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Witnessing your four-legged friend experience a seizure can be one of the most heart-wrenching and terrifying moments. The unpredictability of epilepsy in dogs symptoms, coupled with the visceral impact of seeing a beloved pet in distress, can evoke a storm of emotions.
However, advances in veterinary medicine, a community of support, and a deeper understanding of what causes epilepsy in dogs can empower you to manage your pet’s illness with grace and optimism. Being equipped with this knowledge can help you face the challenges of dog epilepsy head-on. In this article, we’ll discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for epilepsy in dogs to help you learn more about it.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy in dogs is a neurological disorder characterized by recurring seizures. While most pet parents are initially concerned about epilepsy symptoms in dogs, it’s essential to recognize that these seizures result from sudden electrical discharges in the brain. While epilepsy is a term many associate with humans, it’s crucial to understand that our canine companions aren’t immune to it. In fact, approximately 0.75% of the canine population is affected by this condition.
The causes of epilepsy in dogs can be varied. Some forms of epilepsy are inherited, known as genetic or idiopathic epilepsy. This means the condition has been passed down through generations and has a genetic origin. Another type is structural epilepsy, which is caused by specific structural problems or anomalies in the brain. These could arise due to injuries, infections, tumors, or any other condition that can physically alter the brain’s architecture. There’s also epilepsy of unknown cause, where, as the name suggests, the underlying reason for the seizure is unknown.
Understanding the root cause of your dog’s epilepsy can be pivotal in determining the best course of treatment and management. With advancements in veterinary neuroscience and a growing community of experts, it’s possible to provide dogs with epilepsy a good quality of life.
Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs
Epilepsy in dogs manifests as recurrent seizures, which can vary in severity and presentation. Recognizing the epilepsy symptoms in dogs and the patterns of epilepsy can help in early detection and management of the condition. Here are the typical symptoms of epilepsy in dogs:
- Generalized seizures: Generalized seizures are full-body convulsions that lead to sudden collapse with loss of consciousness. Also known as grand mal seizures, they cause a stiffening of the body followed by paddling motions with the legs. Grand mal seizure symptoms in dogs typically include involuntary urination or defecation with excessive salivation or frothing at the mouth and twitching or jerking of the muscles. During an episode, your dog might vocalize in the form of whining or howling.
- Focal seizures: Also known as partial seizures, focal seizures can affect one part or the side of the body. Signs of seizures like these include uncontrolled movements like twitching or shaking.
- Incontinence: Dogs may lose consciousness and lose control of bodily functions during seizures.
- Unusual behaviors: In the period leading up to a seizure, your dog may experience behavioral changes, such as restlessness, hiding, or seeking affection. During a seizure, they might be uncharacteristically vocal, barking or whining suddenly. Dogs can also become disoriented and confused, leading to aggressive behavior. After a seizure, your dog may continue to experience disorientation, confusion, or fatigue. This disoriented phase immediately following a seizure is called the postictal phase. The length of this phase varies depending on the length of the seizure.
If your dog has multiple seizures occurring in a short span of time, it’s considered a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention.
It’s crucial for pet parents to observe and document the frequency, duration, and characteristics of the seizures. This information can help vets diagnose the type of epilepsy and its potential triggers and formulate a suitable treatment plan.
If you suspect your dog is having a seizure, it’s important to remain calm, ensure your dog’s safety by moving them away from hazards like stairs, and consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that while these are common symptoms of seizures in dogs, they can also be symptoms of other illnesses. For instance, shaker syndrome in dogs can manifest with generalized tremors, but it’s not the same as having a seizure. These tremors can be mistaken for seizures, but treatments and prognosis can differ, which is why it’s so important to consult a veterinarian to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate care for your pet.
Types of Seizures
Understanding epilepsy in dogs treatment starts with recognizing the different manifestations of seizures. They can vary in presentation, intensity, and duration. A few types of seizures dogs can experience include:
- Automatisms: These are repetitive, often non-purposeful behaviors that can seem almost reflexive or robotic. Actions like lip-smacking, chewing, or snapping at the air are fairly common.
- Atonic seizure: During an atonic seizure, dogs lose muscle tone and may suddenly collapse or appear limp.
- Cluster seizure: This refers to multiple seizures occurring in a short span, usually within a 24-hour period. Immediate veterinary attention is required, as this can be life-threatening.
- Focal seizure: Originating in a specific area of the brain, symptoms of focal seizures can be limited to one part or side of the body and progress to a generalized seizure.
- Generalized seizure: As discussed, these seizures affect both sides of the brain simultaneously, leading to symptoms throughout the entire body, such as muscle spasms, stiffness, and loss of consciousness.
- Myoclonic seizures: Characterized by rapid, brief muscle jerks or twitches, which can affect a part or the whole body.
- Tonic seizure: During a tonic seizure, the dog’s muscles will suddenly stiffen, which can lead to them falling over.
- Tonic-clonic seizure: This type of seizure combines the characteristics of both tonic and clonic seizures. Dogs will first experience muscle rigidity (tonic) followed by muscle contractions (clonic).
What Causes Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disruption in the brain’s usual electrical activities. However, the underlying reasons for this disruption can vary and aren’t fully understood in dogs or humans. At a fundamental level, seizures emerge from a dysfunction in the brain’s electrical rhythm. Each neuron, or brain cell, communicates using electrical impulses. When this system is disturbed, it can trigger seizures.
The brain maintains a delicate equilibrium between excitatory signals that stimulate other neurons and inhibitory signals that suppress activity. When this balance tips either toward an overabundance of excitement or an unusual suppression of activity, seizures can occur.
Unfortunately, the actual triggers or roots of these imbalances, especially when no visible structural damage or metabolic disruptions are present, are unknown.
At a deeper cellular level, some evidence suggests that the root cause for some seizures might be caused by neuron abnormalities. Ion channels, tiny gateways that control the flow of electrically charged particles in and out of the neuron, help to maintain the cell’s electrical function. Abnormalities or mutations in these channels can disrupt this function, potentially leading to seizures. However, it’s essential to note that this theory might only be applicable to specific causes of idiopathic (unexplained) epilepsies.
Unfortunately, more research is needed to learn as much as we can about epilepsy in dogs and humans. As research progresses, we hope it will illuminate what we don’t know about this condition to help us get a more comprehensive understanding that leads to more targeted treatments.
Treating & Diagnosing Epilepsy in Dogs
Epilepsy can significantly affect a dog’s quality of life. The good news is that, with the right approach to treatment and a careful diagnosis, many dogs can lead relatively normal, happy lives despite their condition. It’s crucial to work closely with your vet to determine the best course of action tailored to your dog’s specific needs. A few treatment options include the following:
If your dog has two or more seizures per month, experiences a prolonged seizure, or faces cluster seizures, your vet might suggest an antiepileptic drug (AED). The primary objective is to reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures, but unfortunately, these medications aren’t a cure. Common AEDs include phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and newer anticonvulsant drugs like gabapentin. Dogs prone to cluster seizures might require diazepam administered rectally to reduce the intensity and frequency of subsequent seizures within the cluster.
AEDs aren’t right for every dog, especially if their tests come back normal after the first seizure. Instead, there are other therapies your vet might use before medication due to the various side effects of medication and the fact that it’s possible your dog might never experience another seizure. Other treatment approaches to epilepsy in dogs include the following:
- Pulse Keppra therapy: Particularly useful for dogs prone to cluster seizures, this treatment involves giving short-acting levetiracetam after a seizure to prevent further episodes.
- Adjunctive therapy: Techniques like stimulating the dog’s vagal nerve might help reduce the severity of a seizure. In some cases, recognizing early signs and applying these methods can even prevent an episode.
- Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM): Acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies have shown promise in enhancing seizure control. Keep in mind that most general vets aren’t practiced in these remedies, and some herbs may interact with your dog’s existing medications.
- Prescription food: Specific diets can significantly reduce seizure activity. The inclusion of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in the food may block certain receptors in the brain responsible for seizures.
Ultimately, the best treatment for your dog will depend on their diagnosis and your vet’s recommendations.
What should I do if my dog is having a seizure?
Witnessing your dog having a seizure can be an overwhelming and emotional experience. However, knowing what to do during and after the episode can aid in your dog’s safety and recovery.
During a seizure, you should prioritize safety. While you can comfort them, avoid putting your hands near their mouth or head to prevent accidental bites. Keep in mind that your dog might involuntarily move during a seizure and hurt themselves. You should ensure the environment is safe by moving them away from potential hazards like stairs, furniture, and sharp objects. You should try to move these objects away from the dog rather than moving the dog itself.
Contrary to some myths, dogs won’t swallow their tongues during seizures. Therefore, you shouldn’t put anything in their mouth. Attempting to do so can lead to injury to you or the dog.
After a seizure, your dog might be disoriented and take a few minutes to several hours to recover fully. Keep an eye on them during this time. As your dog regains consciousness, they may feel confused or scared. You can talk to them in a soothing voice and offer a soft touch to provide comfort.
Keep in mind that dogs are attuned to our emotions. Staying calm and speaking in soft tones can help reduce their anxiety as they recover.
It’s important to keep a seizure diary to give your vet a comprehensive understanding of the seizures. Even if you take your dog to the vet while they’re having a seizure, the episode will likely be over by the time you get there. However, information like affected parts of the body, when the seizure occurred, their frequency, and the duration of each episode can provide insights that guide treatment and management decisions.
What are the symptoms of epilepsy in dogs?
Epilepsy in dogs manifests primarily as recurrent seizures. These episodes can range from subtle, momentary lapses in consciousness to full-blown convulsive activity. A dog might exhibit unusual behaviors like staring blankly, twitching, drooling, vocalizing, or paddling their legs.
In more pronounced cases, there may be whole-body conclusions, loss of consciousness, and involuntary urination or defecation. Following a seizure, dogs often display symptoms like disorientation, temporary blindness, or uncoordinated movements.
How long can dogs live with epilepsy?
Epilepsy in dogs is a chronic condition. Its impact on lifespan varies depending on several factors, including the dog’s overall health, the efficacy of treatments, and the nature of the seizures. About 60-70% of epileptic dogs achieve good control over their seizures when properly treated and monitored.
However, statistically, 40-60% of dogs with epilepsy experience cluster seizures or status epilepsy, which correlates with a reduced average lifespan of 8 years, compared to the 11-year lifespan of epileptic dogs without these severe episodes.
In a research study, the median age of death of dogs with epilepsy was 7 years, with the dogs typically living with epilepsy for 2.3 years. Therefore, while epilepsy can challenge a dog’s quality of life, with effective treatment and dedicated care, many epileptic dogs can lead fulfilling lives.
Epilepsy in dogs is a multifaceted condition that requires understanding, patience, and diligent care. By familiarizing yourself with the symptoms and treatment options, you can offer the best possible life for your beloved dog.
It’s essential to remain informed and work with a veterinarian to navigate the challenges that epilepsy in dogs may bring. Try Dutch today to schedule your appointment with a vet and ensure you always have direct access to licensed veterinary experts when you need it most. We also offer the convenience of having your gabapentin prescription and many other treatments delivered right to your doorstep at no additional cost.
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