Epileptic seizures in dogs occur due to electrical storms in different areas of the dog's brain. This can cause a full, or partial seizure in the dog. A seizure can last anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds, and can be very traumatic for your dog to experience. It’s important that you stay with the dog and reassure them during the seizure, then seek medical treatment immediately afterward.
Human epilepsy and canine epilepsy are very similar in many ways. Studies show the prevalence of epileptic seizures in dogs to be anywhere from 0.5% to 5.7%, whereas in humans we see anywhere from 1% and 3% (Uriarte, et al. 2016).
There are different types of seizures in the dog population, and according to research, while very rare, some can be fatal (Zimmermann, et al. 2009).
What symptoms should you be looking for, and do canine seizures look similar to those in humans? Actually, yes. The symptoms you should be looking for include:
- Falling to the ground
- Uncontrollable muscle spasms
- Inability to control the bladder
Immediately after having a seizure your dog will likely be disoriented and dazed. After consulting with your veterinarian and confirming that it’s alright to do so, offer your dog food and water. The pup's energy levels will be severely depleted after the seizure, and the dog will likely be looking for nourishment.
There are different science-based treatments for dog's epileptic seizure condition (Podell, et al. 2016), and I'll discuss some of the more popular and effective ones later down in this article. Whether this is your dog's first seizure or you just haven't sought treatment yet, it's imperative that you bring him in to visit your veterinarian. It could be just a one-time thing, but the likelihood of a seizure being a symptom of a severe health condition is also pretty good.
Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
what pet owners should know
What's an Epileptic Seizure in Dogs
Studies show that epileptic seizures in dogs is the most common neurological problem in canines, related to dog's brain health and sometimes to spinal column and cord. The key to treating canine epilepsy is fast and proper diagnosis and full review of medical history records of the dog (Podell, 1996).
Referred to as either epileptic fits or epileptic seizures in dogs, this is a neurological disorder that causes the animal to convulse due to abnormally high electrical activity in the brain. There are many reactions that your pet can have to this electrical activity.
Two types of seizures are most common – those that affect the entire body and those that affect only a certain area.
Idiopathic Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in canines (Wessman, et al. 2014). This condition is often inherited, but the root cause is still unknown. Genetic Epilepsy is an alternative name for idiopathic epilepsy. Another name for idiopathic epilepsy is Primary Epilepsy.
If your dog suffers from this type, it’s worth searching for all of these names to read the current research and treatments available. This field is constantly changing and improving so by the time you read this article, there might already be better options available. Other names for idiopathic epilepsy include Inherited and True.
Grand Mal seizure is the technical term for a full body seizure in dogs. Ordinarily, upon seizing, the afflicted animal will fall to his side and suffer from involuntary muscle spasms and twitches in all four of his limbs. Depending on the severity of the seizure he may also urinate, and defecate (Biziere, et al. 1987).
A partial seizure might only affect one limb or the face of the dog. This is due to a smaller area of the brain being affected by the electrical activity. Unfortunately, statistics show that dogs that are first diagnosed with epilepsy and suffering from partial seizures will likely have the condition progress and turn into Grand Mal within their lifetime.
A dog's seizure can last between 30 and 90 seconds (Berendt, et al. 2008). While this may seem like nothing, for the animal seizing and owner watching it can be an incredibly traumatic period of time. When you're in the moment, it can seem as though it’s lasting a lifetime.
Although traumatic and confusing, epileptic seizures in dogs won’t cause pain to the animal. The only way that the dog can sustain an injury would be if he were to fall and hurt himself while in the process of seizing.
The more frequently that your dog suffers from seizures, the more likely that he is to have even more of epileptic seizure episodes in the future. This is because as the brain suffers from a seizure, damage is taking place within the brain itself (Howbert, et al. 2014).
The dog's brain goes through quite a trauma during an epileptic seizure. Post seizure, your dog will suffer from disorientation and confusion. Incoherent wandering, bumping into objects, extreme thirst and hunger are all common symptoms (Varatharajah, et al. 2017).
What Dogs Can Suffer from Epileptic Seizures
Retrospective studies show that puppies and young dogs are often the ones that suffer from the worst epileptic seizures (Hamamoto, et al. 2016). Having said that, if the condition is diagnosed in the first year or two, before too much damage has occurred to the neurons of the dog's brain, your pooch has a far better chance of taking to treatment and responding well to several anti-seizure medications.
Many breeds of dog are genetically predisposed to epilepsy (Fredso, et al. 2016). Others may suffer from this condition due to brain tumors or injury. Dog breeds that are most commonly known to suffer from epilepsy include:
- Golden Retrievers
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- Hungarian Vizslas
- Belgian Tervurens
If your dog suffers from seizures or you suspect he's likely to have experienced them in the past and may get a seizure again, you can minimize his risk by keeping an eye out for signs of an impending seizure. By making sure that he’s in a safe area where he can’t hurt himself, you can save him from further injury to his body and brain. Look out for signs of distress, confusion and a glazed over look in the eye of your pet.
Dogs are exceptional at detecting and alerting to impending seizures in the role as a seizure service dog. Therefore, they can often anticipate their own seizures and attempt to seek help from their owner (Meland, et al. 2018).
Other than seeking medical help, the best way that you can deal with epileptic seizures in dogs and any episode of it is to stay by your dog's side. Make the dog as comfortable as possible during the seizure.
Your dog might not be able to tell you so, but seizures are a frightening experience for him because the animal is now confused about what's going on. Having you by his side will help the dog to feel safe and less anxious during and after the episode.
Common Symptoms of Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
The most common symptom of epilepsy in dogs is, of course, a seizure itself. Symptoms of a dog in seizure could include:
- Muscle spasms
- Uncontrollable drooling
- Inability to control their bladder
- Loss of consciousness
- Biting, and snapping of the mouth
- Foaming at the mouth
Non seizure related symptoms can include:
- Mental abnormalities
- Difficulty breathing
Testing for Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
Several treatments are available for epileptic seizures in dogs, and your veterinarian will rely on your assistance to determine the type of medication and dosage that will be required.
As you spend the most time with your pooch, you’ll need to keep track of the type of seizure (whole body seizures or partial), length of time that elapses during each and the frequency in which they occur. If you are worried that your dog may have suffered from a seizure, phone your veterinarian and discuss the next steps.
Misdiagnosis of Dog's Epileptic Seizures
Just because your dog has suffered from a seizure, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is suffering from epilepsy. Many other reasons exist that may cause fits in dogs, including:
- Severe anemia
- Brain tumour
- Head injury
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Liver disease
Once again, it's important to keep your a “dog health diary” of sorts and track symptoms, signs which you can later discuss with your veterinarian.
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Prevention of Epileptic Seizures in Dogs
There are too many potential causes of epileptic seizures in dogs to be able to prevent and expect them. Only once the exact cause of the seizure has been found are you able to make a plan of action with your veterinarian (LeCouteur, et al. 1989).
Anecdotally, many owners have seen success in reducing epileptic seizures in dogs by changing their dog’s diet and exercise regime.
The only real way that we have to prevent further canine epilepsy is to never breed a dog with a history of epilepsy. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to ensure you're adopting a dog from a reputable breeder.
Home Treatment for Dog Epileptic Seizures
Feeding a nutritious, high quality diet that ensures consistent blood sugar levels can be the first step in bringing down the volume of epileptic seizures in dogs. Feeding small, frequent meals and partaking in moderate daily exercise will benefit your pup even further.
There's a strong correlation between brain activity in dogs and canine epilepsy, thus your pup is likely to benefit from proper mental stimulation and less anxiety/stress. Some studies found that high stress levels could be the trigger for canine epilepsy, thus it's crucial to keep stress levels to a minimum. One of the easiest ways to do this is to stick to a feeding routine and try not to disrupt your dog's regular schedule.
How Veterinarians Treat Seizures in Dogs
There's a number of well-researched and tested drugs used for canine epilepsy with great results (Goldenberg, 2010). Alongside prescribing an canine anti-seizure medication, your veterinarian will likely be more than happy to assist and advise on lifestyle choices that will help your four-legged friend suffer less, mostly the adjustments I've noted above:
- Regular feeding and exercise (with no routine disruptions)
- Mental stimulation
- Stress reduction
While many dog anti-seizure medications exist, the correct one for your dog does depend on a number of factors (Charalambous, et al. 2014). Your veterinarian will work closely with you to determine which will be best to alleviate your dog’s specific symptoms. Full recovery isn’t yet possible, and dogs with epilepsy will require lifelong medication.
Additionally, you can try to use all the tips on reducing stress in dogs, whether through lifestyle adjustments or anxiety aids. Anecdotally, some owners found their dogs experience less epileptic seizure episodes when using anxiety vests or calming collars; however, there's no research in support of this theory, so be wary of using these specifically for that reason.
Epileptic Support Dogs for Humans
We’ve all heard of epilepsy in humans, but did you know that dogs can now help to minimize the risk to epileptic individuals? Seizure alert dogs are specially trained canines that can sense an imminent seizure. They work to alert their owner (or a parent, in the case of a child) of an upcoming seizure.
Some dogs are trained to break the fall of their owner, getting between their owner and the floor upon collapse to minimize injury. Certain dogs have even been trained to press pre-programmed buttons in their owners home to call for medical assistance. If that isn’t mind-blowing, then I don’t know what is!
Seizure Dogs Saving Their Owners
All around the world seizure dogs work day in and day out, proving their loyalty, and big heartedness. One dog that lives like this is Poppy.
Poppy is a two-year old Labrador who lives in Northern Ireland with her owner Shannon who suffers from Epilepsy. Thanks to Poppy and her amazing accuracy of alerting her best friend to oncoming seizures, Shannon has been able to lie down and safely wait it out.
Going above and beyond the call of duty, Poppy waits with her owner. The dog is clearly concerned for her welfare whilst she suffers from a seizure. Yet still, she takes it in her stride and always, without fail, does what she was trained to do.
This kind of dedication, and loyalty does make you think. If our dogs will do this for us, so to should we be there for them in their time of need. Seeking immediate medical help and assuring them during the seizure itself.
Epileptic seizures in dogs are most often caused due to genetics and are related to dog's brain activity. There's no way to prevent canine epilepsy, but many effective treatments are available which you must discuss with your veterinarian. Lifestyle adjustments like better or different diet, regular playtime and exercise regime and no disruptions in your dog's routine to reduce stress may also be very effective in reducing canine epilepsy seizures.
By raising awareness of this issue and encouraging responsible breeding practices, we can help to decrease the instances of epileptic seizures in dogs. When looking to adopt a dog, make sure that you do your research. Always ask the breeder to see the medical history of both of the parents.
If you’re talking with a reputable breeder with nothing to hide, they will have no problem in showing you a full medical history. In some cases, the breeder will encourage you to talk with current owners of their past litters.