Epilepsy is a disorder in which seizures occur repeatedly. Sometimes the seizure begins as a result of damage to the brain, but usually there is no apparent reason for the seizures and the animal is otherwise completely healthy.
As an owner of an epileptic dog, you may have experienced the distressing sight of your dog having a seizure. While the outlook may at first seem bleak, it is important to remember that in typical epileptic seizures the dog is unconscious and not aware that he/she is having a seizure. Also, in most instances effective treatment is possible, and many epileptic dogs enjoy a pain free, long and happy life.
Epilepsy is usually first seen in young animals, typically between 6 months to 5 years of age but can affect animals of any age. Each seizure usually lasts 1 to 2 minutes but may be longer in some individuals. In a typical seizure, the dog will lie on its side and alternate between rigidly straightening out its head and neck and performing jerking, paddling movements with its legs. There may be partial or complete loss of consciousness as well as loss of control of motions and urine. In addition to the seizure itself, you may notice strange behaviour both before and after the seizure. For example, your dog may appear restless or behave oddly before the seizure and may be sleepy or restless afterwards. Some dogs become very affectionate while others seem abnormally hungry or thirsty. Each epileptic dog will have its own individual signs.
Why does epilepsy occur?
No one really knows why true epilepsy occurs. Your veterinary surgeon may first want to rule out other causes of the seizures first, as they can occur for reasons other than epilepsy. Breeds that seem particularly susceptible to epilepsy include German shepherd, Poodle, Irish Setter, Labrador, Golden retriever, Welsh Springer Spaniel and American Cocker Spaniel.
Is there a cure?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for epilepsy and an epileptic dog will always be at risk of having a seizure. Yet, treatment can be very successful. Most often resulting in reduced frequency, duration or severity of seizures, but sometimes stopping the seizures from occurring altogether.
When should epilepsy be treated?
This should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon, but some guidelines for treatment are:
If seizures occurs more frequently than once every 4-6 weeks.If seizures occur in clustersIf seizures last longer than 5-10 minutes
What should I do if my dog has a seizure?
Once your dog is having a seizure, there are actions you can take to protect yourself and your dog from harm.
Dogs do not seem to swallow their tongues during a seizure, so there is no need to put your hand near your dogs mouth and risk being accidentally bitten.
Where possible, move objects, people and other pets out of the way and do not move or handle your dog during a seizure unless he/she is likely to damage themselves.
Once the seizure is over, keep your dog in a quietened room to fully recover. Your dog may be confused and disorientated after a seizure, so avoid approaching him/her until he/she is ready to come to you. Ensure that food and water are available as your dog may also be hungry and thirsty after a seizure.
It is a good idea to time and record details of the seizure, as this will help your veterinary surgeon to establish the best course of treatment for your dog. If the seizure is lasting longer than normal, for more than 10 minutes or if seizures are occurring more often than one per hour, you should contact your veterinary surgeon immediately.
Once the correct medication has been prescribed to your pet it is also a good idea to keep a calendar and record dosage and time of daily medication and the occurrence of any side effects and seizures. The veterinarian can review the calendar and try different medication regimens to determine what best controls the seizures without sedation or other side effects.
Most epileptic dogs can live a long and happy life and in some cases it may even be possible to wean a dog off treatment. However, treatment should not be altered without prior consultation with your veterinary surgeon and it is essential that your dog receives the treatment prescribed.