Epilepsy in dogs

Epilepsy in dogs

In dogs, epilepsy can be an inherited disease or secondary to another problem such as head injury or infection of the central nervous system. Inherited epilepsy is especially common in Beagles, Belgian Shepherds, Dachshunds and German Shepherd Dogs. In the general dog population, the incidence of epilepsy with seizures is no more than 0.5% and 5.7%. The archetypal symptom of epilepsy is naturally the famous generalized seizures. Canine epilepsy will normally manifest for the first time when the dog is in its early adulthood.

Different types canine epilepsy

Dogs can suffer from three different types of epilepsy: reactive epilepsy, secondary epilepsy, and primary epilepsy. Reactive epilepsy is a reaction to kidney or liver failure, or to metabolic problems such as low blood sugar. Secondary epilepsy – also known as symptomatic epilepsy – can be caused by trauma, stroke, brain tumours and similar health problems. The reason/reasons behind primary canine epilepsy are still far from understood and the condition is therefore commonly referred to as idiopathic epilepsy.  (Idiopathic = arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause.) Idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed by gradually eliminating all other possible causes behind the seizures.

Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy will normally start having seizures when they are around 1-3 years of age. The fact that your dog has its firs seizure around this age should however not be interpreted as a sure diagnostic criteria; a dog of this age might just as well develop reactive or secondary epilepsy. It is therefore very important to let a veterinarian thoroughly examine the dog in order to rule out all the known caused of epilepsy. According to one study carried out on dogs 1-3 years of age with seizures, a cause behind the epilepsy could be determined in 1/3 of the dogs. This means that only 2/3 of the dogs suffered from primary (idiopathic) epilepsy.

What will the vet do?

A dog that has experienced a seizure should always be carefully examined by a veterinarian. To begin with, most vets will start with a physical and neurological exam of the dog to determine its overall health status. The vet will also analyse blood and urine from the dog, make a serum chemistry profile, a bile test, and test if there are any thyroid problems. The vet can also ask you to keep a “seizure diary” where you document all relevant facts around the seizures that your dog is having, including date, time, length, severity and how long time your dog needs to recover after each seizure. Also note down any other information that might be helpful, e.g. if the dog is under any type of stress prior to the seizures, environmental changes, diet etcetera. 

Epilepsy treatment for dogs

There are several different treatments available for dogs with epilepsy. Combining Potassium bromide and Phenobarbital is one popular treatment, but during recent years several other drugs such as Gabapentin has been approved for use on dogs with epilepsy. Other examples of drugs for epilepsy treatment that can be administered to dogs are Diazepam, Phenytoin, Levetiracetam, and Zonisamide. When dogs are given potassium bromide, the vet will normally combine it with Zentionol to decrease the damaging effects of the bromide.

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