Recognizing Epilepsy
By Deanna Mather Larson
Luci, our Dalmatian-Labrador cross was in trouble. She collapsed at my feet, unconscious. Froth ran from her lips. Her legs flailed, her neck stretched unnaturally and a painful grimace twisted her mouth. I watched helplessly as a terrifying seizure tore through her. 

Currently 260,000 to three million dogs in the United States suffer from epileptic seizures. Some of the most popular breeds are at the greatest risk. According to Terrell A. Holliday, DVM, neurosurgeon with the University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, "Thereís a fairly consistent pattern of breed popularity followed by problems of epilepsy." 

Because you have an "at risk" breed doesnít mean your pet will inherit epilepsy, only that its chances are increased. Mixed breeds arenít exempt. Any dog can have seizures. 

A single seizure doesnít mean your pet is epileptic. For a diagnosis of epilepsy, Holliday explains, "The first requirement is that there be recurrent seizures." 

Recognizing the symptoms of a seizure and the treatments available will help your pet survive epilepsy.


Other causes of epilepsy are brain tumors, birth injuries, a blow to the head or accidents such as near drowning, entanglement or near strangulation, and exposure to a poisonous substance such as lead or mercury. Some experts suspect exposure to insecticides, snail bait and flea dips may cause permanent brain damage. Infections or diseases such as kidney failure, distemper, tetanus, hypoglycemia and some types of parasites or conditions such as malnutrition and dehydration can put your pet at risk. 


"There isnít a single definition of seizure," says Dorothy W. Gietzen, Ph.D. and research scientist with the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She explains, "Itís the coordinated firing of lots of neurons that arenít supposed to work together." 

Youíll notice a change in your petís mood or behavior hours or a few days prior to a seizure. Just before the seizure your dog may whine, pace restlessly, snap at invisible flies, drool, follow you closely or hide. Sometimes a pet growls or exhibits unfounded aggression during this time. 

When the seizure strikes, there will be a sudden stiffness in limbs followed by collapse and unconsciousness. Muscle contractions will imitate running or walking. Jaws will clamp and thereís a possibility of incontinence of bladder and bowel. 

"A seizure is an alarming thing for an owner to see if theyíve never witnessed it before," says Holliday. "It seems like it goes on for hours, when in most cases itís only a few minutes." 

A seizure may last up to ten minutes. Afterward your pet may remain unresponsive for a few more minutes. Holliday advises, "Donít try to feed it or water it until itís up and walking around." After your dog is fully alert, a spoonful of honey may help regain lost blood sugar and may alleviate depression.


"A single seizure, you donít worry about brain damage," states Holliday. "When they start having them and donít recover consciousness between seizures, itís absolutely necessary to get help." If your dogís seizure activity calms, but he doesnít get up or respond when his name is called, and then starts thrashing again, contact a veterinarian right away. Holliday continues, "If the dog wakes up, then a half an hour later has another seizure, thatís time to get going too."

Seizures can look painful. Injuries can occur if a dogís head or limbs strike something hard or sharp. The dog can bite its lips or tongue. Itís likely that the seizure itself doesnít cause pain because, as Gietzen explains, "Human epilepsy patients donít report pain."


Talk soothingly and stroke your pet. Donít try to restrain movements; pad his head. Protect him from dangerous obstacles such as swimming pools or stairs. Keep other dogs away, as they may not understand and may attack a dog during a seizure. An old towel under his rear quarters will protect your rug. 

"During a seizure there isnít a lot you can do," Holliday says. He doesnít advise inserting anything into the dogís mouth because "the danger of the dog biting its tongue is minimal, and isnít worth the risk of you getting badly bitten." 


After your dog has had more than one convulsion take him to your vet. Then Holliday recommends a blood chemistry to rule out liver disease, blood sugar problems and toxicity. Further testing may involve MRIs, CT scans, electroencephalograms or spinal fluid analysis.

Most veterinarians do a general chemistry work-up then question the owners about the nature of the seizures and the possibility of exposure to toxic substances before continuing tests. Holliday says, "In dogs five years and older, weíre more anxious to go ahead with imaging. You donít want to miss the chance of a dog having a brain tumor."

Onset of inherited epilepsy is usually before the dogís second year. Some dogs may go five or six years before their first seizure. With an accident, or other causes, onset can occur immediately or weeks later. Often seizures go unnoticed because the symptoms arenít recognized or no one is around to observe them.


Holliday advises, "Phenobarbital is the primary anticonvulsant. Weíre using a lot of potassium bromide too." The most common medications are phenobarbital, primidone, diazepam and potassium bromide. Phenytoin, or dilantin, is no longer considered effective. Be patient, it will take time to find the correct dosage. 

Follow your vetís instructions. A pill dispenser will help you keep track and alert you if medication was missed. Make pill time as unstressful as possible. Try hiding it in a bite of the dogís favorite soft food.Medication is usually given twice a day. Itís more beneficial when itís twelve hours apart (this keeps blood serum levels even). You may notice some sedation in your dog, but the effects usually diminish after a few weeks of therapy. It will take time before you see a reduction in seizures. Do not ever stop medication without consulting your veterinarian first. A sudden halt could induce seizures. 


"I always try a hypoallergenic diet," says Susan G. Wynn, DVM, of the Greater Atlanta Veterinary Medical Group and a director on the board of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. "Acupuncture can be very helpful in some dogs," continues Wynn. Another treatment is gold bead or gold wire implants. Supplements such as B6, magnesium, manganese, folic acid, zinc, taurine, and some Chinese herbs are meeting with success. Always consult with a specialist to ensure the correct combination for your dog. If a dog is on drugs, Wynn says, "I donít change drugs. What I do is add in." She explains, "Iíll do acupuncture, and another thing some people are experimenting with right now is magnets." 

Our Luci had a second seizure and was started on primidone. Her seizures persisted and potassium bromide was added. Then we began to see some relief. We take heart in Hollidayís assurance that when seizures are controlled life expectancy is good and "quality of life is good, too."

With regular treatment most dogs will have one or two seizures a year. Some dogs can become seizure-free. Others may experience a 50 percent or greater reduction in seizure activity. But with love and care, your epileptic pet can live a long, enjoyable life. 

First Aid
Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately if it has more than one seizure and does not regain consciousness between them. Take it if its seizures are a few minutes apart. Stroke it and call its name. Place an old towel under it. Keep a regular pill time. Keep a journal of the dogís seizure activity.Things not to do:Donít put anything in the dogís mouth. Donít restrain the movements of its limbs. Donít offer food or water until the dog is acting normal. 

This article taken from Dog and Kennel

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