Epilepsy in Dogs

Epilepsy in dogs is a disorder characterized by recurring seizures. Epilepsy is an idiopathic illness, meaning that vets don't really understand what causes it. Epilepsy occurs when neurons in your dog's brain don't fire normally. Epilepsy is one of the foremost causes of seizures in dogs.

Types of Epileptic Seizures

Epileptic seizures are grouped according to whether they are considered grand mal or petit mal. Grand mal seizures are the most common type of epileptic seizure; a dog experiencing this type of seizure may fall over, and experiences uncontrollable muscle activity. Dogs in the grip of a grand mal seizure may kick their legs as if swimming; they may drool; they may lose control over bladder and bowels. Dogs suffering from grand mal seizures lose their awareness of their surroundings and may fail to recognize familiar people, including the owner, while in the grip of the seizure; neither are they aware of their own actions.

Petit mal seizures don't cause convulsions. Instead, the dog just collapses, unconscious.

Phases of a Seizure

Epileptic seizures often occur in three phases, which you can recognize if you observe your dog closely. They are:

  • The pre-seizure phase or aura, which begins a few minutes before the actual seizure. Symptoms of dog epilepsy in the aura phase include restlessness, pacing, attention-seeking, drooling, whining and trying to hide.
  • The seizure itself, known to veterinarians as the ictus. Dogs in this phase of epilepsy may seem excited. They may drool, vomit, run in circles, collapse or display uncontrollable muscle movements. This stage lasts five minutes or less on average.
  • The recovery, or post-ictal, phase begins after the seizure. Your dog may seem disoriented and uncoordinated; he may experience temporary blindness. The post-ictal phase may last minutes or days.

Some dogs may experience multiple grand mal seizures, with no recovery, or post-ictal, period between. This can cause seizures to last for hours rather than just a few minutes, and is known to vets as Status Epilepticus. While one seizure by itself is not life threatening, multiple seizures of this type require emergency medical intervention.

Epilepsy Triggers

Vets don't know exactly what triggers seizures in dogs with epilepsy. Most seizures seem to occur when the dog is excited or nervous. Some dogs may even have seizures while asleep, for reasons that aren't understood. If your dog experiences a seizure in his sleep, you'll know it because you won't be able to wake him up.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Epilepsy in dogs can only be diagnosed after a thorough physical and neurological exam are performed. There are many other medical conditions that can cause seizures, including brain lesions and tumors.

Dog epilepsy symptoms usually begin between the ages of six months to five years. While epilepsy can occur in all breeds, some breeds are more prone to it. They include:

  • Poodles
  • Saint Bernards
  • Beagles
  • Dachshunds
  • Collies

Epilepsy is often inherited, so dogs with epilepsy shouldn't be bred.

Epilepsy cannot be treated until your vet has determined your dog's unique seizure pattern. Epilepsy in dogs can't be cured, but oral medications like phenobarbital can decrease the frequency, severity and duration of seizures. You may need to try different types and combinations of medication to see what's most effective; dosages will often have to be changed over time.