Epilepsy refers to a brain disorder caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain and is characterized by recurrent seizure episodes which may or may not be associated with an identifiable brain defect. During a seizure, most dogs lose their balance, collapse, lose consciousness, stiffen, chomp or chew, froth from the mouth, urinate, defecate, vocalise and paddle the air with their feet. They may be dizzy and disoriented shortly before and up to a day after having a seizure. It can happen any time, however is most commonly observed while the dog is resting or asleep, often at night or in early morning.
Types of Canine Epilepsy
Typically, epilepsy is classified as being either idiopathic (of unknown origin and presumed to be genetic) or symptomatic. Idiopathic epilepsy, which is also referred to as ‘true epilepsy’ has no diagnosable cause during life. Symptomatic or acquired epilepsy does have an identifiable physical cause, such as a brain tumor, head trauma or a disorder of the endocrine system.
Owners of epileptic dogs normally notice one or more of the following:
- Convulsion and loss of consciousness
- Facial twitching, becomes stiff and chomps his jaw
- Excess drooling/salivation (profuse frothing at the mouth)
- Urinates, defecates, vocalises and paddle with all four legs (running in the air with rigid legs)
After a seizure
- Confused and disoriented
- Temporary blindness or impaired vision
- Increased thirst and water consumption (polydipsia)
- Increased appetite and food consumption (polyphagia)
Prevention of Epilepsy
Dogs suffering from seizures of unknown origin should not be bred because of the potential genetic component of idiopathic epilepsy. Intact females with epilepsy should be spayed, since estrus is thought to increase seizure activity, strength and frequency. A skipped dose of oral epilepsy medications can cause the sudden onset of additional seizures.
The initial database usually includes blood sampling and analysis for a complete blood count and a serum chemistry panel together with urinalysis. Of course, a complete history and thorough physical and neurological examinations are essential to the diagnostic process. A number of more advanced techniques are available to help diagnose but currently these diagnostic tools are not available in our country especially in veterinary practice.
Goals of Treating Epilepsy
Epileptic seizures – especially status epilepticus and serial cluster seizures – can be life threatening and become a true medical emergency. They should be treated quickly and aggressively. The primary therapeutic goals for any epileptic dog are to reduce the frequency and severity of seizure activity and increase the seizure-free interval to a point that the dog and its owners can maintain and enjoy an acceptable quality of life. Depending on the particular animal, daily medication may or may not be necessary to effectively control the disorder.
When a dog presents with an acute, active seizure, the usual initial treatment is intravenous administration of tranquilizer used as an anticonvulsant medication and a skeletal muscle relaxant. If this does not stop the seizure, most veterinarians turn next to intravenous administration of a quick-acting anesthetic agent that lasts a very short period of time. Obviously, both the condition and its treatment must be managed extremely carefully by a skilled veterinary team in hospital, and the attending veterinarian is the only person who can best determine the appropriate treatment regimen. Further oral medication protocol depends on the treating veterinarian’s preference and recommendation.
Most dogs with idiopathic epilepsy can be well-managed medically and can live a long and essentially normal life. It is quite helpful for veterinarians if owners keep track of the date, time, length and severity of their dog’s epileptic episodes. Unfortunately, dogs with recurrent status epilepticus seizures that last more than five minutes have a poor prognosis.
Usually, dogs do not die after a seizure; however severe cluster seizures can be life-threatening emergency that require that require immediate and aggressive medical attention.
- Prevent the dog from injuring itself on surrounding objects.
- Keep a calendar of seizure to assess response to treatment.
- Once treatment is started, the dog will require medication for life time.