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Some frequently asked questions about canine epilepsy

Some frequently asked questions about canine epilepsy

Health & Safety

Witnessing your dog undergoing a seizure and later getting a diagnosis from your vet that your dog has epilepsy can be frightening for the dog owner, and as epilepsy is not a widely understood condition, it is one that generates a lot of questions about the condition when diagnosed. While your vet should be your first port of call for any concerns about your dog and they are the person who knows your dog’s health the best and so can field any queries, it can be helpful for the dog owner to garner a basic understanding of the condition and the various forms it comes in, as well as the terms commonly used to describe epilepsy and other seizure conditions in the dog.

In this article, we will cover some of the most commonly asked questions about canine epilepsy, and decode some of the veterinary terms used when referring to the condition. Read on to learn more.

Five common questions about canine epilepsy

1. What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that is characterised by repeated seizures rather than a seizure as a one-off event, and for which there is no other underlying cause.

2. What causes epileptic seizures?

The seizures themselves are caused by electrical storms in the neurons of the brain, often without any external triggering factor.

3. Is epilepsy the only cause of canine seizures?

There are various other conditions that may be responsible for seizures in the dog, and so a seizure does not necessarily mean a diagnosis of epilepsy. Brain conditions, low blood sugar in diabetic dogs and various other conditions must also be ruled out.

4. Can epilepsy be cured?

There is no cure for epilepsy, or a fix available that will prevent attacks from happening entirely. However, the condition can be managed on an ongoing basis with medications that should reduce the occurrence rate and severity of the seizures, although these often come accompanied by side effects that mean that the general health of the dog, and particularly the health of their liver function, must be monitored on an ongoing basis.

5. What causes epilepsy?

Epilepsy can be caused by a brain trauma or injury, but in most cases, it becomes apparent with no underlying cause. It is thought that epilepsy is hereditary, or at least partially hereditary in dogs.

Epilepsy terminology decoded

Your vet should explain the meaning of the various terms used when referring to epilepsy to you, but this at-a-glance list will cover the most commonly used words and their meanings.

  • Idiopathic epilepsy: Idiopathic or primary epilepsy is the term given to epilepsy that has an unknown cause, although there is thought to be a hereditary element to the condition.
  • Symptomatic epilepsy: Symptomatic or secondary epilepsy is caused by malfunctions of the nerves and neurons of the brain.
  • Cryogenic epilepsy: Cryogenic or probable symptomatic epilepsy refers to seizures caused due to brain malfunctions of unknown origin.
  • Status epilepticus: This Latin term refers to repeated seizures over the course of 24 hours, including seizures that last for over half an hour at a time, and seizures that are so close together that the dog does not recover fully in between episodes.
  • Cluster seizures: Cluster seizures are seizures that occur in groups shortly after each other.
  • Episode: An epileptic episode refers to fitting, seizures, and other manifestations of an epileptic attack.

How badly does epilepsy affect the life of the dog?

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it can generally be brought under control, allowing your dog to lead an otherwise healthy life with reduced, less severe seizures. For dogs that very rarely have seizures, or only mild seizures, the best course of action may simply mean monitoring the condition and not medicating it.

Treatment, testing and diagnosis of canine epilepsy can be expensive, and if your dog is not already insured when they begin to become symptomatic, you will be unlikely to find an insurer that will cover the cost of the condition, and the necessary medications that your vet may wish to prescribe.

Epilepsy will not usually shorten your dog’s life, nor necessitate euthanasia, and most epileptic dogs will be otherwise healthy and lead full lives in between the odd seizure. You will need to take account of the condition at all times, however, and take steps to keep your dog safe if they potentially have a seizure when you are out and about.

Epileptic dogs, or dogs that suffer from another type of seizure disorder should not be used for breeding, as it is thought that epilepsy has a hereditary element to it, and can be passed on from the sire and dam to subsequent litters. It is by no means a given that an epileptic dog will pass the condition onto their puppies, but this happens regularly enough that the breeding of epileptic dogs is strongly discouraged.