Epilepsy in dogs in usually seen in patients between the ages of one and three years of age. It can be primary (cause unknown) or secondary (acquired). Epileptics typically exhibit seizures. These seizures generally have four stages. The first stage which can start hours beforehand, the second stage known as an aura which is minutes beforehand and the Ictal (during) and post (after the seizure). During the first, second and third stages, behavioural changes in your pet may be noted. During the Ictal phase, loss of consciousness and muscle convulsions may occur. Seizures can be further classified as focal or generalised. Some patients will have focal seizure activity that will progress if left untreated. During focal seizures, only a single side of the brain is affected, whilst in the generalised form, both sides of the brain are involved. Focal seizures usually present as involuntary facial movements. Consciousness is not always affected. Generalised seizures are usually characterised by involuntary movements and loss of consciousness. Seizures can occur in small clusters or go on for a prolonged amount of time (grand mal or tonic-clonic seizures).
Testing for epilepsy in your dog is often a process of eliminations and may include blood tests, spinal fluid analysis and advanced imaging for the brain (CT or MRI). A tentative diagnosis and response to treatment can be used in some patients with idiopathic epilepsy. It is still unclear if there is a gender predisposition, with some clinical studies showing that males are most commonly affected. There is a known genetic basis in some breeds including Keeshonds, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Labradors and Golden Retrievers. General epilepsy is more difficult to control in large breed dogs. Anticonvulsant therapy is the treatment of choice for Idiopathic episepsy and multiple therapies may be needed in some patients. Routine blood tests and ongoing monitoring is required. Patients with epilepsy can live a long and happy life, however require ongoing managment, medications and dedicated owners.
Written by Dr Alice Edwards