52.6 F
Thousand Oaks

Love Your Pet: Canine Epilepsy

The most common cause of seizures in dogs is epilepsy. This is an abnormal electrical activity of the brain. It can be acquired – there may be metabolic abnormalities or structural lesions of the brain — but most epilepsy is what we call idiopathic or inherited epilepsy. It is genetic.

Genetic epilepsy is usually first seen when a dog is between 3 and 5 years of age but can be observed earlier or later as well. It can be scary for you to see your pet having a seizure. Always call your veterinarian for help – both for diagnosis and treatment.

Your veterinarian will first get a history, including any possible trauma and an idea of when and what your pet eats. He will also ask if your pet has access to toxins, medications and drugs. A full examination will be done to check your pet’s awareness of surroundings, heartbeat and general condition. An ocular examination will surely be done. In some cases, I can see changes in a pet’s eyes that help me determine the cause or severity of the seizure.

In all cases, it is also recommended to perform a complete blood panel and urine analysis to look for metabolic disease. Vets look for possible liver and kidney problems, as well as changes in blood sugar and electrolytes. The red and white cell counts may also indicate a cause. For young puppies, we may even have testing for distemper.  If your pet has a high fever, then a fungal serology test and other tests may be ordered.

If the examination and initial testing are normal, your pet probably has epilepsy and may start on medication. Further examination can also be done by a specialist using CT/MRI scanning and testing for the cerebral spinal fluid. Some other special testing may be indicated depending upon your pet’s history.

If your pet is diagnosed with epilepsy, there is no way to know if it will have additional seizures later and, if so, when. Some pets are started on herbal calming supplements. When to start a pet on medication is an open question. Generally, if a pet has more than three seizures within a 24-hour period or has a seizure lasting more than 5 minutes or has two or more seizures within 6 months, it should start on medication. If a pet can be injured by falling down stairs or into a swimming pool, some are started on prescription medication sooner.

Once a pet starts taking medication, it usually remains on medication for the rest of its life. There are many medications used for this purpose. The choice depends upon your pet’s condition, how often you can give the medication and your veterinarian’s experience using them. Some medications require regular testing since they can be broken down by the liver in the body. There is variation of effect and absorption, so monitoring the blood level of medications is also done to make sure your pet is getting the correct amount.

During treatment, some pets will have breakthrough seizures. If this happens, you should try to keep your pet calm and without stimulation, perhaps by holding it in a blanket or in a darkened, quiet room until it calms down. Call your veterinarian when you get a chance. Your pet may need adjustment to the dosage or combination of medications used.

Most pets with epilepsy can be managed with medications and sometimes diet changes and supplements.

Dr. Ron Resnick has been in practice for more than 32 years and previously operated two veterinary hospitals. He taught at Harvard University and graduated from Tufts University, considered the best veterinary school in the world. He operates an animal hospital in Simi Valley.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here