Epilepsy is a type of seizure disorder that can affect both dogs and people, and that comes in many different forms and presentations. Whilst most people associate epilepsy with seizures or fitting that is very obvious to spot, not all types of epilepsy or even all seizures present in this way, and some seizures may be subtle and short in duration, making them challenging to spot.
Additionally, different types of epilepsy have different causes or reasons for occurring, and these may be hereditary, due to an accident or injury, or for unknown reasons. One of the types of epilepsy for which no underlying trigger or cause is recognised is called idiopathic epilepsy, or IE-and we will look at this type of epilepsy in more detail within this article.
Read on to learn more about idiopathic epilepsy in dogs, including how it presents, what sort of dogs are at risk for the condition, and what can be done to support affected dogs.
Idiopathic means a condition or event that causes for unknown reasons, that cannot be predicted or predetermined. This means that idiopathic epilepsy is a condition that might appear with no warnings or precursors that can be pinpointed as the origin of or reason for the condition, and so, that often comes as a shock to dog owners facing a diagnosis of IE.
All epileptic disorders result from problems in the brain-the nerves and synapses of the brain themselves, and their electrical activity, which can create “storms” or misfires, causing epileptic seizures or fits.
Sometimes, the cause of these problems itself will indicate the cause of the epilepsy type in question, but again, what leads to the development of problems with the nerves and synapses that cause epileptic seizures is often hard or impossible to determine.
This is the case with idiopathic epilepsy, and researchers and veterinarians do not know why some dogs develop the condition. Many dogs diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy that undergo brain scans and tests are found to have lesions on parts of the brain structure, which are the likely cause of the seizures that are the signature of idiopathic epilepsy-but why those dogs develop brain lesions in the first place is once more, an unknown quantity.
The seizures caused by idiopathic epilepsy tend to be among the more acute and obvious types, and those that are clearly identifiable as fits. They also tend to become progressively worse over time, both in terms of the frequency of the fits themselves, and how severe they are.
While the exact causes of idiopathic epilepsy are not known, there is evidence to support the theory that the condition is hereditary, because the condition tends to be more prevalent within certain breeds as opposed to others.
Some of the dog breeds that seem to produce more than their fair share of dogs with the condition include the Labrador retriever, Golden retriever, and Poodle (all size variants). If you are considering buying or adopting a pedigree dog of any breed, it is important to first do plenty of research into the breed, including their health, to ensure that you understand their potential risk factors.
Male dogs tend to be more prone to idiopathic epilepsy than females, although females can present with the condition too. Additionally, while the age at which idiopathic epilepsy first presents in affected dogs can be very variable, it is generally a condition that becomes apparent in young to middle aged dogs, with the initial diagnosis usually being made in dogs between the ages of six months and six years old.
The seizures produced by idiopathic epilepsy tend to be quite pronounced, although this can of course vary considerably and change over the life of the dog. Idiopathic epilepsy tends to worsen as the dog gets older, if the condition is not managed successfully or is left untreated.
Either grand mal or petit mal seizures may occur in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy, and can vary from occasional, short-term presentations that simply look like the dog is zoning out and not responding to stimulus, or fits that may involve full seizures and collapse, and involve tremors, uncontrolled muscle spasms and the potential of coming to harm due to the dog’s inability to control their bodily movements.
Seizures can last for anything from a few seconds at a time up to around thirty minutes, and many dogs will take up to a day to recover afterwards. Some dogs also appear to display strange or anxious behaviours before a seizure begins, which can help to alert owners to an approaching fit.
Idiopathic epilepsy cannot be reversed or cured, but it can be managed on an ongoing basis with appropriate medications. These medications are designed to reduce both the frequency and severity of the seizures and improve recovery times, and can help to greatly improve the dog’s quality of life.
Idiopathic epilepsy may take some time and work on the part of the dog owner and the vet in order to diagnose and begin appropriate treatment, but it is important that the condition is not left untreated, as it is apt to progressively worsen and pose a serious risk to the health of the dog.
Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy should not be bred from, due to the risk of passing the condition onto their own offspring.