. There are three types of seizures that your pet can experience, and each type of seizure displays different symptoms.
If your dog experiences a seizure of any kind, immediately seek emergency veterinary care.
Focal Seizures occur within small regions of only one-half of the dog's brain. If your dog is experiencing a focal seizure, the symptoms that you see will depend upon which region of the brain is affected.
- Episodic movements stem from abnormal activity in the motor region of your dog's brain and cause unusual movements such as head shaking, repeated muscle contractions of just one limb, or rhythmic eye blinking.
- If the seizure stems from abnormal electrical activity in a portion of your dog's brain called the autonomic nervous system you may notice symptoms such as dilated pupils, vomiting, or excessive salivation.
- Focal seizures in other areas of your pet's brain may cause uncharacteristic behaviors such as restlessness, unexplained fear, attention seeking, or unusual anxiety.
Generalized seizures occur on both sides of the animal's brain. Often dogs that are experiencing a generalized seizure will lose consciousness and it's not unusual for urination or defection to occur. Since generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain, the movements caused by these seizures will affect both sides of your dog's body rather than a single limb. Generalized seizures in dogs fall into five categories:
- Tonic seizures lead to muscle contractions or stiffening that can last just a few seconds or possibly minutes.
- Clonic seizures cause rapid contractions of the muscles that cause a jerking motion.
- Tonic-Clonic seizures begin as a tonic seizure (muscle contraction) that is followed by a clonic seizure (jerking contractions).
- Myoclonic seizures are sporadic jerks that will generally occur on both sides of the dog's body.
- Atonic seizures are also called 'drop attacks' because the dog experiences a sudden loss of muscle tone which causes them to collapse and typically lose consciousness.
Focal to Generalized Seizures
In dogs, the most common type of seizure is one where a focal seizure evolves into a generalized seizure. The focal seizure is usually very short and then is quickly followed by a generalized seizure.
In many cases 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. Taking note of what the dog was doing before the seizure can help your vet to better diagnose your dog's condition.
Diagnosing & Treating Epilepsy in Dogs
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that some dogs are born with, and as of yet there is no cure, however, treatments are available.
Testing for an underlying cause of your dog's seizures is the first step in the treatment process. If an obvious cause for the seizures is detected your pet will be diagnosed with structural epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy is very common in dogs and indicates that there is no apparent cause for the dog's seizures.
A dog may be diagnosed as having a reactive seizure, which is a seizure in response to a temporary problem such as poisoning. Reactive seizures will stop once the underlying problem is cleared up.
Since there is no cure for epilepsy in dogs, treatment with anti-epileptic drugs (AED) will be focused on reducing the severity and frequency of your dog's seizures without causing unacceptable side effects. This approach is successful in approximately 15-30% of dogs.
Following a thorough examination, testing, and diagnosis, your vet or veterinary neurologist will prescribe the best medication for your dog based on the type of seizures your dog is experiencing as well as your dog's overall health, size, and age.
If the first drug is unsuccessful at controlling your pet's epilepsy other drugs may also be tried.
If your pet 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 first consulting your veterinarian.
The Success of Epilepsy Treatment in Dogs
How do you know if the treatment is working? Treatment is considered successful if you notice that your dog is having notably fewer seizures than before and that they are shorter or less severe. Generally, the overall goal is to reduce the incidence of seizures to about half.
Diet For Dogs With Epilepsy
Studies have 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 what they eat without consulting your vet first. Changes in what and when your dog eats can affect how well the anti-epileptic drugs work. This includes feeding random table scraps or giving treats to your dog. When it comes to controlling epilepsy, consistency in your dog's diet is key.
There have also been promising results in controlling seizures in dogs with a special diet. Dogs that are switched over to a diet that is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) often see 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 plays a role in your pet's epilepsy, speak to your veterinarian about the right food for your dog.
Living With a Dog With Epilepsy
Many concerned pet parents wonder if they will be able to leave their dog home alone. The fact is, that 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 are out your dog will be as safe as possible.Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.