• Cierra Voelkl

Canine Epilepsy: The Facts

One of the scariest things a dog owner can go through is witnesses their beloved family member having a seizure. Whether it's the first time or it's a recurring thing, it never gets any easier. It's always smart to know how to handle epilepsy or even just one off seizures in the event it happens to your own dog or another in your care. With March 26th being Epilepsy Awareness Day, we thought it'd be the perfect time to talk about this.

Photo Credit: Unknown

So what is epilepsy and seizures? Status epilepticus, or epilepsy, that causes dogs to have uncontrollable and recurring seizures whether it be on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Now a seizure is defined as the "abnormal, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in your dog’s brain cause seizures, affecting how he looks and how he behaves. Seizures can look like a twitch or uncontrollable shaking and can last from less than a minute to several minutes" (WebMD). It's often followed by foaming at the mouth, temporary blindness and defecating on themselves. Many dogs may experience a one off seizure from an illness, toxin or other factor but that doesn't mean they have epilepsy. But if your dog has a seizure for the first time, please consult your vet.

Let's break down two things: types of seizures and then types of epilepsy.

First, type of seizures:

  • Tonic-Clonic seizures are usually referred to as Grand Mal seizures with it being one of the most common types of seizures in canines. There's usually symptoms before the actual seizure such as dizziness, anxiety and irritability even up to days beforehand. They last for around a minute and most often associated with either drug toxicity, low blood sugar or salt levels.

  • Clonic seizures are definitely rare and appears more in dogs that have elevated temperatures and results in loosing consciousness with jerk and spasm motions.

  • Tonic seizures causes non-vibratory muscle contractions which looks like their legs flexing and then relaxing. It happens often while dogs are drowsy or in a non-REM sleep (can be confused for dreaming) and happens abruptly for anywhere from seconds to a minute.

  • Atonic seizure is when pets suddenly drop and go limp and loose consciousness, often called "drop attacks". They last for only a few seconds and comes with rapid recovery but it often goes hand in hand with tonic seizures.

  • Myoclonic seizures result in dogs contracting their muscles rapidly with their pelvic and facial muscles jerking and twitching. It's a lot more common in younger dogs that also suffer from either idiopathic or symptomatic epilepsy (discussed below).

  • Partial or Focal seizures is localized and happens in both simple or complex variations which is dependent upon the dog's awareness at the time. They often are conscious during a focal seizure but will be more impaired during a complex seizure. This happens when a small area of nerve cells in one hemisphere of the brain misfire (Cannapet).

  • Petit Mal seizures, otherwise known as absence seizures, aren't common at all in canines if even recognized at all. If your dog does experience this, it's characterized as them staring and maybe licking their lips or rolling their eyes upwards. There's a variety of what may happen including shaking their head back and forth, whole body trembles, or even just blinking. While it lasts barely a minute and seems minor, it can eventually turn into grand mal without being treated.

Photo Credit: PetMD

Types of epilepsy vary:

  • Idiopathic epilepsy is an inherited form of epilepsy with no underlying cause. It's more common in male dogs and is often caused by structural brain lesions. This form can become more severe overtime without treatment.

  • Status epilepticus "Involves constant seizures, or activity involving brief periods where there is inactivity, but not complete relief from seizure activity" (PetMD).

  • Symptomatic epilepsy "is used to describe primary epilepsy resulting in structural lesions or damage to the brain’s structure" (PetMD).

  • Probably symptomatic epilepsy "is used to describe suspected symptomatic epilepsy, where a dog has recurrent seizures, but where no lesions or brain damage is apparent" (PetMD).

  • Cluster seizures are when a dog has multiple seizures in a 24 hour period but it is not associated with epilepsy, per-say.

So your dog has epilepsy? What now? First thing, your vet will most likely put your pup on an anti-epilepsy medication in an effort to reduce the amount of seizures and severity. But overall, it often leads to a lifestyle change that helps everyone succeed. Don't treat your dog like the boy in the bubble! Keep up your daily life and don't think that you need to baby them everyday.

Photo Credit: Kurgo

But when out doing what you love, be prepared as a seizure still CAN happen at random times. Since they can become disoriented, it's best to always have their tags on in case they get scared and run off. If it happens at home, having towels near by and a plan in place is sure to cause less panic.

If you pup's form of epilepsy means they have them a very regular basis, it's best to "baby proof" your home as you never know when it might strike and you don't want your dog injuring themselves.

Working with your vet is the best way to ensure that your dog's health is the upmost priority. One route people have been favoring is adding CBD oil to their regular medication routine. While it hasn't been proven by scientific studies, testimonials from thousands of parents of epileptic pets have reported decreased or even a complete halt of seizures.

Taking care of a dog that happens to have a seizure You might not think it happens but it DOES. It might be a dog you're walking that has a random seizure for the first time or while you're volunteering in a shelter. Don't panic. Make sure the dog can't run off after by keeping a leash on them and enclosed if possible. Make sure they stay on their side and keep your hands away from the mouth and head as the seizure can cause them to clamp down HARD and freeze those muscles. You don't want your hand caught in that. Try to time it if possible. If it lasts more than a couple minutes, they are at risk for overheating so try turning a fan and getting cool water on their paws, if possible. You can talk to them to keep them calm but touching may lead to biting. If it lasts more than 5 minutes, dogs can suffer brain damage, overheating and breathing problems. In that case, take them to an emergency animal hospital ASAP.

Photo Credit: WOW Magazine

Even if your own dog doesn't have epilepsy, you never know when a seizure may strike or if it may strike in another dog in your care. It's best to know how to handle it as many people do not. Always know your local emergency animal hospital and overall, stay calm. Panic helps know one. If you need more resources, check out Canine Epilepsy.


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