CANINE EPILEPSY          


Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes disorganised electrical activity and fits.  A small percentage of dogs are affected without any identifiable cause.  There is no cure but although it can be difficult to treat there are various treatments available which can help reduce the severity and frequency of the attacks.  Signs that a dog may be about to have a seizure include him getting anxious, being unusually quiet, getting restless or acting in a strange manner.

Canine Epilepsy seizures can range from Mild to Grand Mal and can be life threatening.  If a dog is diagnosed by a veterinarian as being epileptic, there are various treatments in use, such as:

Potassium Bromide

Diet can play an important role in controlling epilepsy as some preservatives can cause seizures.  Dogs should also be kept away from as many chemical pollutants as possible.  If you suspect that your dog has had a seizure contact your vetenarian.

Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy
Seizures in Dogs
What is a seizure
What is Idiopathic Epilepsy  
Naturally Treating Epilepsy and Siezure Disorders
Epilepsy A Lesson for relearning
Epilepsy and Siezures
Whats the Big Deal
Canine Epilepsy FAQ's
Canine Epilepsy Medication FAQ's

Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy

First published in Australian Shepherd Journal, vol 13 issue 4, July/August, 2003
by Margaret Muns, DVM

Seizures are the most common neurologic symptom seen by small animal veterinarians. They can be caused either by problems inside the brain, or outside. Discussing all the types of seizures and their causes is way beyond the scope of this article. Instead, the paper will cover the most common cause of canine seizures, namely canine idiopathic epilepsy. Although idiopathic epilepsy can affect many breeds, (including mongrels) there is strong evidence for genetic involvement. Therefore, affected animals should not be bred.

In order to fully understand idiopathic epilepsy and what it entails, owners first need to be aware of some basic terminology. To begin with, the terms "seizure", "convulsion" and "fit" are interchangeable. They all can be used simultaneously to describe a sudden, temporary rhythm disturbance affecting the cells in a dog's brain. Clinically, the appearance of the seizure depends on the area the brain affected and the severity of the disturbance.

The term "epilepsy" is used by most researchers to describe seizures of any cause. Epilepsy can be further characterized as being either primary or secondary. Primary epilepsy (also called idiopathic, genetic, true or inherited epilepsy) is probably caused by biochemical defect in the brain cells or their environment. Typically, there's absence of any structural damage on microscopic exam of the brain. An affected dog will have normal physical, neurologic and laboratory examinations during the time intervals between seizures. As will be discussed later, there's also substantial evidence for a genetic influence on the development of primary epilepsy in dogs. By contrast, secondary epilepsy (also called acquired or symptomatic epilepsy) occurs secondary to some kind of brain damage. The damage can be a consequence of prior trauma, circulatory disorders, infections, congenital defects, or metabolic diseases. Dogs affected with secondary epilepsy are much more likely to have abnormalities on physical examination and diagnostic testing.

Being able to understand and recognize the types of seizures that can occur is also very important. Generalized seizures are the most frequently recognized type of seizure in canine patients. They are also the type of seizure seen most frequently in dogs affected with idiopathic epilepsy. The initial trigger area (or seizure focus) may only be a small number of unstable brain cells. However, when they discharge abnormally, they make the surrounding cells discharge erratically. As a result, the seizure spreads throughout the brain and becomes generalized. The net result is symmetrical involvement of the dog' s entire body. This type of seizure is most commonly called a tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure. During a generalized seizure, the dog usually falls over and loses consciousness. Shortly afterwards, there is involuntary extension of the limbs (tonic phase), followed by paddling (clonic phase). The animal may grind its teeth, salivate, urinate and defecate during the seizure. The pupils of the pet's eyes are also usually dilated. Some dogs only have milder generalize seizures. These tend to be less dramatic with the animal remaining conscious during the events. However, during the seizure, the dog may act anxious, stumble, or fall over. But there are usually no jerking motions of the limbs, head or trunk. In the past, owners have called these types of mild generalize seizures "petite mal seizures". However, this is not a correct use of the term based on the definitions used in human medicine.

Partial seizures occur when only one portion of the brain is discharging abnormally. The clinical symptoms observed depend on what areas of the brain are involved in the seizure activity. Partial seizures are most commonly the result of local or multifocal damage to the brain. Such damage can occur after trauma, infection, circulatory disorders, or cancer. If the focus of the seizure happens to be in an area the brain responsible for controlling behavior, bizarre behaviors may be only symptoms seen. In such cases, there will be no abnormal body motions. The proper term to describe these types of events is psychomotor epilepsy .

Most experts agree that the seizures associated canine idiopathic epilepsy are primarily caused by a functional disturbance of the cells of the brain. However, the factors responsible for initiating the disturbance are not well understood. Understanding is hampered by the brain's susceptibility to a wide variety of structural and metabolic insults. Researchers are able to investigate the pathologic consequences following injury in disease because these types of injuries can be created and then studied in the lab. Unfortunately, this can't be done for idiopathic epilepsy because there aren't any detectable structural or biochemical changes in the brains of affected dogs. Consequently, is impossible to create research models. Without such models, the ability to fully understand the nature of a disease is greatly hindered.

Fortunately, one concept that is well understood is that of the seizure threshold. In order for the nervous system to work properly, there must be coordinated transmission of impulses from one cell to the next. Most of the cells in the canine brain are excitatory neurons. Basically, one neuron receives impulses from its neighbor before transmitting them to the next one in the "circuit�. The remainder of the neurons in the brain are inhibitory neurons. These brain cells help to control and contain the impulse so that spread of erratic impulses throughout the brain does not occur. This is a very fine line of control. Seizures can be triggered if something happens to tip to scale in the wrong direction. The point at which this occurs is the seizure threshold.

Every animal has its own individual seizure threshold. Seizures can be induced in any individual dog given the right set of circumstances. However, things that can induce seizures in one animal won't do it in another. Animals with lower seizure thresholds may have brain cells that are inherently more hyper excitable than other animals. In the case of canine idiopathic epilepsy, genetic influences are presumed to influence a particular animal's seizure threshold . Affected animals may have a more diffuse or multifocal state of neuron excitability. This may be due to the result of early congenital events that become magnified over time.

The first step in evaluating any dog presented for seizures is to carefully review the history and physical exam. This is critical because of the high number of seizure dogs with normal laboratory findings. In many cases, a veterinarian can rule out several possibilities just by knowing the age of the dog at the time the seizures began. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy will usually have their first seizure between 1-5 years of age. Any dogs with seizures beginning at either younger than one year, or older than five years will typically have some kind of underlying disease process going on.

A complete and thorough diagnostic evaluation is always indicated no matter how old the dog is when the seizures began. Obtaining a definitive diagnosis of canine idiopathic epilepsy is impossible for the most part. Usually, a veterinarian arrives at this conclusion through a process of elimination. In other words, all other possible underlying causes for the seizures are first eliminated before settling on the diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy. Table 1 outlines the circumstances under which a diagnosis of canine idiopathic epilepsy is appropriate. If at any time a dog with presumptive idiopathic epilepsy develops other symptoms, or becomes unresponsive to therapy, the diagnosis must be re-evaluated .

TABLE 1: Criteria used to Establish a Diagnosis of Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy (3)

Generalized seizures 
Onset of seizures between 1-5 years of age 
Normal physical, neurologic exams 
Normal laboratory data 

For treatment of canine idiopathic epilepsy to be successful, owners must be properly educated. This is because success of therapy depends more on the dog's owner than any other factor. Seizures can be frightening. Therefore, owners are naturally anxious about their pet's condition. The best way to defuse this anxiety is by making sure the owners have the facts they need to deal with the disease. They must understand that the main objective of treatment for canine idiopathic epilepsy is to achieve control and not a cure. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy are controlled when there is a reduction of seizure frequency and intensity with a minimum of side effects. Consequently, animals receiving treatment will still continue to seizure no matter what drugs or doses are used. The seizures just won't be as frequent, or as severe as they were before treatment began. Most clinicians initially aim for a 50 percent increase in the interval between seizures or one isolated seizure every 6-8 weeks. Once this is achieved, attempts can be made to obtain longer intervals. Approaching treatment this way allows for the setting of mini-goals. As these goals are reached and exceeded, the owner can then get a sense that progress is being made.

In addition to understanding the meaning of control, owners must also be aware of several other facts about seizure treatment. Before beginning therapy, the owner must clearly comprehend the advantage and disadvantages of treatment. Seizure therapy is not benign therapy. It involves using drugs that can cause significant side effects. Owners must know what medications are being prescribed, what doses are being used, and what side effects to expect. They must be willing to keep a diary or seizure log to document when the seizures occur, how long they are, what medication is being used, and any other relevant comments. This is so the veterinarian can have an idea what's happening at home. Owners must be given guidelines so that they know what to do in the event of a seizure. They must also understand which types of seizures are dangerous, so that timely emergency treatment can be sought. But above all, owners must know that there are no shortcuts allowed when treating dogs for idiopathic epilepsy. The medications must be given consistently, or not all. Any sudden drop-off in medication can trigger life-threatening seizures in affected patients. Therefore, any changes in drug type or dosing must only be done under the supervision of the pet's veterinarian.

Antiepileptic drug therapy is usually begun when the interval between isolated seizures is less than 6-8 weeks. Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs is a paroxysmal disease. This means that symptoms occur sporadically and are very difficult to predict. Consequently, spontaneous variations in seizure frequencies can be expected to occur in each patient. If a dog is started on treatment after the first seizure, it will be impossible to evaluate the overall seizure pattern. Therefore, monitoring the response to treatment will be very difficult. The exception to this rule is those animals that present with status epilepticus as their first seizure episode. Status epilepticus is defined as a state of constant seizure activity with no interruption. This is a dangerous condition and a medical emergency. Another exception to the general guidelines for treating seizures is those animals that present with multiple clusters of seizures occurring over a 24-72 hour period. These animals also need prompt treatment to prevent the development of status epilepticus.

Phenobarbital is the initial drug of choice for managing idiopathic epilepsy in dogs Veterinarians do not have a lot of choices when selecting anticonvulsant medications. Many of the human anticonvulsant drugs available can't be used for long-term control in dogs because of their short duration of effect. As a result, these drugs cannot produce good serum concentrations. Many of the human drugs currently available also can be toxic when used to treat dogs.

Low doses of phenobarbital are usually used when therapy is begun. Afterwards, the dose is slowly increased until either desired control is obtained, or unacceptable side effects occur. Common side effects of phenobarbital therapy include sedation, increased thirst, increased urination, and increased appetite. Although the symptoms can be worrisome, most dogs will develop tolerance in 1-2 weeks. Another important side effect of phenobarbital therapy is liver toxicity. Most dogs receiving long-term phenobarbital therapy will have moderate increases in their liver enzymes. However these increases usually occur without serious damage to deliver function.

Frequent monitoring of blood phenobarbital levels is very important during initial treatment of idiopathic epilepsy. To some extent, the final therapeutic dose for any given dog has to be determined by trial and error. Every dog has a different metabolic rate. So there is a lot of variability in the serum concentration of phenobarbital that can be achieved by any given dose in any given dog. As a result, dogs need to be monitored frequently during initial treatment so that the dose can be adjusted as needed to get good serum phenobarbital concentrations. Once the dog is controlled, serum phenobarbital levels are typically monitored every six-twelve months. Some authors recently have advocated monitoring only when clinically indicated. Their argument is that the numbers currently used to define the therapeutic range are not accurate enough since they are extrapolated from human data. As a result, a low serum phenobarbital level might be enough to control some dogs, while others need much higher levels. Owners need to be aware of this so that a veterinarian unfamiliar with the case doesn't raise or lower the dose indiscriminately based on the numbers on a page. Instead, changes in dosing should be based on the whole clinical picture. If a dog is showing good control on blood phenobarbital levels that are below the ideal therapeutic range, the dose should not be increased just to get the values within the excepted range.

Approximately 60-80 percent of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy can be controlled with minimal side effects using phenobarbital alone. Refractory epilepsy occurs when a dog continues to have seizures at an unacceptable rate and severity despite good serum phenobarbital levels. However, before diagnosing refractory epilepsy, factors that can complicate phenobarbital treatment must be investigated and eliminated. The veterinarian must be sure that the owner has been properly educated. He/she should make sure that an effective dose drug is being used at an adequate dose. The possibility of liver dysfunction must also be considered. In rare occasions, an animal may develop severe or even fatal liver toxicity secondary phenobarbital treatment. Once a diagnosis of refractory epilepsy is made, then combination therapy can be instituted. Combination therapy will enable another 10-15 percent of canine epileptics to achieve control without significant side effects. Currently, the drug of choice to use in combination chemotherapy for canine idiopathic epilepsy is potassium bromide.

Bromide belongs to a group of chemicals called the elemental halides. It has significant sedative and anticonvulsant effects. Bromide was first used as a human anticonvulsant during the mid 1800s. In fact, it was the drug of choice for human epilepsy for more than half a century. However, because of the chemical's low safety index, its popularity decreased in the early part of this century when phenobarbital was introduced. Even so, bromide was still used as a sedative in both prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids and headache remedies until as recently as the 1960s. Today, bromide use in human medicine is limited mostly to treatment of children with resistant epilepsy. Is especially useful for kids with early onset of seizures, or underlying organic brain disease. Since it is not longer widely available, veterinarians can only get bromide from custom veterinary compounding pharmacies, or from chemical supply houses.

Recent clinical studies have shown that combination therapy with potassium bromide and phenobarbital can help many dogs that are resistant to phenobarbital alone. More than half of the dogs with refractory epilepsy will have a reduction in the frequency and severity of seizures after potassium bromide is added. Adding potassium bromide is also useful for those dogs experiencing unacceptable side effects with phenobarbital therapy. In such cases, adding potassium bromide can lead allow the veterinarian to lower the phenobarbital dose without sacrificing control. Lastly, potassium bromide can be used successfully as a single agent in dogs with pre-existing liver disease. Some doctors have even gone as far as to routinely use potassium bromide as a first choice drug. However, studies have not been done to confirm that bromide can work well alone as a first choice therapy.

Use of potassium bromide to treat canine idiopathic epilepsy is not risk free. Adverse effects associated with potassium bromide administration include increased urination, increased thirst, increased appetite, sedation, balance disorders and hind limb weakness. These side effects are enhanced by concurrent phenobarbital administration. They usually resolve if the phenobarbital dose is reduced by 10-30 percent. If the adverse reactions don't resolve, or become more severe, serum bromide concentrations need to be checked. Bromide concentrations should also be routinely monitored 6-8 weeks after initiating therapy to determine if any initial dose changes need to be made.

Canine idiopathic epilepsy is a chronic disease. Subsequently, long term, or even life long therapy is needed to control the seizures. Although rare, remissions are possible. Remission is defined as a period of 1-2 years without a seizure. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict which dogs will go into remission and which won't. Animals may be candidates for drug withdrawal once they have gone at least 8 months- 1  years without a seizure. These animals may be slowly removed off of therapy over a period of another 6 months to 1 year. If drugs are withdrawn sooner, the dog may relapse with breakthrough seizures or status epilepticus. Dogs most likely to relapse will either do so during withdrawal, or within 1-2 months of stopping the medication altogether.

Shell LG: Understanding the Fundamentals of Seizures. Veterinary Medicine. July 1993. 622-627.
Shell, LG: The Diagnostic Approach to Seizures Veterinary Medicine. July 1993. 641-646.
Thomas, WB. Managing Epileptic Dogs. The Compendium on Continuing Education for Practicing Veterinarians. Vol. 16, No. 12. December 1994. 1573-1578.
Trepanier, LA. Use of Bromide As an Anticonvulsant for Dogs with Epilepsy JAVMA, Vol.207, No.2, July 15, 1995. 163-166
March, P. A. Seizures: Classification, Etiologies, and Pathophysiology Clinical techniques in Small animal practice. Volume 13, No. 3, August 1998. 119-131.
Knowles K. Idiopathic Epilepsy. Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice. Volume 13, No. 3. August 1998. 144-151.
Dyer KR, Shell LG. Anticonvulsant Therapy: A Practical Guide the Medical Management of Epilepsy in Pets. Veterinary Medicine. July 1993. 647-653.

reprinted with kind permission from Sheila Dolan
Managing Editor, the Australian Shepherd Journal

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Seizures in Dogs

What causes seizures?
Normal neurons (brain cells) use electrical and chemical signals to communicate with each other.  This communication can either be excitatory which activates the next neuron, or inhibitory which shuts off the next neuron.  The mechanism causing seizures in primary epilepsy is thought to be an imbalance in the excitatory and inhibitory signals to the brain.   Every dog (and person) has a seizure threshold of neurological activity.   Normally the excitatory and inhibitory signals are in balance which keeps the electrical activity below the seizure threshold.  If the balance within the neurons shifts too far towards excitation, too many cells may become excited and a seizure will result.  This excitation happens within the brain and is not related to your dog becoming excited about his favorite activity.  In fact most seizures occur while a dog is at rest or asleep.

It is often difficult to determine what type of seizure your dog is having, therefore, it is very important that you keep calm when your dog has a seizure and observe him or her very closely.  Since seizures rarely happen at your vets office, a detailed written description or a video of the seizure may help in the treatment and diagnosis of epilepsy.

The following is a list of seizure types in humans as defined by the International Classification of Epileptic Seizures (ICES).  

International Classification of Epileptic Seizures:

I.  Partial Seizures (also called focal or local seizures)

A.  Simple partial seizures (consciousness is not impaired)

1.  With motor symptoms

2.  With somatosensory symptoms

3.  With special sensory symptoms

4.  With autonomic symptoms

5.  With psychic symptoms

B.  Complex partial seizures

1.  Beginning as a simple partial seizure

a.  With automatisms

b.  Without automatisms

2.  With impaired consciousness at onset

a.  With automatisms

b.  Without automatisms

C.  Partial seizures with secondary generalization

II.  Generalized seizures (bilateral without localized onset)

A.  Absence seizures

1.  True absence (petit mal)

2.  Atypical absence

B.  Myoclonic seizures

C.  Clonic seizures

D.  Tonic seizures

E.  Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal)

F.  Atonic seizures

III.  Unclassified seizures 

Simple partial seizures
All partial seizures are characterized by onset in a limited area, or focus of one cerebral hemisphere.  The ICES classifies simple partial seizures as those that are not associated with any impairment of consciousness.    Although the ability to respond may be preserved, motor manifestations or anxiety relating to the seizure's symptoms may prevent your pup from responding appropriately.

There are many different types of  simple  partial seizures and your pup may exhibit a wide range of unusual movements and behavior during a seizure.  The International Classification of Epileptic Seizures lists eighteen categories of simple partial seizures.   Some of the more common ones are:

Motor simple partial seizures alter muscle activity.  Frequently motor seizures Partial seizures with motor symptoms will cause stiffening or jerking of the legs on one side of the body.  Another common simple partial seizure is facial twitching usually on one side of the head.  Any muscle group may be involved.  Abnormal movements may be restricted to one body part or gradually spread to adjacent areas on the same side of the body or both sides of the body with loss of consciousness (secondary generalized seizure).

Sensory seizures  cause hallucinations or illusions (distortion of a true sensation).  Hallucinations may remain restricted to one area or spread to other areas.  Hallucinations can involve any sensory modality, including touch (pins and needles) smell or taste, vision and hearing (buzzing).  Unfortunately our dogs can't tell us what happened, even when consciousness is preserved during a seizure, so we don't know for sure if our pups have sensory seizures.

Autonomic seizures cause vomiting, pain, hunger, warmth, and heart palpitations.

Psychic seizures affect how dogs  feel, think and experience things.   Psychic seizures can evoke spontaneous emotions like extreme fear or aggression.   A seizure should be suspected for any dog who exhibits brief periods of  unprovoked, extreme fear or aggression.

Complex partial seizures
Complex partial seizures cause impaired consciousness and arise from a single region in the brain.  Impaired consciousness implies decreased responsiveness and awareness of self and surroundings, however consciousness many not be impaired completely.  In people, there is often no memory of what happened during all or part of the complex partial seizure.  Automatisms (automatic repetitive movements) are common and may involve any body part.  The mouth is frequently involved and automations may include lip smacking, chewing or swallowing.  The limbs may also be involved with either simple movements involving one leg, or with very complex coordinated movements involving bilateral limbs.  Some examples of complex movements are cycling or swimming motions.

Generalized Seizures
Seizures are classified as generalized seizures when the first clinical signs indicate that both sides of the brain are involved in the seizure.  Consciousness may, or may not be impaired.  Muscle involvement happens on both sides of the body.  The following are some types of generalized seizures:

Absence seizures (Petit Mal) are common in humans and are described as an abrupt and brief loss of consciousness.  True absence seizures are rare or at least rarely recognized in veterinary medicine.

Myoclonic seizures are characterized by a brief, shock-like jerking of a muscle or group of muscles.

Clonic seizures are seizures that involve rhythmic contractions of muscles.  Typically a dog will paddle or have jerking motion in the limbs and chewing movements.

Tonic seizures causes generalized muscle rigidity.  In dogs, the limbs are usually extended and stiff and the mouth may appear to be locked in an open position.  Some dogs do not breath during a tonic seizure or during the tonic phase of a tonic clonic seizure.

Tonic-clonic seizures were formerly called grand mal seizures and are the most common type of  generalized  seizure in dogs.  Typically a dog will loose consciousness, fall to his/her side with limbs extended and rigid.  The mouth may appear to be locked in an open position and the neck may be extended extremely far back.  All muscles in the body are contracted.  The result of the muscles in the lungs contracting forces air out which sometimes appears like crying out.   Breathing may stop for a short time and cyanosis (turning blue) may occur.  A dog may also urinate, defecate or express his anal glands during this phase of the seizure.  The tonic phase gives way to the clonic phase of the seizure and paddling or jerking of the limbs and chewing movements begin.  After a minute or so, the muscles relax and the dog's body goes limp.  At this point the dog is deeply unconscious.  Slowly they will regain consciousness, but they may remain groggy and confused for several minutes after the seizure. 

Some dogs have milder tonic-clonic seizures where consciousness is maintained and muscle movement is not as violent.

Atonic seizures are, in a way, the opposite of tonic seizures.  Instead of the body going stiff, all muscle tone is lost.  These seizures are sometimes called "drop attacks" because when a dog looses all muscle tone he drops to the ground.

As you can see from the descriptions, seizures are very complex.  They may start out as one type and progress to another.  Knowing what type of seizure your dog is having is not as important as knowing when your dog is in trouble.  Please be sure to ask your vet when you need to seek emergency treatment.

Berendt, M, Clinical Neurology in Small Animals-Localization, Diagnosis and Treatment
Braund, K G; Clinical Syndromes in Veterinary Neurology
Clinical Epilepsy - American Epilepsy Society - 9/99
Plunkett, SJ; Emergency Procedures for the Small Animal Veterinarian
Thomas, W B Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs, Small Anim Prac Jane 2000,;184-206
Tilley, LP, The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult

©2003 -2007 Canine Seizures All rights reserved
Last Updated March 2007

reprinted with kind permission from Sandie Snider

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What is idiopathic epilepsy?

Seizures are the result of a disturbance in the electrical activity of brain cells. They can occur for a variety of reasons, in any breed of dog. Epilepsy is the term used for recurrent seizures where no underlying disease process can be identified as the cause (also called idiopathic epilepsy).

Inherited idiopathic epilepsy is genetically transmitted in some breeds of dogs. Seizures typically begin between 1 and 3 years of age. Before or after this age, the seizures are more likely caused by an active disease process, such as infection, trauma, a metabolic disorder, or a tumour.

How is epilepsy inherited?

The mode of inheritance is unknown, and varies between breeds. In some breeds, it appears that more than 1 gene is involved.

What breeds are affected by epilepsy?

Instances of idiopathic epilepsy have been reported in nearly all breeds. However there is an increased risk, and evidence for an inherited basis, in the following breeds: Belgian tervueren (a high incidence), beagle, Bernese mountain dog, Brittany spaniel, cocker spaniel, collie, German shepherd, golden retriever, Irish setter, keeshond, Labrador retriever, poodle (all sizes), miniature schnauzer, Saint Bernard, wirehaired fox terrier

For many breeds and many disorders, the studies to determine the mode of inheritance or the frequency in the breed have not been carried out, or are inconclusive. We have listed breeds for which there is a consensus among those investigating in this field and among veterinary practitioners, that the condition is significant in this breed.

What does epilepsy mean to your dog & you?

The effects of a seizure depend on the part of the brain involved. Typically there is a change in behaviour (eg. confusion, fear, rage), consciousness (the animal may or may not lose consciousness), motor activity (rigid or jerky muscle spasms, or paddling), and autonomic activity (salivation, urination, and defecation). Changes in sensory function may lead to pawing at the face, tail chasing, or biting at part of the body or the air.

Seizures may be partial or generalized, and mild or severe (grand mal). A dog experiencing a mild generalized seizure might be confused, show weakness and some muscle tremors, and look to the owner for reassurance. A dog in a grand mal seizure will be unconscious, with rigid or jerking limbs, and involuntary salivation, urination, and defecation.

Seizures vary in frequency as well, from very occasional to almost constant. Status epilepticus is a series of seizures in rapid succession, or 1 continuous seizure. This is a medical emergency which requires immediate veterinary attention.

It is common for a dog to show a change in behaviour such as hiding or attention-seeking for hours or even days before a seizure (called the prodrome or aura). Abnormal behaviour associated with fatigue, depression, hunger, thirst, or hyperactivity may last for days afterward (post-ictal phase).

How is epilepsy diagnosed?
You may not recognize that what has occurred in your dog is a seizure (especially if mild), and your dog will likely be back to normal by the time you see your veterinarian (except in the case of status epilepticus).  Thus your description of the abnormal activity you observed is very important.

In order to determine if seizures are due to an underlying disease or are a result of idiopathic inherited epilepsy, your veterinarian will consider the age and breed of your dog and the changes you observed, do various diagnostic tests to rule out other possible causes, and ask questions such as whether your dog may have been exposed to any toxins or possibly received a head injury.

The sudden onset of frequent seizures usually indicates an active brain disease, whereas otherwise normal animals that have a few seizures a year likely have idiopathic epilepsy.

How is epilepsy treated?
Treatment depends on factors such as the severity and frequency of the seizures. A dog that experiences the occasional mild seizure probably needs no treatment other than watchfulness on the part of the owner. Grand mal seizures or status epilepticus, at the other extreme, require emergency medical treatment to sedate or anesthetize the dog, and to prevent the brain damage associated with prolonged seizure activity.
Once your veterinarian has determined that your dog has idiopathic epilepsy (ie. no specific cause that can be treated), s/he will likely recommend regular medication to control seizures if they occur more than once a month or in clusters, or if your dog has experienced a grand mal seizure. Phenobarbital is the drug most commonly used and it is safe, effective and inexpensive. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine the lowest effective dose for your dog. You will be asked to keep careful track of any seizures as well as all drugs given. Blood levels of phenobarbital should be measured periodically, as well as indicators of liver and kidney function. With this monitoring, most dogs with idiopathic epilepsy can lead a normal life. Dosages may need to be adjusted if there is a change in seizure frequency or severity, or if medication is given for another reason. If seizures were initially readily controlled and none has occurred for 6 to 9 months, your veterinarian may very gradually reduce the dosage, and sometimes ultimately discontinue the use of anticonvulsants.

Phenobarbital is not always effective and there are other anticonvulsants that can be tried. Acupuncture is another alternative which may be effective as a first line of treatment, or when use of anticonvulsants fails to control the seizures. A veterinarian specializing in acupuncture should be consulted.  

Breeding advice
Dogs that have experienced seizures, and their parents and siblings, should not be used for breeding.

The Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals maintains an open research database for idiopathic epilepsy in the Irish setter, Labrador retriever, and Bernese mountain dog. The Keeshond Club in Britain has operated a genetic counselling programme for keeshonds since 1989. The American Belgian Tervueren Club has also participated in a programme to gain information to reduce the incidence of epilepsy in this breed.


Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals:
Hall, S.J.G., Wallace, M.E. 1996. Canine epilepsy: a genetic counselling  programme for keeshonds. Veterinary Record. 138: 358-360.
Chrisman, C.L. 1995. Seizures. In S.J. Ettinger and E.C. Feldman (eds.) Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, pp. 152-156. W.B. Saunders Co., Toronto.
Parent, J. 1996.  Signalment and seizure pattern in the diagnosis and treatment of recurrent seizures.  ACVIM-Proceedings of the 14th Annual Vet. med. Forum. p. 326-327.
Copyright © 1998 Canine Inherited Disorders Database. All rights reserved. Revised: October 30, 2001.
This database is a joint initiative of the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre at the Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

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darleen Naturally Treating Epilepsy and Siezure Disorders

  by Darleen Rudnick, Pet Nutritionist

Epilepsy has become a growing concern with pet owners and is becoming a very common problem in veterinary medicine.

Epilepsy is a disorder characterized by intermittent seizures,  which are caused by electrical disturbances in the nerve cells in a section of the brain. When neurons that fire electrical impulses in the brain go haywire, they short circuit normal brain processes, resulting in a seizure.

Common Types of Seizures
There are two BASIC forms of epilepsy.  Infrequent "Petit Mal" or "partial motor seizures" -- a less severe form of epilepsy, which affects only a specific group or groups of muscles.  "Grand mal" or "major motor" seizures are more severe.  These include a loss of consciousness and gross body movements.

During a seizure the most common symptoms are:

*The pet will stiffen

*Looses consciousness



*Jerks intermittently

The seizure may last one to five minutes and afterward, the pet may seem exhausted, confused and disoriented for minutes or hours.

Investigated case studies in MANY breeds have failed thus far to prove a genetic link to Epilepsy.  This contradicts the belief that it is a genetic problem.

However, it is unlikely that a five year old dog or cat has true epilepsy if the seizures began at the age of 5.  You can not completely rule it out, but generally in this case it was caused by environmental or nutritional factors.
Therefore, epilepsy is only the minor cause of the bigger problem.

Major Causes of Seizures:

*Liver disease

*Severe worm infestation, particularly roundworms, is sometimes a cause of seizure episodes.  These and other parasites release toxins that have an adverse affect on the central nervous system.

*Low blood glucose (See Hypoglycaemia Schedule)

*Lead, Chemicals, Additives and Poisoning high amounts of lead in the environment and in pet foods are unhealthy.  This also pertains to flea sprays, collars, yard sprays, household, cleaners, etc.

*Vaccinations sometimes produce an allergic encephalitis inflammation of the brain a few weeks after receiving it.  It could be due to the proteins and/or organisms contained in the vaccine.

*Infections, cysts and cancer

*Head Trauma may develop into convulsive seizures.

Renal Kidney Failure and much more.

Therefore, diagnosing epilepsy is primarily a process of eliminating all known possible causes of the seizures.
Types of treatments Being Used
Many different types of traditional treatments are being used today to control seizure activity.  Some are phenobarbital, primidone, diazepam (Valium), potassium bromide, or a combination of two.

Although drugs are very effective, in most cases, they do not cure.  They don't eliminate the cause of the symptom.  To get at the cause of the problem, you need to look at the whole picture --what is causing the seizures?  Once the cause is found, a PREVENTION PLAN can be initiated.

A prevention plan is a simple method of enhancing the level of nutrition and making lifestyle changes.   It is an attempt to address any special needs your pet may have.

FIRST:  I do not recommend discontinuing traditional medicine cold turkey or discontinuing at all.  This is YOUR decision based on how the following program works.  I highly recommend you work closely with someone
knowledgeable in nutrition (such as a holistic vet, pet nutritionist, etc.) Many traditional vets may not agree with the programme.

1.  VITAMIN C  --  The king of vitamins and absolutely essential to the living process. To clear the myth that dogs produce enough of Vitamin C, dogs do produce their own vitamin C, but they are poor producers.  Stress can quickly burn up the small amounts that they make.  Stress is separation from the mother, relocation to a new home, neutering, immunizations, sickness, skin problems, ear crops, deworming, heartworm pills, teething, weather changes, Epilepsy, and much more.

Medical science has described Vitamin C as one of the least toxic substances known.  It is the single most important thing you can do for the health of your pet.  Sodium ascorbate vs. ascorbic acid is recommended because it is more alkaline and easier on the stomach.  Powder is best because it is more economical..

After researching many vitamin companies, I feel the best is "C" Power.     Purely Pets Store

Quality of Life C Power is in a sodium ascorbate supplement with many other vitamins, minerals and herbs.  Bioflavanoids, which is contained in the product, are essential because they enhance the absorption of Vitamin C.

2.  Other VITAMINS AND MINERALS are recommended to treat the whole body with nutrients to strengthen your pet.  Vitamins and Minerals have the power to neutralize the possible harmful effects of impurities and toxins present in a pet's food or environment.  They will also ensure against possible dietary deficiencies and provide extra nutrition in times of stress.

It may sound a little far fetched to buy vitamins and minerals for your pet to treat or prevent disease and common ailments, but supplements can make a tremendous difference in improving the quality of a pet's life.

Depending on the individual health problems and condition of your pet, I would recommend:

Protec Body Guard   Purely Pets Store  or Canine Complete Formula

3.  A Homemade diet or high quality commercial food is essential.
A low quality diet is one that contains poultry by-products, meat meal, meat by-products, caramel colouring, BHA, BHT, molasses, flours (wheat flour, rice flour), excessive amounts of salts, fillers, sodium nitrite, propylene glycol, sugar, artificial colour, and artificial flavourings.  Most of the supermarket foods have one or more of the above.  Semi moist foods, which are made up of 22 percent sugar are the worst because the sugars deplete the body of vitamins and minerals.

Sodium nitrate is found to produce epileptic-like changes in the brain activity of rats who ate it regularly.  There are many causes of epilepsy but a low quality diet, may be one contributing factor.

Contamination from lead is a serious environmental problem.  There is an added exposure for animals who eat canned food because the lead used to solder the side seam of cans leaks into the contents.  Lead affects the nervous system, the kidneys, red blood cells, and the enzyme systems.

However, by regularly supplementing your pet's daily diet with vitamins and minerals, including high doses of vitamin C, you can neutralize the effects of lead intake and keep your pet's immune system strong.

I have researched most of the pet food companies on the market and the two I highly recommend is Sirius and PHD.  These products are made with high quality meats, whole grains, probiotics, and chelated minerals.

Sirius and PHD can be seen at

The absolute best you can do, of course, is homemade food.  There is nothing wrong with carrots, peas, salad, fruits and cooked cereals.  Pets like variety, just as we do.

4.  Eliminate toxins in the house, yard and on your pet.  NO cigarette smoke, flea collars, flea sprays, air fresheners, carpet powders,  yard control, etc.

5.  Put your pet on the Hypoglycaemia schedule. Hypoglycaemia is a medical term meaning low blood sugar, a condition that is becoming more common in pets and especially pets suffering from seizure activity. Many epileptic pets, seizure during the night or when not fed more than once a day.

The Hypoglycaemia feeding schedule is as follows:

7:00 a.m. *breakfast

11:00 a.m. **snack

3:00 p.m. **snack

7:00 p.m. *dinner

11:00 p.m.  large snack -- this should be high in protein.  For example, two
plain rice cakes with peanut butter in the middle, oatmeal and honey, chicken,
brown rice, etc.

*Breakfast and dinner should be a high quality dry food or homemade meal.

**Snacks can include something FRESH:





*Bran crackers

*or another fruit or vegetable

Your goal IS NOT to put weight on your pet (unless he is underweight), but to balance out the body, stabilize the blood sugar level, which will ultimately control the seizures.

All pets having seizures should follow the above plan to rule out hypoglycaemia. If this is the problem, the seizures can be controlled through:

*Feeding a high quality diet to maintain proper blood sugar levels.

*Keeping stress to a minimum.

*Exercising moderately.

*For susceptible dogs, especially toy breeds, add honey to the drinking
water in a ratio of 1/2 teaspoon honey to 2 cups of water.

*Supplementing with high quality vitamins

*MOST IMPORTANT:  Feed small frequent meals.

Symptoms of a hypoglycaemic attack are as follows:

*staggering or collapse

*becoming very weak

*becoming aggressive


*may stare or eyes look glassy

*may go into a seizure

If this happens it is essential to administer a source of glucose.  The best source of glucose is honey.  If this is not available you can use jelly, karo syrup or maple syrup.  Put a small amount of one of these directly into the mouth.  It will be quickly absorbed.

6.  Exercise!!  This is self explanatory.  Without exercise the body does not function properly.  Daily walks are great in cool weather.

7.  To control  seizure activity, EpiPlus is recommended.  This product is an alternative to the traditional medicines being used to control seizures.  It has long been known that a deficiency of the B complex vitamins, can cause seizures in any species.  EpiPlus contains high dosages of B Complex vitamins and herbs.  It is an all natural product, in powder form, given on a daily basis.  There are no known side effects unless your pet is allergic to one of the herbs in the product, then it can be taylor- made to fit your pet's needs at no extra charge.

EpiPlus has had success in eliminating seizures completely or cutting them down dramatically.  The time factor depends on the individual pet and it's individual biochemical status.

You can read more about EpiPlus at

 8.  Keep a positive attitude. DON'T say to your pet, "Oh, I don't know what to do, I think I am going to have you put to sleep, this is hopeless, etc."  DO say, "You will be fine, I am here and going to stay with you."  Hold your pet in a comforting reassuring way.
What to do when a seizure occurs:

1.  Remain calm.  This is so important as YOU will prolong the seizure if you scream or get upset.

2.  Turn off all lights, TV and music.  Get to a quiet, dark room.

3.  Get the honey and give one tablespoon.  For smaller pets under 15 lbs., use 1 teaspoon.

In many cases the honey will immediately stop the seizure or cut the duration time in half.

Honey, is made up of 35% protein & contains half of all the necessary amino acids. It is a highly concentrated source of many essential nutrients, including large quantities of carbohydrates (sugars), some minerals, B complex, and C, D,and E.  Therefore, the honey will immediately raise the blood sugar putting the body in balance and stabilizing the blood sugar level.
Below is a list of things that most commonly cause seizures.  Keep in mind, this does NOT necessarily mean your pet will have a seizure each time it comes in contact with one of the below.  EACH pet is different and sensitive to certain things.


Hair spray -- do not spray when pet is in the same room.

Wool -- wool blankets, wool sofas, etc.

Heartworm pills -- usually a seizure will occur 1 week to 1 1/2 wks. after administering the pill.

Cigarette smoke

Pollution from chemical plants

BHA -- a preservative commonly used in dog foods.

BHT -- a preservative commonly used in dog foods

Sodium nitrate -- proven in research studies to cause severe seizures.  Sodium nitrate is found in MANY things we eat.  Read the ingredient labels carefully.

Carpet powders

Air fresheners -- any type

Fabric softeners -- if exposed to clothes that have fabric softener on them.

Dryer sheets -- if exposed to clothes that have been in the dryer with the dryer sheets.

Salt, Ferrous sulphate, Copper sulphate, Calcium Iodate, Monosodium glutamate in excess Sugar -- sucrose, corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar.

Low quality commercial dog biscuits and treats

Low quality dry food

Low quality canned food

Plastic bowls -- These bowls have been implicated as a health concern because the plastic may leach into the food.  All plastics release some undetectable fumes, especially when heated.  This out gassing means the fumes can pass into the foods that are served or stored in the bowl or container. Stainless steel or glass bowls are recommended. Cheap ceramic dishes -- same concern as above.

Fumes from all bathroom cleaners

Fumes from bleach

Fumes from dusting products.

Floor cleaners -- make sure the floors are dry before your pet walks on them.

All toxic flea products  -- If the product states on the label, "Hazardous To Humans And Domestic Animals", it is hazardous to your pet.

Toxic shampoos

Toxic flea collars

Dust  -- change air filters in your home once a month, and wash curtains more than once a year.



Eating cat or dog faeces

Stress -- having company over, being home alone, visiting the doctor.


Lyme vaccine

Lyme encephalitis

Rabies vaccine

Head trauma

Worm infestation

Lead -- in old houses which have been built using lead in various components.  Apparently dogs like to lick  lead because it tastes sweet..... and lead poisoning can result from licking or eating wood chips on which there is lead paint. This can be checked when doing regular blood work on the pet, but it must be specified that you would like a A LEAD POISONING TEST which is not part of a normal blood work.

Paint fumes

Paint chips from lead based paint

Excessive exercise


Abuse, neglect

Rawhides -- very important to avoid because most are dipped in a solution of salt and bleach

Cheap painted pet toys

Loud noises -- yelling, fighting, doorbell ringing

Scented candles

Vitamins with high sodium level

Not having a consistent routine

The season FALL -- Research studies have shown that more seizures occur in the fall.  This is due to mould and bacteria in the air.

Blinking lights -- Christmas lights, bright lights, etc.

Pine cleaners

Red food dye


Fungi, Bacteria and Germs

Last and most important, this above programme does not apply to every pet.  My procedure is to FIRST do a through evaluation on each pet and THEN make recommendations.  The evaluations are free of charge and are well worth your time if you have a pet that seizures.

An epileptic seizure is something no one likes to watch and even more distributing for the pet because he doesn't know what is happening to his body.

Therefore, it is up to you to find all the answers and learn what is causing these seizures and how to prevent them.

If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to contact me toll
free at 888-306-4284 or
Darleen E. Rudnick
Nutritional Pet Consultant, Purely Pets
reprinted with kind permission from Darleen E. Rudnick

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By Sheila Rankin. GSD National Magazine. UK May 1997.

Soon after the notice regarding the Dr. Phyllis Croft Foundation appeared in the press, I received  a letter from Linda Allan who has recently suffered the trauma of the death of a beloved Shepherd through epilepsy. Here is an extract from that letter;

I read the magazine with interest and I also study other journals relating to GSD's. I am amazed and dismayed that absolutely no mention of epilepsy is ever featured. Is this because it is such a taboo subject or do the experts and professionals consider it not worth a mention?. There is so much emphasis on hip scores and when I selected my "Oscar" I took this into account along with good temperament but to my cost I knew nothing about epilepsy. I can not understand why it is not given more publicity, is there any other inherent problem that come close to the trauma of living with a fitting dog? Since Oscar was given sleep I have asked many times "Why me?"

A glance at Oscars pedigree would have been enough to set alarm bells ringing for those who were around in the late 60's and early 70's and who will remember, if they care to, the Hendrawen Quadrille of Eveley episode but younger breeders will possibly not have heard of him. Quadrille was by Hendrawen's Vondaun Quebec ex Vanity of Eveley. He won a CC early in his show career and, as breeders then were not much different from breeders today, including my late husband "TV" and I. This resulted in there soon being many of his progeny winning while he was still a young dog himself and as a result even more breeders used him.

Stories started circulating that Quadrille was having fits but his owner said that these were the result of him having been in contact with the distemper virus and that his fits were no more hereditory than a broken leg is hereditary. Then George Woods and Harry Dunkely of Novem alerted other breeders that 3 of a litter they had bred by Quadrille had started fitting. We have retained a dog "Sheracyn Nevada" and a bitch "Sheracyn Nemesis" from a litter of 10 by Quadrille ex a Ch. Ludwig daughter so although neither were having fits we took them to Dr. Phyla's Croft to have an EEG. Breeders were sceptical of this EEG equipment which certainly did not inspire confidence. It consisted of various leads which were attached to the dogs heads by pins and a bulldog clip attached to their neck chains. The brain patterns were recorded on a length of paper which Dr. Croft studied later. Of necessity the reading was not very long so if it showed unusual brain activity indicative of epilepsy on the short strip then it must be assumed that the dog was an epileptic. EVEN IF HE HAD NOT HAD FITS. However, if there were no unusual patterns on this short strip it could NOT be assumed that the dog was definitely clear because unusual patterns may have shown up if the test had lasted longer. Some breeders did not understand this and if they were told by Dr. Croft that there were no unusual patterns they assumed that the animal could not possibly be an epileptic. To further complicate the matter, some owners who's dogs who actually did show unusual brain patterns and who were pronounced epileptic said that their dogs never had fits and this gave further fuel who described the test and or the idea of epilepsy as an hereditary problem. The fact that some dogs gave epileptic patterns but did not appear to have fits may be because they were kennel dogs and the owners were never present when a fit took place or possibly that the dogs never encountered the circumstances which might stimulate the brain into a fit, but whatever the reason some breeders used this as an excuse  not to use the services of Dr. Croft and her EEG.

We received the verdict that Nevada was an epileptic and was highly likely to eventually start fitting but Nemesis graph showed nothing unusual so Dr. Croft felt that she might not have fits. We decided to keep Nevada and to carry on showing him but never to breed from and Nem we gave to a game keeper on condition that she was never bred from. Unfortunately Nem had a misalliance with a labrador and whelped a huge litter, the stress of which triggered off fits and she was put down. Ultimately 5 from our litter of 10 died or were put down with fits. Nevada continued to win and although it was well known that Dr. Croft had pronounced him to be an epileptic quite a few breeders tried hard to persuade us to let him mate their bitches. One lady who was emigrating even wanted to take a bitch in whelp to Nevada to her new country "after all, nobody there would know about epilepsy".

Then came the day that Nevada had his first fit. To see this lovely and much loved dog thrashing in the dirt, mouth bleeding from a bitten tongue, eyes staring, no control over bladder or bowel and, rather unusually screaming quite horribly was a pitiful sight is unforgettable.

Nevada gained his title at Crufts 1970, was BOB and RCC in working group. A couple of months later he started to fit in the morning and as he came out of one fit he went into another. I was on my own that day with no transport and unable to get a vet to come to the house. I sat with him all day watching him get weaker and weaker but the fits continued until TV eventually arrived home and we took him to the vet where he was put to sleep with us holding him.

After Nevada's death other Quadrille sons and daughters "disappeared" though some went on to be bred from quite extensively and have themselves produced epileptic progeny. Quadrille himself died and his obituary, written by one of the then most respected breeders (now deceased) ignored all mention of fits and stated that "he died of a tired heart". Of course he did, so would have Nevada if the vet had not intervened.

German dogs were coming into this country thick and fast and many breeders felt confident that by their use there would be no problem with epilepsy. Fant V D Weinerau arrived and in time produced several different progeny from different bitches. Luckily he had not been used very much and his owner removed him from stud before too much damage was done. There have been other imports known to have produced fitting off spring and some are mentioned in Dr. Willis book "The GSD a Genetic History of the Breed".

The division in the breed between "English" and "German" enthusiasts meant that the 2 sides rather lost contact with each others pedigrees and Quadrille has now disappeared off most pedigrees altogether while his sons and daughters who are known to have produced epileptics are almost off. This means that the newer younger breeders on the "English" side are often unaware of what lies behind their litters. Isabelle Donkin is regularly asked to search the pedigrees of fitting Shepherds and has been horrified by the amount of lines going back to Quadrille, in one case in excess of 30 lines. Those on the "German" side would not, of course, be using dogs that have this amount of Quadrille in them but he lurks off some of the pedigrees of both dogs and bitches of this side too. Recently Isabelle sent me details of a Shepherd who could be described as colloquially as being on the "German" side. Quadrille appears 6 times just off the pedigree and while Quadrille 6 times that far back will probably give no problems what will happen in a year or two when the unwarily start doubling up.?

There are always breeders who will not see the writing on the wall, some even doubt that epilepsy is inherent. At the AGM of the League in 1982 a breeder who is still alive and still breeding cast doubts on epilepsy as an inheritable condition and put forward the theory that rough play between litter mates causes blows to the head that can later result in fits. About the same time a very well known German judge giving a talk over here said that fits in Germany were not inherited but were due to a vitamin deficiency. Blows to the head, white flour, contact with a virus, vitamin deficiency, crossing the North Sea (that affects the hips too!) etc., etc., may well be causes of fits but when none of these things is the reason it only leaves the pedigree.

So why have I dragged up  all this ancient history?. Not to start a witch hunt but hopefully to persuade breeders to check further back than the actual paper that the pedigree is written on and to suggest that stud dog owners check behind the pedigree of bitches brought to their dogs. It may be very flattering when someone from the other side decides to use your dog but you will not be very happy if the bitch has multiple suspect lines but your dog gets blamed for any later problems! I also urge owners and breeders to send details of fitting Shepherds, or of those suffering from ANY other suspect inherited conditions, to be put on the Breed Councils data base, to paraphrase Shakespeare "The evil dogs do live after them" so unless the breeders of today take a more open approach than those of the past there will be more broken hearted owners like Linda Allan asking "WHY ME?".

reprinted with kind permission from Sheila Ranken
secretary for the GSD Breed Council and contact for GSD Welfare


Epilepsy and Seizures.

Roger Ross DVM

Epilepsy was originally a word that meant seizures of unknown cause.  Evil spirits were often blamed.  Exorcists were called upon for healing.  Today, we have a much better idea about the causes and control of seizures, but in truth, there's still a lot we don't yet understand. 

Seizures are a fairly common problem in dogs but luckily, most dogs with seizures lead a long and pretty normal life.  And while the seizures can be frightening to the dog..."whoa, what the"...apparently they are non painful.

The actual seizure is usually quite short 20-180 seconds, but there is usually a much longer period where the patient is a little shaken called the aura.  And sometimes the seizures can be multiple.

Often the seizures are instigated by an over excited brain as with thunderstorm anxiety or other fears.

Sometimes the cause of seizure is extremely serious as with brain tumors or it can be genetic.

If your dog or cat has had a seizure, here's what we recommend:

1.  A good exam.  This is to make sure there is no obvious cause such as poisoning, anemia, high fever, a tooth or ear infection, kidney or liver disease, or pancreatitis, blood sugar or calcium imbalance or other possible cause that needs treatment. 

2.  Blood work or other tests if some of the problems mentioned above are suspected. 

3.  Treatment:  If no obvious cause can be determined then we consider medications that greatly reduce the number and severity of the seizures.  Luckily this is easily and cheaply done in most cases...but not always.  Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the various seizure control medications with your veterinarian. The medication we use most often at our hospital for seizure control is phenobarbital.

Another article about Seizures from the  TEXTBOOK OF VETERINARY INTERNAL MEDICINE  Client Information Series by Michael Podell

The diagnosis and treatment of seizure disorders in small animals are similar in many respects to the diagnosis and treatment of other ailments: a historical problem arises, a proper diagnosis is made to confirm the condition, and therapy is started to treat the underlying disease and/or signs of the disease.

In seizure disorders, however, unlike other diseases, a long period of normal activity may occur between the seizure events. Even during these normal periods, serious conditions may still be present as the cause of the seizures. Knowing which animals are at the highest risk for such problems is helpful in planning the proper tests and treatment.

First, your veterinarian wants to be sure that an epileptic seizure has occurred and, if so, the seizure type(s) manifested. An epileptic seizure is the clinical sign of excessive, abnormal activity in the brain and the clinical features can be separated into three components. The aura is the initial manifestation of a seizure. During this time period, which can last from minutes to hours, animals can exhibit recurrent pacing or licking, excessive or unusual salivation or vomiting, and/or even unusual psychic events such as excessive barking or increased or decreased attention seeking. Some owners even report that they know their dog is going to have a seizure days in advance by changes in the animal's behavior.

The ictal period is the actual seizure event, manifested by involuntary muscle tone or movement and/or abnormal sensations or behavior, usually lasting from seconds to minutes.

After the ictal event is the postictal period. During this time, an animal can exhibit unusual behavior, disorientation, inappropriate bowel or bladder activity, excessive or depressed thirst and appetite, and actual neurologic problems, such as weakness and blindness.

Seizure types can be classified into two major categories:

partial and generalized.
Partial seizures are the result of a focal abnormal electrical event in the brain. This seizure type is associated with a higher prevalence of focal disease, such as a tumor.

Animals with simple partial seizures have a sudden change in activity without any change in awareness, such as twitching of facial muscles.

Animals with complex partial seizures often show bizarre behavioral activity, such as "fly-chasing" behavior patterns.

Generalized seizures are either convulsive ("grand mal") or nonconvulsive ("petit mal") seizures. Generalized convulsive seizures are by far the most common seizure type seen in animals and are characterized by impaired consciousness coupled with symmetric stiffening, paddling, or even loss of movement of the limb muscles.

The major form of nonconvulsive seizure is the "absence" variety, manifested as a "spacing-out" episode. The severity of the seizure does not necessarily match the cause, as dogs with brain tumors may have mild partial seizures and dogs with primary epilepsy may have severe generalized seizures.

The second level of assessment is the diagnosis of the cause of the seizures. Just as a cough signals a problem in the airway, a seizure tells us there is a problem in the brain, but not the cause.

The goals of a diagnostic evaluation are to determine the underlying cause, evaluate the chance for recurrence, and establish whether medication is necessary for treatment.

Primary epileptic seizure (PES) is diagnosed if no underlying cause of the seizure can be identified (idiopathic). This term is often reserved for inherited epilepsy in people, but the genetic component of epilepsy is difficult to determine in many animals.

Breed-related inherited epilepsy in the dog has been documented in beagle, Belgian Tervuren, keeshond, dachshund, and Siberian husky dogs. Other breeds with a high prevalence of an inherited component of their seizures are German shepherd, border collie, Irish setter, and golden retriever dogs.

A diagnosis of PES is most common in large breed dogs 1 to 5 years of age and/or when the interval between the first and the second seizure event is long (>4 weeks).

Secondary epileptic seizure (SES) is the direct result of an abnormal brain structure. The conditions involved include developmental brain problems, inflammation, tumors, or strokes. An animal is categorized as having epilepsy if recurrent PES or SES is diagnosed, indicating the presence of a chronic brain disorder. Reactive epileptic seizure (RES) is a reaction of the normal brain to transient systemic insults or physiologic stresses. A patient with recurring RES is not defined as having epilepsy, as there is not a primary chronic brain disorder underlying the seizure activity.

An underlying identifiable cause (SES or RES) of the seizures is suspected in dogs that have an initial seizure when they are younger than 1 or older than 5 years of age, the initial interval between the first and second seizure events is less than 4 weeks, or a partial seizure is the first observed seizure. Cats, in general, do not suffer as frequently from seizures as dogs. When cats have seizures, there is a high likelihood that an underlying problem in the brain (SES) is present, such as inflammation, stroke, or tumor.

Maintaining a seizure-free status without unacceptable adverse effects is the ultimate goal of antiepileptic drug (AED) therapy. This optimal balance is achieved in less than half of epileptic people and, probably, just as many dogs.

Before starting AED treatment, owners and veterinarians should have a realistic idea of what to expect over the course of therapy. First and foremost is that seizure control does not equal elimination. Decreasing the number and severity of seizures and postictal complications, while increasing the time period between seizures, is a realistic goal.

Once treatment is started, you should realize that there is a daily treatment regimen, reevaluations are required, and there is a potential for emergency situations to arise, along with the inherent risks of the drug.

The decision to start AED therapy is based on the underlying cause, seizure type and frequency, and postictal effects. An acceptable AED is one that can be given two to three times per day, has documentable benefit, is well tolerated, and has few side effects.

The two AEDs most widely used in the dog and cat are phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Bromide has the benefit of a reduced chance of liver toxicity but may not be as effective as phenobarbital for stopping all types of seizures or work as quickly. Periodic measurements of the amount of drug present in the bloodstream are necessary to determine that an acceptable level of medication is present. At the same time, blood tests to evaluate liver function may be necessary. These periodic evaluations are important in trying to maximize the benefit of drug therapy while monitoring for early detection of possible complications. Treating each animal as an individual, applying the philosophy that seizure prevention is better than intervention, and consulting your veterinarian to help formulate or revise treatment plans increase chances of success.

reprinted with kind permission from  Roger Ross DVM


What’s the Big Deal?

by Laurin Howard

What’s the big deal about epilepsy? Why is such a fuss made over it? If a dog has a seizure, you give them pills once or twice a day and they live normal lives, right? Why should breeders remove dogs from their program who have produced seizures or have epileptic siblings? Is this "throwing the baby out with the bath water"?

A typical seizure unfolds like this: At 3:30 am you hear a loud bump as your dog falls off the bed. His whole body is rigid, with his neck pulled backward so strongly that his head nearly touches his back. His eyes are rolled back in his head, and his mouth is wide open - champing frantically at nothing, saliva spewing forth. His legs gallop nowhere. He empties his bladder, his anal glands, and often his bowels. This continues for up to several minutes, during which time he does not breath. Lack of oxygen to the brain means death for brain cells. As the seizure declines, he is unconscious. Suddenly he snaps into a semblance of awareness, but is totally uncoordinated and often blind. He pulls himself up and staggers into a wall or a piece of furniture. Not having an understanding of why he isn’t moving forward, he continues to shove blindly against the barrier until it moves or someone pulls him away from it. Over the next 20 minutes to several hours he gradually comes back to his senses. Then the pacing begins. He doesn’t know why, but he must pace - back and forth, back and forth - without end. This can go on for hours. Finally he goes into an exhausted sleep. With some luck, he doesn’t "cluster" (having anywhere from 2 to over 50 seizures over the next 2-3 days) or go into status epilepticus (continual seizing that often means death). You try to go back to sleep for a few hours, praying that the seizures are over for now, and thanking God that he lived through this one.

The following quotes are taken (with the authors’ permission) from posts to the Epil-K9 list - an email list for owners of seizing dogs.

Rush is one of the "lucky" ones - he’s still alive. He is a 4½ year old Border Collie. His owner writes: "every month he builds up to a 7 month seizure crisis. Friday he had 3 seizures, Saturday he had 13 seizures from 8AM - 11PM, Sunday he had 37 seizures from 1:30AM - 1:15PM, and Monday he had 36 seizures from 12:15AM - 6:15PM." During this period, Rush was being given Phenobarbital, Potassium bromide, rectal valium, and oral valium. He addresses an issue that everyone with an epileptic faces: "I know what most of you are probably wondering - is Rush ever going to be normal again? He seizes once a month and can have as little as one seizure or have this many seizures; however, he has always bounced back. It might take him 2 weeks to bounce back from a seizure crisis like this, but he has a wonderful, meaningful life. He puts every ounce of energy into his Frisbee playing and that is why he is able to be the #2 Frisbee dog in the US in 1994 and 1996 and top 10 in 1995. So, as long as he can run, jump, and play Frisbee I know that Rush will be happy!! If Rush is happy then we can deal with his not-so-healthy times." In this episode, Rush suffered 89 seizures in 72 hours.

Barb and Emily have been fighting epilepsy for several years. At this point in time, Emily has suffered a very bad gran mal seizure, and has been hospitalized because she is blind and unresponsive. Barb writes "Gee...I really wish that I had good news....but I don't. I went to visit with Emily tonight. She snuggled in my arms but I am not really all that sure that she knew it was me. Maybe she did she kept sniffing me when I first picked her up. When I would say her name I got some very, very slight movement with the ear fringe. Maybe it registered that someone was calling her name. I don’t know. I don’t know how I can help her. If the cortisone doesn’t work...and if pulling her off the Kbr [Potassium bromide] doesn't work...then what? Is there anything else to do for her? If she's going to rally it had better be within the next week and a half. I can’t permit her to go on like she is. I feel so helpless. I've started facing the fact that it’s not fair to her for her to live like she has been. Right now she doesn't know what is going on and if I were to put her on the floor she would walk aimlessly. No interaction with the other dogs or with John or myself. Is that living?" When Barb took Emily to the veterinary hospital, she took along a record of Emily’s seizures. The doctors were able to use the notes to see when Emily’s behavioral changes began. Barb found herself glad to have the log: "Actually if this is to be the end of Emily’s life, at least I have a record of all the great times we had together these past two years Christmas the doggie birthday parties how she could be so silly at times how much she loved me how hard she struggled to overcome this how hard it is to let her go..."

Jelly was hospitalized at Tufts University. Noreen posted: "Every time they bring Jelly out of sedation she seizes so they are going to put her in an anesthetized state and see what happens over the next 24 hours." She also wrote about another issue owners of epileptic dogs face: "I just keep hiding the bills from my husband who loves her but doesn’t have the same kind of emotional investment in the dogs that I do I know [he] is ready to "make the hard call". But I’m not. I love this dog so dearly and want to do whatever I can but the estimate is for $600, which means closer to $800 emotionally I’m really having a hard time plus I had to leave work which meant someone else had to take my classes. Sometimes the heartbreak and suffering are so awful I think I can’t bear anymore." Jelly’s story had a sad ending: "Jelly died quietly at noon today. We held her in our arms and told her how very much we loved her and how very much we would miss her and how lucky we were to have had her in our lives for 3½ years."

"Wolf" is a 100-pound malamute. His owner writes: "Wolf is now six and a half. He only has a few more days to live. I wish I could show him to you because he is truly one of God’s most beautiful creatures Wolf is in his last days now. His liver is failing as a result of having taken so much Phenobarb, at one time as much as 360 mg/day He can barely walk now. I have to carry him up and down the stairs and support him as he stands against a tree to do his business. He stopped eating a few days ago and no matter what we try and tempt him with, he shows no interest because his abdominal cavity is filled with fluid from his failing liver." Jeffrey continues, "We know that within the next day or two, Wolf will either pass on his own or will become so incapacitated that we will have no other choice but to put him down. In truth it is easier for me to write about this than it is for me to talk about it because every time I do I break down and cry. We have all spent the last two days crying. You know, it’s funny. I’m a middle-aged man. I’ve had parents and close friends die and yet none of these losses have moved me in the same way as losing this pup. Even though Wolf was once strong enough to pull a car through the snow, I still always call him my "baby boy" since he is the youngest of all my "children".

So that’s the "big deal". Each dog who seizes is breaking someone’s heart. Not all seizures can be controlled with drugs. Not all breeders care.

What can we do to help? The modes of inheritance for epilepsy are not known, though several theories point to the idea that there are many different ways to inherit it. The ESSFTA Foundation has promised funds to epilepsy research. The Foundation welcomes donations in any amount, and the donor can designate his/her preference for their gift’s use.

Regardless of how epilepsy is inherited, breeders can make serious efforts to avoid it. Obviously, no dog that seizes should be bred. Data from the on-going Seizure Disorder Survey (currently with 128 dogs reported) has put the average age of onset at 2.9 years in the English Springer Spaniel. Many breeders begin using their dogs at less than 2 years of age, and breed their bitches at 2 years. This is simply not safe as far as inherited seizure disorders are concerned. A minimum of 3 years of age should be observed for all breeding animals. The ESSFTA as made such a recommendation in its "Guidelines for Responsible Breeders".

Until we know how epilepsy is passed on, serious thought should be given as to whether or not to continue breeding parents of epileptic dogs or to breed siblings. In every breeding, research both dogs’ pedigrees in great detail. Talk to breeders for three generations; talk to owners of siblings and to people who have used siblings or parents in a breeding program. And, most importantly - don’t hide seizures. The breed you love will suffer.

It appears, sadly, that many breeders of epileptic dogs don’t quite understand what their puppy buyers go through when faced with this problem. Responses range from "oh, gee, we’ve never had a problem like that" to "This is not something we talk about. Put him to sleep." We live in a "throw-away" society: if a youngster doesn’t turn out, we "place" him. Breeders become hardened to the emotional connection between dog and human. Hard as it is to believe, some seem to forget that we have these dogs because we love them, not just as a breed, but as individuals. "Putting him down" apparently is easier for someone with 6 to 12 dogs living in crates or kennels than for the family with one beloved pet who sleeps on their beds.

As responsible breeders, perhaps the most difficult problem for us to face is when an owner calls to say his dog has seized. Guilt and remorse often take the shape of defensiveness - we feel that the owner’s agony is a sort of reproach, and a condemnation of our breeding program. We jump to defend ourselves and our dogs, not realizing that the owner probably doesn’t care at all about their dog’s pedigree history. They care about the dog they love. They expect us to care about the dog we produced. They don’t want excuses and explanations, or even apologies. They want support and advice. They want to know that we care. Instead of distancing ourselves from the seizing dog, we must remember how special that pup was to us when he was crawling around the whelping box. The first thing we must do in dealing with an owner’s despair is to let them know that we care, too.

The next issue we face as breeders of an epileptic is helping the owner find the very best care available for his dog, and as much information as possible about epilepsy. Unfortunately, my experience has been that not very many veterinarians know very much about the care of an epileptic dog. They don’t see enough of them (though many think there has been an increase in the last several years), are not kept abreast of the latest treatments, and are unaware of the many holistic approaches available. In many cases, the only way to keep an epileptic dog functioning in a relatively normal life is to treat the whole dog. This means, in addition to Phenobarbital (the drug of choice for treating canine epilepsy) and Potassium bromide (another drug that has proven very effective in conjunction with Phenobarbital), the dog might be supplemented with zinc, melatonin, milk thistle, amino acids, etc. He might need acupuncture or gold bead implants. He will almost certainly need a specialized diet. As responsible breeders, we must be ready to help an owner find the treatment their dog needs, just as we would if faced with a behavior problem in a dog we sold. Obviously, if a dog we bred succumbs to epilepsy, we should offer to replace the dog or refund the purchase price. It is truly the very least we can do.

When faced with producing an epileptic dog, we should contact the owners of all of that dog’s siblings and half-sibs. Advise them on what they should do if their dog seizes, insist that the dogs be neutered or spayed if still intact (this means replacing or refunding for show prospects), and ask them to contact you immediately with all details if their dog does fall prey to seizures. Contact the owner of the sire and owners of the dam’s siblings. The only way we can begin to fight this horrible problem is to get it out in the open and begin putting the facts together. Be sure the owner fills out an ESSFTA Seizure Disorder Survey, and make the dog’s pedigree available to the Health and Genetics Committee. If we are going to eliminate this problem, it is going to mean that we must consciously breed to avoid it. Yes, it will still occur, but hopefully diligent breeding practices based on full disclosure by all breeders will reduce in continually.

So what is the best, most current source of information? The answer is the World-wide Web. The Epil-K9 website at is a gateway to many sites and to the Epil-K9 "list", an email subscriber list for owners or breeders of epileptic dogs. The wealth of information on this list and through the linked websites is phenomenal. The list currently has nearly 400 subscribers; that number is quite variable because "list dogs" die every week, and new people sign up every day. The list provides a forum for comparison of veterinary care, environmental solutions, and - most of all - support. It’s value to the family of an epileptic dog is immeasurable.

The owner has a responsibility to the breed, as well. They must contact the breeder, and if they get poor response, they might contact the owner of the sire and siblings as well. They must keep detailed records of their dog’s seizures - this can help the veterinarian in treating the problem, and might help save the dog’s life. They should participate in the Seizure Disorder Survey, make their dog’s pedigree available to the Health & Genetics Committee, and share information whenever possible.

The pain and helplessness of seeing your dog writhe uncontrollably in seizures is excruciating. Going to bed every night with one ear open for the dreaded bump and thrashing, knowing that each day might be your dog’s last is dreadfully stressing. The agony of watching your beautiful, loving, and often young dog die of epilepsy is beyond compare.

As ethical, responsible, and caring people, we must consider each breeding in this light: WE are the ones who make the choices. We are obligated to make every effort to produce healthy puppies. We can’t take chances. Every seizing dog is breaking someone’s heart.

Permission to reproduce this article is granted by Laurin Howard and the Springer Spaniel Club of America.
For copies of the Seizure Disorder Survey or to contribute a pedigree of a dog you own or bred, contact Laurin Howard at:
        560 Fielding Dr. Versailles, KY 40383
Canine Epilepsy FAQ's
Sandie Snider
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a chronic medical condition produced by temporary changes in the electrical function of the brain, causing recurrent seizures which affect awareness, movement, or sensation.    "Recurrent" is a key word because a dog who has an isolated seizure does not have epilepsy.  Also note that epilepsy is not a disease but rather a neurological disorder that affects the brain and shows itself in the form of seizures.

Will my dog die from it?
Dogs rarely die from a single seizure or even a couple of seizures of normal duration of one to five minutes.  However, when a dog has one long seizure or several seizures in rapid succession, it is a life threatening situation that needs immediate medical attention.

In a study on the effects of status epilepticus and a dog's life span, researchers found that dogs with epilepsy who had  never had an episode of status epilepticus, lived to their normal life expectancy.   Dogs who had been in status had only a slight reduction in expected life span.

How is it treated?
There are two medications that are most often prescribed to treat epilepsy, Phenobarbital and potassium bromide.  These two drugs used either alone or in combination with each other control seizures in 80 to 95% of all dogs.  For dogs who are not controlled with these two drugs, there are other medications that aren't as consistently helpful but may be the perfect medication for an individual dog.

What are the side effects of medications?
Phenobarbital and potassium bromide both have the same  potential side effects of excessive hunger, excessive thirst, excessive urination, sedation and ataxia (hind end weakness).  Not all dogs will have all of these side effects and most of the side effects will subside or disappear as a dog becomes adjusted to the medication.

Phenobarbital and potassium bromide also have more serious potential side effects that are seen in a very small percentage of dogs.  Phenobarbital may cause some changes in liver function and these may be serious.  The small risk of liver failure can be reduced by frequent monitoring of liver function through chemistry panels and bile acid tests.

Potassium bromide may cause a condition called megaesophagus when blood serum is maintained at high levels.  This condition is reversible and will resolve when bromide levels are reduced.

There is also growing evidence that potassium bromide may contribute to pancreatitis.  For this reason, if your dog is on bromide and begins vomiting aggressive diagnostics and treatment for pancreatitis should be considered.

Will medication keep my dog from ever having another seizure?
The goal of medicating is to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.  Some dogs never have another seizure, however, most dogs with epilepsy will have occasional seizures despite medication.  An occasional seizure will not affect your dog's quality of life.

As a general rule, if seizures are more than 30 days apart, it's considered good control.

My dog is on medication and still has frequent seizures.  What can I do?

If your dog has just started on medication, be patient.  It frequently takes several adjustments in medications before the right dose and combination of medications are found.  If your vet has tried both Phenobarbital and bromide and your dog still doesn't have good control, you should consider asking your vet for a referral to a veterinary neurologist who may try other second and third line medications.

Do seizures get worse over time?
Left untreated seizures may get worse over time.  Studies have shown that early treatment of seizures results in better long term control of seizures.  With early treatment, seizures should become less frequent and less severe.

Will seizures cause permanent brain damage?
In general, seizures do not cause permanent brain damage.  The brain has an amazing amount of unused capacity and even if cells are damaged during a seizure, your dog should have the ability to relearn.  If your dog has had a cluster of severe seizures you may notice some changes in their behavior, but these should be temporary.  Most dogs fully recover from seizures in a few days but for some it may take a few weeks.
reprinted with kind permission from Sandie Snider

Epilepsy Medication FAQ's

gijoe It’s best to get the seizures under control as soon as possible. They can become more severe, closer together or occur in clusters that are very difficult to control. (My dog’s in that last group.) The sooner they are controlled the better the chances for a long, healthy life for your dog.  The question is, what is the best way to go about controlling them? That’s  up to you and your vet. But to answer some of your questions:

1.  By increasing the meds, is there likely to be a reduction in the number of seizures he has?

     Yes. But it can take time to find the right dose, which can be frustrating.

2.  Will the severity of the seizures be likely to decrease?

     Maybe. The severity might stay the same but if the frequency is decreased enough, it will make a huge difference. My dog’s seizures never decreased  in severity (full grand mal) but the interval changed from clusters every six weeks to twice  a year or less. This differs from dog to dog.

3.  Are his seizures more likely to occur on a predictable schedule?

    Probably not. But this does happen in some cases. Some dogs are regular like a clock and others totally random.

4.  How paranoid do I need to be about the side affects, both in his behaviour and in the likeliness of physical damage i.e. liver, pancreatitis etc.?

    Personally, I’d say not very. Thanks to the internet these drugs have developed a huge “scare factor” that, statistically, is unwarranted.  People tend to be more talkative about negative experiences than positive ones.

During 12 years of using both pb and KBr my dog, GI Joe, has never had a serious side effect. When the KBr level has been too high he’s had ataxia, but that’s all. Some dogs do experience behavioral changes, due to the sedating effects of the drugs, some have none. Again, it’s a dog to dog thing. I can say, though, that there’s no way my dog would still be here at 12 ½, enjoying his old age on the sofa, without pb and KBr. (Diet, acupuncture and supplements, too.)
I hope this is helpful.
Karen & GI Joe

Taken from a post on the Epilepsy Yahoo Group
reprinted with kind permission from Karen & GI Joe


Many Epileptic Dogs have benefited from the use of Rescue Remedy either before, during or after a seizure.  Just administer 4 drops onto the tongue.  Postictal (the aftermath of a seizure) can be reduced to only a few minutes.  

UK Canine Epilepsy Study


Soft Dog Crates for When You Have to Leave your epileptic dog alone

chloebutton talabutton  

The above information is simply informational. It's intent is not to replace the advice of a veterinarian nor to assist you in making a diagnosis of your pet. Please consult with your own veterinarian for confirmation of any diagnosis. Your pets life may depend on it.