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Canine epilepsy cause and treatment

Epilepsies are diseases of the brain that lead to recurring seizures with muscle cramps, as nerve cells in the cerebrum suddenly discharge. The epileptic seizures proceed differently from dog to dog. The basis of the disease is a pathological over-excitability of the nerve cells, which continuously fire signals during an epileptic attack in the brain and thus cause the cramps.

If only a small area of ​​the brain is affected, it is called partial epilepsy. On the other hand, if the nerves go crazy in large parts or in the entire cerebrum, generalized seizures occur.

What types of epilepsy are there?

Idiopathic epilepsy is one of the most common brain disorders in dogs. Between half and one percent of dogs in Germany are affected by this disease.

In addition to primary idiopathic epilepsy, the exact causes of which are not yet known, there is secondary or symptomatic epilepsy, which is caused by diseases, metabolic disorders or injuries to the brain.

Causes of Epilepsy in Dogs

The causes of idiopathic epilepsy are still largely unknown. Certain breeds, such as the Australian Shepherd, are particularly affected, so that these animals are likely to be hereditary. In individual breeds, such as the Lagotto Romagnolo, genetic tests have already been developed to detect hereditary idiopathic epilepsy, but not for Australian Shepherds.

Epileptic Seizure: Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs

An epileptic seizure usually starts suddenly and without warning. The following behaviors and symptoms can occur:

  • disturbed consciousness up to unconsciousness
  • The dog suddenly falls over and convulses (muscle twitching / muscle stiffness).

In the convulsive phase one also observes:

  • bark
  • Salivation
  • Passage of feces and urine
  • Chewing and walking movements
  • temporary cessation of breathing
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The duration of such an attack is usually around two minutes, at most five. After a seizure, some dogs behave completely normally. But others still suffer hours later from problems such as disorientation, wandering, abnormal hunger, indifference, stiff movements or they are even aggressive.

If several seizures merge, the life-threatening status epilepticus is present. In this case, you need to see a veterinarian immediately! This also applies to so-called cluster seizures. These are seizures that happen so quickly in a row that the dog cannot recover between them.

It is believed that there are hereditary predispositions to epilepsy. Australian Shepherds, for example, are particularly vulnerable. © Helen Rose Gabriel-stock.adobe.com

Diagnosing epilepsy in dogs

Since there are no examinations or tests that can unequivocally prove idiopathic epilepsy, all other possible causes of the seizure must first be ruled out for a clear diagnosis. And unfortunately there are a lot of them:

All of these conditions can also cause severe seizures. The diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is therefore comparatively complex.

However, owners of affected dogs can actively support the vet with the diagnosis by filming the seizures and recording exactly what happened before, during and after an attack.

Diagnosing epilepsy in dogs is relatively time consuming. © Kadmy-stock.adobe.com

Here’s what to do if your dog has an epileptic fit

Some, but not all, dogs exhibit behavioral changes shortly before a seizure that can serve as warning signs to experienced owners. Owners can then move the dog to a safe location before the seizure starts. But even if the attack comes as a surprise, you can help your dog:

  • It is important that you try to remain calm during a seizure, as your fear can spread to your dog and make the seizure worse.
  • Do not hold onto the animal under any circumstances – it could injure you.
  • In some counselors it is recommended to stick a stick between the dog’s teeth so that it does not bite its tongue – this is wrong. In fact, there is a risk of injuring the animal. Rather, try to remove or cushion any objects that the dog could injure themselves on.
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If the seizure is prolonged, you must take the dog to the vet immediately. Do not forget, however, that dogs in this state can bite uncontrollably and violently – so try to protect yourself as much as possible.

If your dog has an epileptic seizure, stay calm and do not touch him! © filmbildfabrik-stock.adobe.com

Treatment of Epilepsy in Dogs

While the causes of seizures such as infections, parasites or head injuries can in many cases be cured with appropriate treatment, this is not possible with idiopathic epilepsy. If there is secondary epilepsy, the underlying disease must be treated. However, primary idiopathic epilepsy must be treated for life. Therapy takes place with drugs that suppress the seizures.

The selection of drugs and the determination of the dosage must be made individually for each dog, because not every drug is effective for every dog. In order to find the best therapy in each individual case, the four-legged epileptic must be checked closely by the veterinarian at the beginning of the treatment.

With some drugs, side effects such as:

  • fatigue
  • Disinterest
  • Overeating
  • thirst
  • increased urine production

However, these side effects usually subside as the therapy progresses. If there is a risk that the patient will experience status epilepticus or cluster seizures despite the therapy, the treating veterinarian will prescribe medication for this emergency that will interrupt the seizure. This medication is entered anally with an enema. The dog must then immediately undergo veterinary treatment.

Even with a successfully recruited dog, the therapy must be accompanied by regular veterinary examinations. The intervals between the necessary veterinary visits and the type of examinations depend on the one hand on the dog’s health and on the other hand on the medication used.

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In most dogs, the therapy can successfully suppress the seizures so that the seizures either no longer occur or occur significantly less frequently than before. In around 20 percent of four-legged epileptics, classic therapies do not work satisfactorily. Other dogs do not tolerate the drugs that are effective for them. In order to be able to help these animals in the future, veterinarians who specialize in neurology are intensively looking for new therapeutic approaches at several veterinary universities.

It is very important for the success of the therapy that the dog regularly receives his tablets at the same time, because as soon as the active substance level in the blood drops, seizures can occur again. Your vet will explain this to you in detail for your individual medication.

Thanks to the daily tablets, a small portion of happiness and the loving care of their people, many dogs can lead a completely normal, active dog life again despite epilepsy!

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