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Epilepsy in Dogs

Epilepsy in Dogs

Our veterinary neurologist understands that if your dog is experiencing recurring seizures, it may leave you feeling helpless and alone, but an estimated 0.5 - 5 percent of dogs are living with idiopathic epilepsy (seizures with no obvious cause). Today, our Winston-Salem vets share the types and symptoms of epilepsy in dogs, and how it is treated. 

What are the symptoms of epilepsy in dogs?

Epileptic seizures in dogs are caused by abnormal electrical activity in your pet's brain. There are three different types of seizures that your dog can experience, and each type of seizure displays in a different way.

Focal Seizures

Focal Seizures occur in only one half of the dog's brain, and within a particular region of that side. If your dog is experiencing a focal seizure, the symptoms that you will notice will depend upon which region of the brain is effected. 

  • Episodic movements stem from abnormal activity in the motor region of the dogs brain. Seizures in this area will 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 the autonomic nervous system in your pet's brain, you may notice symptoms such as dilated pupils, vomiting or excessive salivation.
  • Focal seizures in other areas of your pet's brain can cause uncharacteristic behavioral signs such as restlessness, unexplained fear, anxiety, or attention seeking.

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures occur on both sides of the brain. Often dogs that are experiencing a generalized seizure will lose consciousness and urination or defection may occur. Because generalized seizures effect both sides of the brain, the motor movements caused by the seizures will effect both sides of the dog's body rather than a single limb. Generalized seizures in dogs fall into five categories:

  • Tonic seizures are displayed as muscle contractions or stiffening that can last just a few seconds or possibly minutes.
  • Clonic seizures are 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 typically occur on both sides of the dog's body.
  • Atonic seizures, often called 'drop attacks' involve the sudden loss of muscle tone which causes the dog to collapse and most often lose consciousness.

Focal to Generalized Seizures

The most common type of seizure experienced by dogs is one where a focal seizure evolves into a generalized seizure. Typically the focal seizure is very short and is 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. Taking note of what the dog was doing before the seizure can help your vet to better diagnose your dog's condition.

How do you treat epilepsy in dogs? 

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that some dogs, and some people, are born with. Unfortunately, as of yet there is no cure for epilepsy in dogs or people. Nonetheless, treatments aimed at reducing the frequency of seizures are available. 

The first step in the treatment process for dogs experiencing seizures is to test for any possible underlying causes. If an obvious cause for your dog's seizures is detected within the brain then your pet will be diagnosed with structural epilepsy.

A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy indicates that there is no apparent cause for your dog's seizures. Idiopathic epilepsy is very common in dogs.

In rare cases 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.

Because there is no cure for epilepsy in dogs, treatment with an anti-epileptic drug (AED) therapy will be focused on reducing the severity and frequency of your dog's seizures without causing unacceptable side effects. This approach is successful in about 15-30% of dogs.

Your vet will recommend the best medication for your dog based on they 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.

When giving your dog medication to help control seizures it's important to give your dog their 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.

Should I feed my dog differently if they have epilepsy?

Recent studies for 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 diet 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 treating epilepsy, consistency in your dog's diet can often pay off.

There have also been promising results in terms of controlling seizures when dogs are switched over to a diet that is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Your vet may prescribe a special food to help control your dog's epilepsy.

If you feel that diet plays a role in your dog's epilepsy, speak to your veterinarian about the right food to feed your pet.

What does successful treatment look like?

If there is no cure for epilepsy in dogs, how do you know if the treatment is working? Well, since treatment is focused on reducing the frequency and severity of your dog's seizures a treatment is considered successful if you notice that your dog is in fact having fewer seizures than before, and that they are shorter or less severe. The overall goal is to reduce the incidence of seizures to about half.

Are there any side effects to AED treatments?

Your dog may experience side effects however they do tend to gradually disappear 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.

Can a dog with epilepsy be left alone?

The fact is, that even the most adoring pet parent will need to leave their dog alone 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 of the house your dog will be as safe as possible.

If your dog has been diagnosed with epilepsy or is experiencing seizures, contact your primary care veterinarian for a referral to see our board-certified veterinary neurologist. Our veterinary neurologist at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the nerves, spinal cord, muscles, and brain.

Caring for Winston-Salem Pets

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists, we accept new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service welcomes all clients.

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