Seizures in Dogs – What You Need to Know
Epilepsy is the most common neurologic problem in our pet dogs, and is characterized by recurrent seizures that arise from abnormal activity in the brain. For owners, witnessing their dog having a seizure can be traumatic, but a little information will help you care for your pet and help him or her get the treatment they need.
A seizure can take many different forms, sometimes making diagnosis challenging. Some dogs exhibit focal seizures, which are localized to a specific area of the body, such as twitching in part of the face. Other dogs have generalized seizures, which involve the entire brain and multiple areas of the body. When most people think of seizures, they usually think of generalized seizures. Chewing, salivating, and paddling of the legs are all classic signs of a generalized seizure in a dog.
Epilepsy falls into three broad categories:
- Idiopathic epilepsy – Idiopathic epilepsy is divided into known or suspected genetic causes, and epilepsy of no known cause.
- Structural epilepsy – Structural epilepsy is caused by an identified problem, such as a brain tumor, infections or trauma. Sometimes the abnormality is influenced by a disease outside the brain. For example, liver disease can lead to a build-up of blood toxins that can cause a seizure. Treatment of the liver problem can stop seizure activity. It is important to rule out all causes of structural seizures before making a diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy.
- Unknown – In some cases, clinicians are not able to classify the type of epilepsy present, and they’re not entirely sure a patient should be placed in the idiopathic category.
The seizure activity itself goes through two or three phases:
- Prodrome – a long-term (hours to days) change in behavior that precedes a seizure
- Ictus – the seizure activity itself
- Postictal – after the ictus, the period where the brain restores normal function
Prodrome is not recognized very often in dogs, although some owners note behavior changes that clue them in that a seizure might occur. If these behavior changes are noted just before the ictus, the change is often considered part of the seizure.
Other neurologic diseases, orthopedic problems and heart disease cause collapse episodes that can look a lot like a seizure. If you suspect that your dog is having a seizure, using your smart phone to record the event can be very helpful in establishing a diagnosis. Noting the timing of seizure activity, how long the seizure lasts, whether your dog appears conscious or not, and whether your pet urinates or defecates involuntarily are all important clues to determining whether your dog has had a seizure or another medical problem.
Treatment for epileptic seizures varies and sometimes will resolve itself when an underlying health problem, like liver disease, is identified and resolved. In cases of idiopathic epilepsy, there are many different treatment options, including medication and diet changes. Other factors such as cost, severity of seizure activity, frequency of seizure activity as well as estimating the emotional burden of caring for an epileptic pet, are all considerations in choosing the best treatment strategy. Your family veterinarian can help guide you on what therapy is best for you and your dog.
Although golden retrievers are not considered a breed with a high incidence of seizures, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is an opportunity to watch not only epilepsy, but other neurologic disorders as they do – or don’t – develop over time.
Morris Animal Foundation has been investing in research focused on seizures in dogs since 1991. Studies have encompassed a wide variety of important topics, from new anticonvulsant drugs to the use of accelerometers to detect seizure activity when dogs are home alone. Improving the lives of dogs with seizures, as well as helping families cope with the disease, is just one of many ways Morris Animal Foundation is impacting the health and well-being of animals around the world.