Epilepsy in Dogs

White Dog with Black Spots and Ears

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Epilepsy is a disease of the brain in many species including dogs that results in seizures. This disease can be pretty scary if owners don't know what to expect or do if their dog has a seizure. Knowing is half the battle so it's important to be educated on this common problem in dogs.

What Is Epilepsy in Dogs?

Epilepsy, or idopathic epilepsy, is a disease that causes seizures in dogs when the brain is abnormally overactive. Seizures are uncontrolled movements of the body and can be generalized, involving multiple parts of the body, or focal, involving only a certain part of the body. Dogs that regularly have seizures may be diagnosed with epilepsy.

Signs of Epilepsy in Dogs

Seizures can cause many different uncontrolled types of movements in dogs. Some dogs will have focal seizures that are not as obvious while others will have generalized seizures that have a more classic appearance to them affecting the entire body.

Focal seizures can cause a dog to simply stare off into space and lick its lips or chatter its jaw. These types of seizures are called bubble gum chewing seizures due to the symptoms them cause. A dog may be upright and standing normally when these occur. Other focal seizures may cause a dog to get a very stiff leg that they are unable to bend and use normally for a few seconds. These seizures may not be noted right away by an owner until they start to occur regularly.

Generalized seizures usually result in a dog falling onto its side and paddling its legs. The legs may alternatively jerk, twitch or be stiff, the neck may arch, and a dog may even vocalize. These seizures are more obvious than focal seizures and usually frighten an unsuspecting owner.

It's important to remember that a dog can have seizures for other reasons including being overheated or exposure to a toxin so not all seizures are a result of epilepsy. Epileptic seizures are seizures that continue to occur throughout the lifetime of a dog, not just once.

Causes of Epilepsy in Dogs

Epilepsy is also referred to as idopathic epilepsy because no one knows what causes it. The word idiopathic means there is an unknown cause so idiopathic epilepsy results in seizures of an unknown cause.

While no one knows exactly what causes it, it is thought that epilepsy may be a result of a genetic mutation in dogs. Purebred dogs seem to get this disease more than mixed breeds and males are more commonly affected than females but this doesn't mean that mixed breeds and females can't be diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy.

Diagnosing Epilepsy in Dogs

Dogs with epilepsy usually have their first seizure between the ages of one and five years old. Older dogs that start having seizures usually do not have epilepsy and will instead be diagnosed with a brain tumor or another reason for the seizures to be occurring.

If a dog has a seizure, your veterinarian will recommend checking some blood work and urine tests to look for diseases that may result in seizures. If no underlying disease is noted in these test results, a MRI (magnetic resonance image) and a CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) sample may be recommended to further look for a cause of the seizures. If no apparent cause of the seizures is found, the diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is made treatment is typically started.

Treatment of Epilepsy in Dogs

Several medications exist that may be used to help treat or manage epilepsy in dogs. While there is no cure for this brain disease, the symptoms can usually be managed with the administration of these medications. Special diets and supplements containing things like MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil may also be recommended to help manage epilepsy.

A log of when the seizures occur and how long they last can be useful in helping to manage the disease. Sometimes triggers are discovered and able to be avoided or you discover a food or medication works better for your dog than another. This log should be shared with your veterinarian to help formulate the best course of treatment for your dog.

How to Prevent Epilepsy in Dogs

Unfortunately there is no way to prevent epilepsy from occurring in a dog since no one knows what causes it. Since genetics are thought to play a role in epilepsy, dogs with a history of seizures should not be bred.