Epilepsy in Dogs
by admin on April 1st, 2017
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Epilepsy means repeated or recurrent seizures or “fits” due to abnormal activity in the brain. Electrical activity is happening in the brain all the time however in some patients an additional and abnormal burst of electrical activity can occur which causes a fit. Some dogs will just have one fit but in others it becomes a regular event – this is Epilepsy. It is important to realise that Epilepsy is not a disease in itself but the sign of an abnormal brain function. The most commonly diagnosed form of epilepsy is referred to as Primary Epilepsy and is more common in certain breeds. Epilepsy does occur in cats but is much less common.
Are all fits the same?
No and as It is very likely your vet won’t see the fit taking a short video can be extremely helpful to them in deciding on the best course of action. Many types of seizure have been described in dogs and cats. The most common type is the grand mal which is the dramatic, typical fit where the patient lies on the floor and the whole body twitches and convulses rhythmically. Partial epileptic seizures that affect only one part of the body can also occur. These are less common and can be difficult to differentiate from other unusual non-epileptic movement disorders.
The seizure frequency is extremely variable between dogs (from many seizures a day to a seizure every few months). Despite being born with this functional brain disorder, dogs with primary epilepsy usually do not start seizuring before the age range of 6 months to 6 years. In the absence of disease affecting the brain, animals are typically normal in between the epileptic seizures.
What causes epilepsy?
The exact mechanism is unknown but in many cases the tendency to develop epilepsy is thought to be passed on genetically. In Primary epilepsy there is no obviously abnormal brain tissue and it is due to a chemical imbalance or to some ‘faulty wiring’ in the brain.
What is Secondary Epilepsy?
Secondary epilepsy is when the fits are being caused by another brain disorder such a brain tumour, an inflammation or infection of the brain (encephalitis), a brain malformation, a recent or previous stroke or head trauma. In other words there is an identifiable cause for the regular fits and there is some structurally abnormal brain tissue.
How is Epilepsy diagnosed?
The diagnosis of primary epilepsy is unfortunately a diagnosis of exclusion after elimination of other causes. There is no definitive diagnostic test for this condition and all investigations such as blood tests, brain scans and laboratory analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, will all come back as completely normal!
Can you cure epilepsy?
Primary Epilepsy is unfortunately a condition that the animal is born with and as such it cannot be cured. Using anti-epileptic medication such as phenobarbitone will prevent some patients having any more fits. Although complete control is the goal of treatment, in most circumstances ‘successful treatment’ is a balancing act of reducing the frequency and severity of the seizures to a low level whilst avoiding unacceptable side effects of the drugs. So a patient may still have some fits despite being on treatment.
When should medication be started?
This isn’t a black and white issue. A substantial number of dogs will only have one fit in their entire lifetime and so if every dog was started on treatment after its first fit then all these dogs would be receiving medication unnecessarily. However, there is some evidence to suggest that early treatment offers better long-term control of the seizures as compared to animals that are allowed to have numerous seizures prior to the onset of treatment. We also have to take into account that anti-epileptic medications can have side effects and getting things under control will often place significant demands on you as the pet owner and carer.
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