Understanding Epilepsy In Dogs

It can be really distressing when a dog suffers an epileptic seizure and this is especially true if you have never seen it happen before. Dog owners who know their pets suffer from the condition still find it extremely worrying when their beloved pooch suddenly starts fitting for no apparent reason. But what exactly causes epilepsy in dogs?

Below is an explanation of why some dogs may suffer from the condition and what you would need to do if your dog ever does have an epileptic seizure.

Epileptic fits happen when there's a kind of “short-circuit” in nerves found in the brain. The result is too many nerves get stimulated at the same time. The outcome can be very dramatic with violent spasms taking hold of a dogs' body. However, not all seizures happen are as a result of epilepsy because other health conditions may the root cause for a dog fitting. Older dogs suffering from any sort of underlying heart, liver or kidney condition, may be prone to seizures, and dogs diagnosed with tumours on the brain may also suffer a seizure, but thankfully this is pretty rare.

Another reason could be when a dog receives some sort of traumatic injury to their heads which could result in them fitting, and this can happen in a dog of any age. Other reasons and causes include the following:

  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Occasionally poisons which includes slug bait (metaldehyde)

It's important for vets to eliminate any of the causes mentioned above and to treat the underlying issue so dogs make a full recovery when possible.

When it comes to “true” epilepsy in dogs, vets will treat the condition with an anti-epileptic drug because this is the only way seizures can be controlled. All nerves found in the body have a threshold at which point they'll be activated. Anything above the threshold will result in no electrical activity but anything below it see nerves “fire” up and as a result a signal is sent out which is how epileptic fits are controlled with the use of certain drugs.

Primary Epilepsy

Dogs suffering with primary epilepsy are seen to have lower thresholds which basically means when their nerves are stimulated, they conduct electrical impulses far easier and more readily. Dogs with this type of epilepsy normally fit when they're asleep or relaxed, and the severity of their seizures can vary, most of the time they go unnoticed.

However, when there is evidence of a dog fitting, they may fall down go into spasms, with their feet making a paddling action. The seizure normally only last a few moments but can last anything up to two or so minutes. The problem is that  when owners witness their dog fitting, it can seem much longer and it's a very anxious time. When a dog suffers from an epileptic episode, they are unaware of their surroundings and are unable to react normally to things they should recognise – this makes their actions quite unpredictable. As such a normally kind natured dog with a lovely disposition may bite their owners, albeit inadvertently.

The recovery time varies with some dogs taking a few hours to fully get over a fit. Their coordination can be bad during this time and they will bump into things as if they were blind. Dogs also tend to pace around after they have experienced a fit and are usually very hungry after one.

How Often Does a Dog Suffer an Epileptic Fit

When it comes to how often a dog may suffer from a epileptic fit, this can be rather erratic. Some dogs may only have one or maybe two mild seizures in a 12 month period, and a vet would not normally advise any treatment for them. Should the seizures be more frequent and getting more severe, then your dog would need to be given daily medication to keep on top of the condition much the same as in humans.


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What Treatment is Given To Dogs With Epilepsy?

Vets will normally prescribe tablets or sometimes a liquid medication for dogs suffering with more frequent and severe fits. In a few cases a combination of both are needed to control the condition. Vets will tailor the treatment to suit the dog and would therefore need to know their history and how often they experience an epileptic fit and its severity which they would need owners to describe to them.

When Is Epilepsy in Dogs Seen as an Emergency?

Should your dog suffer one epileptic seizure after another in close proximity, vets refer to this as a “status epilepticus” and consider it to be an extremely dangerous condition for a dog to be in. If your dog has several fits one after the other, you need to get them to the vet as a matter of urgency so an intravenous injection can be administered  in order to get the fitting under control. Vets might want to keep the dog in overnight so they can keep an eye on them.

What to Do if You Notice Your Dog Fitting

If you notice your dog has started to fit and even if it's only very occasionally, you need to inform your vet and discuss the condition with them. The vet would not need to see your dog when they are having a seizure because the tests they carry out will determine the cause of the seizures.

It could be your dog is suffering from some other underlying health issue in which case the vet will perform several tests to eliminate anything they might suspect is causing the problem. Once the cause has been diagnosed, the vet will then be able to treat your dog accordingly but only after having taken some blood samples and X-rays as well as other investigative procedures they consider necessary.

Conclusion

If your dog ever has a fit or any kind, it can be a very worrying situation and you need to get advice from your vet as soon as you can. If your pet is diagnosed as suffering from a form of epilepsy, all is not lost because there are drugs around today that control the condition very effectively, which means a dog can live a long and happy life even if they have been diagnosed with epilepsy.


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