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Epilepsy in dogs: Forms, symptoms and treatment

Like humans, dogs can develop epilepsy and suffer from the typical seizures associated with the disease. If there are frequent seizures, epilepsy is often a major burden for dogs and their owners.

Depending on how severe the seizures are and how frequently they occur, the necessary treatment may vary. In the following, we will explain the causes of epilepsy in dogs, the symptoms of a disease and the treatment options available.

What is epilepsy in dogs?

What is epilepsy in dogs

Epilepsy is a chronic nervous disease. If your dog suffers from epilepsy, sudden discharge disturbances of the neurons in his brain occur, resulting in seizures and disturbances of movement and behaviour.

Epilepsy in dogs: possible causes

Epilepsy can occur in two forms in dogs and can therefore have different causes. A distinction is made between idiopathic and symptomatic epilepsy in dogs.

Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs

Idiopathic or primary epilepsy is particularly common in dogs. There is no cause for this form of the disease. The brain of the dog shows no abnormalities and also otherwise the four-legged friend works completely healthy between two seizures.

In principle, all dogs can fall ill with idiopathic epilepsy. However, there are some breeds where there is an increased risk and where this form of epilepsy is widespread.

Symptomatic epilepsy in dogs
The following dog breeds suffer from epilepsy comparatively frequently:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador
  • Beagle
  • Collie
  • German shepherd dog
  • Pugilists
  • Irish setter
  • Dachshunds
  • Poodle
  • Magyar Vizsla
  • English Springer Spaniel

Symptomatic epilepsy in dogs

In contrast to idiopathic epilepsy, symptomatic epilepsy in dogs is caused by another disease. The epileptic seizures in this form are therefore in principle rather a side effect of a previous disease.

Possible triggers of symptomatic epilepsy in dogs:

  • Low blood sugar levels
  • A brain tumor
  • A head injury
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Poisons ingested with food
  • An infection

Symptoms of epilepsy in dogs

Epilepsy can cause both small and large seizures in your dog. Usually an impending seizure is indicated by behavioural abnormalities. The dog suffering from epilepsy appears restless, anxious or particularly affectionate. This condition is called aura.

Partial epileptic seizures

A small seizure is limited to a single area of the body and can, for example, lead to a twitching leg. In addition, such a partial seizure can also cause your dog to become anxious and behave strangely, barking or snatching flies for no reason.

Generalized epileptic seizures

A generalized or major seizure, on the other hand, causes convulsions and cramps all over the body. In addition to stretching cramps, such a seizure can also cause your dog to twitch his face and limbs. In addition, a severe seizure can cause strong salivation and uncontrolled heeling of faeces and urine.

For the duration of the epileptic seizure, the animal is in a comatose state. Its eyes are twisted and it is temporarily unresponsive. An epileptic seizure in your dog can be over after a few seconds. However, it can also last a few minutes or even several hours. After the seizure is over, your dog will initially appear disoriented and exhausted.

Diagnosis of epilepsy in dogs

In order to diagnose epilepsy in dogs, numerous examinations are often necessary. Because before your vet can diagnose idiopathic epilepsy, he must first rule out other causes that can cause symptomatic epilepsy. In addition, diseases such as rabies or tetanus are possible causes of seizures.

The usual procedures used to diagnose epilepsy in dogs include x-rays and MRIs, blood tests, EEGs (electroencephalography) and brain fluid.

Treatment of epilepsy in dogs

If your dog has secondary (symptomatic) epilepsy, it is necessary to treat the underlying disease responsible. In primary (idiopathic) epilepsy, the aim of treatment is to reduce overexcitation of the nerve cells in the brain and thus prevent seizures.

Medicines for epilepsy in dogs

Primary epilepsy in dogs is treated with so-called antiepileptic drugs. Phenobarbital is one of the best-known drugs in this field. It usually takes between two and three weeks for phenobarbital to reach the required level in the blood and to have the desired effect.

During this time, your dog may experience side effects such as sluggishness and fatigue as well as increased thirst and appetite. Normally, however, these symptoms subside after a few days.

Ideally, the administration of phenobarbital will make seizures less frequent and shorter. However, if there is no improvement, the vet will combine phenobarbital with other anti-epileptic drugs such as potassium bromide.

Since anti-epileptic drugs must be dosed accurately, regular check-ups are necessary, during which the veterinarian checks your dog's blood values.

Additional medication for seizures

If your dog, who suffers from epilepsy, suffers from an acute seizure, it is possible to alleviate this with appropriate medication. Usually the veterinarian prescribes the sedative diazepam for this purpose, which can be administered to the cramping four-legged friend as a suppository.

Tips for your behaviour during seizures

During an acute epileptic seizure, it is especially important that you keep your dog away from any objects that could injure him. There are different opinions about whether the dog should be stroked during the seizure.

For some dogs, physical contact with the owner helps them to calm down more quickly. The best way to find out how your dog behaves is to try it out. However, since it can happen that your dog bites you unintentionally, you should be careful.

Dog epilepsy: prognosis and chances of recovery
Dog epilepsy: prognosis and chances of recovery

Whether the therapy of epilepsy in your dog shows success depends on various factors. In the case of symptomatic epilepsy, the most important factor is whether the underlying disease leading to the seizures can be treated.

However, if your dog suffers from idiopathic epilepsy, the earlier the diagnosis is made and treatment begins, the better the chances of alleviating the symptoms. The more frequently your dog has had seizures, the more nerve cells will be involved in the next seizure. As a result, epileptic seizures become increasingly severe and occur at ever shorter intervals.

Primary epilepsy in dogs must be treated for a lifetime. The aim of therapy is to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. In some cases this works very well. In some of the affected dogs, however, treatment with antiepileptic drugs such as phenobarbital does not show any significant improvement.

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