Canine Epilepsy Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What is Canine or Dog Epilepsy? 

Canine Epilepsy is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent seizures. 
Epilepsy is defined as a neurological disorder characterized by sudden, recurring attacks. 

These attacks on the nerves can be of muscular, sensory, or psychic malfunction with or without loss of consciousness or convulsive seizures. 

Although dog seizures are always abnormal events, not all seizures in dogs are caused by epilepsy. 

Canine Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain where abnormal electrical activity triggers sudden uncontrolled burst of neurologic activity in the brain. 

This uncoordinated nerve activity scrambles messages to the muscles of your dog's body and the coordinated use of the muscles is then compromised. 

Canine seizures are basically the body's reaction to a sudden, uncontrolled burst of neurologic activity in the brain. 

All dogs have a seizure threshold beyond which certain conditions may result in a seizure. A seizure is the result of a dogs neurologic activity being pushed beyond the threshold due to injury, toxins, disease or genetic predisposition. 

Occasionally this activity can be localized in a small area, such as the leg or face, but usually it affects the entire body. 

A seizure is like the brain suddenly sending a repeated message to all muscles in the body to contract. 

Because there are many causes of chronic recurrent seizures in dogs, canine epilepsy is a category of disorders and not a specific disease or even a single syndrome. 

Canine Epilepsy is broadly divided into idiopathic (primary epilepsy) and symptomatic (secondary epilepsy) disorders. 

Canine Epilepsy - Primary Epilepsy

Primary epilepsy is also known as idiopathic, genetic, inherited, or true epilepsy. 

Primary epilepsy is a case of ruling out every other possibility. The first seizure in a dog with primary epilepsy usually occurs between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. 

A diagnosis of primary epilepsy is not proof there's a genetic defect. Only breeding studies can prove it's a genetic defect. 

The breed, the age, and the history may suggest a genetic basis for primary epilepsy if there is history of seizures in the family. 

Idiopathic epilepsy or primary epilepsy, means that there is no identifiable brain abnormality other than seizures. 

Canine Epilepsy

Canine Epilepsy - Secondary Epilepsy

Secondary epilepsy refers to seizures for which a cause can be determined, and there are many. 

In dogs less than one year of age, the most commonly-found causes of seizures can be broken down into the following classes...

  • degenerative
    storage diseases

  • developmental

  • toxic
    arsenic, strychnine, lead, chlorinated hydrocarbons, organophosphates, tetanus

  • infectious
    encephalitis, distemper, and others

  • metabolic
    possibilities are enzyme deficiency, transient hypoglycemia, liver or kidney failure

  • nutritional
    thiamine, parasitism

  • traumatic
    acute injury

In dogs 1-3 years of age, a genetic factor is most highly suspected. 

In dogs 4 years of age and older, seizures are commonly found in the following metabolic classes...

  • hypoglycemia

  • cardiovascular arrhythmia

  • hypocalcemia

  • cirrhosis

...and then also the neoplastic, brain tumor classes. 

Diagnosing Canine Epilepsy

Generally dogs with idiopathic epilepsy have their first seizure between one and five years of age. 

Estrogen increases the possibility of seizures, so a female coming in season may bring on more seizures during that time. 

When a dog experiences more than one seizure per month, treatment with anticonvulsant drugs is usually started to help control the seizures. 

The drugs are not a cure and seizures are generally never eliminated completely. 

The therapy is an aid in reducing the frequency and severity of the seizures, bringing a better quality of life to the dog and its family. 

There are side effects with the drug treatment, some of which can diminish after several weeks of treatment. 

Treatment must be monitored and adjusted, especially during the first few weeks. 

Most dogs with idiopathic epilepsy suffer their first seizure between the ages of one and five years of age. 

Epileptic episodes are quite common in dogs and actually show up more often in certain breeds of dogs than in others. 

A genetic basis for idiopathic epilepsy is strongly suspected in several breeds including the Beagle, Belgian Tervuren, Keeshond, Dachshund, British Alsatian, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Collie. 

Also, idiopathic canine epilepsy may have an inherited basis in other breeds. 

How do you determine if your dog has epilepsy? 

What do you do if you think your dog has had a seizure? Veterinarians have a number of diagnostic tools at their disposal. 

For dogs who have had only one isolated seizure, a complete physical and neurological examination is in order. Owners will be advised to watch for further seizures if no abnormalities are found. 

For every patient having more than one seizure, a minimum database should be developed. 

The database contains basic tests along with the patient's profile, history, results of complete physical and neurological examinations. 

The profile consists of the dog's breed, age, and sex. Pertinent history includes vaccinations, potential exposure to toxins, diet, any illnesses or injuries, behavioral changes, and whether seizures occurred in any animal related to the dog. 

› Canine Epilepsy

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