Epilepsy and seizure

Frequently asked questions about Epilepsy and Seizures in the dog

How do seizures occur?

Canine and feline seizures are transitory and involuntary variation of the neurological status and behaviour. Seizures are caused by atypical and wandering activity of cerebral cortex cells.

Seizures occur as transitory episodes lasting a few minutes; loss of consciousness, inability to maintain posture, clonic and tonic spasms, involuntary urination and defecation and copious salivation. In some cases, seizures are preceded by excitement and anxiety of the affected animal and this phase may last several hours. After seizures, the mental status of the affected animal may remaint altered for a long time.

What are common causes of seizures?

Canine and feline seizures occur for countless causes. In order to obtain a diagnosis, we need to consider both the primary diseases affecting the cerebrum (e.g. inflammations, neoplasia, etc.) and the metabolic diseases causing secondary neurological signs (e.g. hypoglycaemia, toxicosis, liver disorder, etc.). Moreover, as in humans, idiopathic epilepsy should also be considered in dogs and cats..

What is idiopathic epilepsy?

Idiopathic epilepsy (IE) is the most common cause of canine seizures and it is characterised by the predisposition to develop seizures without a manifest cause. IE occurs typically in young dogs (ranging from 6 months to 6 years old) and some breeds are commonly affected (Border Collie, Golden and Labrador Retriever, Australian Shepherd and Belgian Shepherd).

How to diagnose IE?

Canine idiopathic epilepsy is a diagnosis of exclusion. Neurological examination, blood tests and urinalysis, as well as cerebrum MRI are indicated in the epileptic patient. (Fig.1) Moreover, cerebrospinal fluid will be collected and analysed. If all the performed tests are negative, the patient with seizures beginning in juvenilility, would be suspected of having idiopathic epilepsy

Are seizuring episodes life threatening to my pet?

An isolated and short epileptic crisis cannot compromise the life of your pet, however, several epileptic sequences (“status epilepticus”) are an evident life-risk and requireurgent intervention. In this case, the cerebral cortex needs to be “shutdown” using intravenous anticonvulsant drugs and/or placing the animal under general anaesthesia. If you notice an epileptic sequence, you must promptly call your vet.

How to treat  idiopathic epilepsy

Canine idiopathic epilepsy can be treated with drugs that help to decrease the intensity and the frequency of the seizures. Several anticonvulsant drugs are registered for dogs, but any patient may respond differently to the treatment. For this reason, “common” treatment does not exist, but the therapy is “tailored” to each patient.

In the majority of cases, treatment is lifelong and the dog requires frequent check-ups. A journal recording all the epileptic episodes can be useful;  in order to check the trend of the dysfunction and the effectiveness of the prescribed therapy. Epilepsy appears as a frustrating and unpredictable disease and often the perfect treatment does not exist. However, a collaboration between  owner and specialised veterinarian can improve quality of life for the patient and the owner

Figure 1. MRI pictures of a dog with idiopathic epilepsy.

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