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Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that causes frequent seizures. A seizure occurs when abnormal nerve signals in the brain cause the muscles suddenly to convulse.
Types of seizures:
- Petit Mal: mild seizure, a sudden, brief loss of consciousness - staring into space.
- Grand Mal, Tonic-Clonic: most common type of seizure. The animal falls on its side with outstretched limbs and loses consciousness. Your pet will lose all muscle control. Limbs will jerk intensely and it will lose control of its bladder and bowels. These seizures last for 1-3 minutes.
- Status Epilepticus: potentially fatal seizure. It lasts more than 5 minutes or can be multiple seizures in a short time with no consciousness in between.
- Cluster Seizures: another potentially fatal seizure. Multiple seizures in a short time span, with consciousness in between.
There is a condition called Idiopathic Epilepsy with no known cause and can be genetic.
Other causes may include:
- Head injuries
- Brain tumors, cancer
- Birth defects
- Lead poisoning
- Metabolic disorder
- Before a seizure: mood and behavioral changes
- At the start of a seizure: trembling, drooling, wandering, restlessness, hiding, and whining
- During the seizure: loss of consciousness, teeth striking together, intense limb thrashing, drooling, whining, and uncontrolled urination and defecation
- After the seizure: disorientation and blindness
During a seizure, move your dog to an open space to avoid injury. Try to time the seizure and watch it closely. After the seizure, stay near your dog and comfort it as it regains consciousness. You can cool them with an ice pack either in the neck area or in the groin area. Then go to your veterinarian immediately and tell them precisely what happened. Seizures require emergency veterinary care because they can lead to life-threatening complications.
Many disorders cause seizures, so your veterinarian will perform a few tests to rule out other diseases before diagnosing your dog with epilepsy.
- Cerebrospinal fluid analysis (fluid from the spine is withdrawn through a needle): tests for infections
- Blood test: tests for lead poisoning, hypothyroidism, and hypoglycemia
- CT scan or MRI: checks for a brain tumor
- X-rays: of the chest and abdomen
- Sample analysis: of the feces and urine
Epilepsy is not curable and requires lifelong care.
Your veterinarian may prescribe anticonvulsant drugs. In most cases, these will not completely stop all seizures but will lessen the frequency and severity. You will probably need to give your dog the medication for life. However, if they were on medication for over a year and had no seizures during that time, your veterinarian may recommend slowly reducing the dose.
Probiotics (dietary supplements containing live bacteria) are helpful. They come in packets and can easily be added to your dog's food.
Keep track of all seizures and follow up with your veterinarian every few months.
Since the leading causes of epilepsy are either unknown or genetic, there is no known way to prevent this condition.
With medication, approximately 70% of epileptic pets live an normal life. About 30% do not respond to antiseizure drugs, but most can still live happy lives.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM