Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs is a type of epilepsy that occurs for reasons vets don't quite understand. It is also sometimes called hereditary or congenital epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy causes abnormal electrical activity in the brain that can lead to seizures, or involuntary muscle contractions, abormal feelings and abnormal behaviors.

Idiopathic Epilepsy

Vets don't know what causes idiopathic epilepsy, but they do know that in some breeds the disease appears to be hereditary. Breeds genetically predisposed to idiopathic epilepsy include:

  • Keeshounds
  • Beagles
  • German Shepherds
  • Saint Bernards
  • Irish Setters
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Poodles
  • Labrador and Golden Retrievers

Because idiopathic epilepsy can be passed down through families, dogs suffering from this disorder shouldn't be bred, and neither should their parents or siblings.

Canine Epileptic Seizures

The seizures suffered by dogs with idiopathic epilepsy occur in three phases, aural, ictal and postictal. The aural phase of an epileptic seizure is characterized by behavioral changes that show your dog is about to have a seizure. These changes may be very obvious or very subtle, and they may last from a few seconds to several days. Dogs in the aural stage of an epileptic seizure exhibit restlessness and may wander off or try to hide. They may appear overly affectionate, and they may whine, tremble or drool.

The ictal phase is when the seizure itself happens. The epileptic seizure may last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Your dog will fall over and may appear to make kicking or running motions with his legs. He'll be unaware of his surroundings, and he may drool or wet himself.

The postictal phase occurs immediately following the seizure. Your dog will appear disoriented and restless. He may keep drooling. Some dogs seek comfort from their owners during this stage, while others seek to avoid their owners. This can go on for days.

Responding to Your Dog's Epileptic Seizure

If your dog suffers an epileptic seizure, stay calm. Rest assured that your dog isn't in any pain; he is unconscious.

You should try to time your dog's seizure if you can. A seizure that lasts more than five minutes is a medical emergency, and you should contact an emergency veterinary clinic if your dog suffers an epileptic seizure of more than five minutes in length. In any case, your vet will want to know at what time the seizure occured, on what date it occured and how long it lasted. Keep track of your dog's muscular movements during the seizure so that you can explain them to the vet.

Try to keep your dog away from any furniture, water, staircases or sharp objects during his seizure, so that he doesn't hurt himself. Put a pillow under his head to prevent head injury during the seizure. Don't worry about your dog swallowing his tongue; dogs don't do that. Refrain from putting your hand in your dog's mouth, because you could be seriously bitten.

Keep children and other animals away from your dog during his seizure. Be there to soothe him when the seizure ends. Once the seizure has ended, keep your dog in a safe environment (away from stairs, water, furniture, children and other pets) until his behavior has returned to normal. If your pet hasn't recovered after half an hour, consult your vet.