What is Epilepsy?

Idiopathic epilepsy is a disorder in which seizures (‘fits’) 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 healthy. Owners of an epileptic pet, may experience the distressing sight of them having a seizure. It is important to remember that in typical epileptic seizures, your pet is unconscious and not aware of what is happening. In most instances treatment is possible and many epileptic pets enjoy a pain-free, long and happy life.

dog laying on a rug

How do I recognise epilepsy?

Epilepsy is usually first seen in young animals, typically between 6 months to 6 years of age, but can affect animals at any age. Each seizure usually lasts 1 to 2 minutes, but can last longer in some cases. In a typical seizure, your pet will lie on their side and alternate between rigidly straightening out their head and neck and performing jerking, paddling movements with their legs. There may be partial or complete loss of consciousness, as well as a loss of control of bowel motions and urine.

You may notice strange behaviour both before and after the seizure. For example, your pet may appear restless or behave oddly beforehand and may be sleepy or restless afterwards. Some pets become affectionate, while others seem abnormally hungry or thirsty.

Why does epilepsy occur?

No one really knows why true epilepsy occurs. Your vet may wish to rule out other causes of  seizures. Inheritance has been shown to play an important role in canine epilepsy for certain breeds.

Susceptible breeds include German Shepherd, Poodle, Irish Setter, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Welsh Springer Spaniel and American Cocker Spaniel. Males may be more predisposed than females.

dog laying under a blanket.

Is my pet in pain?

During a seizure your pet is usually unconscious during a seizure and may experience a few aches and pains afterwards. Seizures tend to be more ‘painful’ for the owner watching.

Can I do anything to help?

It is sensible not to breed from an epileptic pet. The frequency of seizures in a female dog is higher around the time of season, so it is advisable to  have her spayed.

Is there a treatment?

cat looking out of the window

Seizures can be both upsetting and inconvenient for the owners, but most dogs enjoy a high quality of life when treated. There is no cure for epilepsy and there is always a risk of a seizure.

Treatment can be very successf

ul, resulting in absence of seizures or sometimes just reduced frequency or severity. As well as being distressing for the owner, seizures can cause damage to brain cells or a change of  personality over time so treatment is essential. Also, each time a seizure occurs, the likelihood of having additional seizures increases.

Treatment can take up to two weeks to reach a steady state and your vet may need to try more than one drug or different doses. Blood tests to monitor effectiveness and side effects may be required and it is important never to suddenly stop treatment as this can precipitate seizures.

When should epilepsy be treated?

This should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon, but some guidelines are:

  • Two or more epileptic seizures within a 6 month period
  • If seizures occur in clusters (several in one day) or are very severe
  • Undesirable behaviour following seizure (e.g. aggression, blindness) or last longer than 24 hours
  • The frequency, severity and/or duration is increasing.

cats lying on a bed

What to do when your pet has a seizure.

When your pet is having a seizure you should protect yourself and your pet from harm. Pets do not swallow their tongues during a seizure, so there is no need to put your hand near your pet’s mouth. Move objects, people and other pets out of the way and do not move or handle your pet during a seizure unless he/she is likely to hurt themselves (e.g. if at the top of the stairs or near a fire., roll him/her onto a blanket and pull clear of harm).

Once finished, keep your pet in a quiet room to recover, they may be confused and disorientated, avoid approaching him/her until settled. Ensure that food and water are available as your pet may also be hungry and thirsty.

Time and record details of the seizure and the date, as this will help your vet to establish the best course of treatment. If the seizure is lasts longer than normal, for more than 5 minutes or if seizures are occurring more often than once per hour, you should contact your vet immediately.

Article courtesy of Vetoquinol.

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