Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes disorganised electrical
activity and fits. A small percentage of dogs are affected
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
epileptic, there are various treatments in use, such as:
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
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
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
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
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 .
CAUSES OF IDIOPATHIC 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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
reprinted with kind permission from Sheila Dolan
Managing Editor, the Australian Shepherd Journal
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.
is a list of seizure types in humans as defined by the International
Classification of Epileptic Seizures (ICES).
Classification of Epileptic Seizures:
I. Partial Seizures (also called focal or local seizures)
A. Simple partial seizures (consciousness is not
special sensory symptoms
B. Complex partial seizures
1. Beginning as a simple partial seizure
b. Without automatisms
2. With impaired consciousness at onset
b. Without automatisms
C. Partial seizures with secondary generalization
II. Generalized seizures (bilateral without localized onset)
A. Absence seizures
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
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
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.
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
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
Emergency Procedures for the Small Animal Veterinarian
Thomas, W B Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs, Small Anim Prac Jane
Tilley, LP, The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult
-2007 Canine Seizures All rights reserved
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
Last Updated March 2007
reprinted with kind permission from Sandie Snider
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
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
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.
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.
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
Dogs that have experienced seizures, and their parents and siblings,
should not be used for breeding.
for Genetic Disease Control in Animals
http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/gdc/gdc.html maintains an open research
database for idiopathic epilepsy in the Irish setter, Labrador
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
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS DISORDER, PLEASE SEE YOUR VETERINARIAN.
Genetic Disease Control in Animals:
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
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.
© 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.
Naturally Treating Epilepsy and
Darleen Rudnick, Pet Nutritionist
become a growing concern with pet owners and is becoming a very common
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
During a seizure the
most common symptoms are:
*The pet will stiffen
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
*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
*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.
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
*Head Trauma may develop
into convulsive seizures.
Renal Kidney Failure and
epilepsy is primarily a process of eliminating all known possible
causes of the seizures.
Types of treatments
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
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. http://www.purelypets.com
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
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
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 http://www.purelypets.com
Purely Pets Store or Canine Complete Formula http://www.purelypets.com
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
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
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 http://www.purelypets.com
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
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.
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
*or another fruit or
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
*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
Feed small frequent meals.
Symptoms of a
hypoglycaemic attack are as follows:
*staggering or collapse
*becoming very weak
*may stare or eyes look
*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.
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 http://www.purelypets.com
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
What to do when a
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
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
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 TO AVOID
Hair spray -- do not spray
when pet is in the same room.
Wool -- wool blankets, wool
Heartworm pills -- usually a
seizure will occur 1 week to 1 1/2 wks. after administering the pill.
Pollution from chemical
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
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
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 flea collars
Dust -- change air
filters in your home once a month, and wash curtains more than once a
Eating cat or dog faeces
Stress -- having company
over, being home alone, visiting the doctor.
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 chips from lead based
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
Vitamins with high sodium
Not having a consistent
The season FALL -- Research
studies have shown that more seizures occur in the fall. This is
due to mould and bacteria in the
Blinking lights -- Christmas
lights, bright lights, etc.
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 mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Darleen E. Rudnick
Pet Consultant, Purely Pets
reprinted with kind
permission from Darleen E. Rudnick
EPILEPSY- A LESSON FOR RE- LEARNING?
Sheila Rankin. GSD National Magazine. UK May 1997.
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
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
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
approach than those of the past there will be more broken hearted
like Linda Allan asking "WHY ME?".
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
the heartbreak and suffering are so awful I think I can’t bear
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
much we would miss her and how lucky we were to have had her in our
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
as losing this pup. Even though Wolf was once strong enough to pull a
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
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
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 http://www.canine-epilepsy.com/
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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
Epileptic Dogs have benefited from the use of Rescue Remedy
before, during or after a seizure. Just administer 4 drops onto
tongue. Postictal (the aftermath of a seizure) can be reduced to
a few minutes.
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.