Occurring as repeated and often dramatic seizures, epilepsy can affect some dogs.
Just like in humans, epilepsy is a disease that plagues dogs. It has various origins and the affected animal does not per se recover. However, there are treatments available to reduce the intensity and frequency of seizures, so that the dog can live more or less normally.
A dog is said to be epileptic when he is subject to several seizures due to overexcitation of certain neurons. The latter are characterized by convulsions which are sometimes spectacular and in the face of which the owner of the sick dog may feel helpless.
The intensity and frequency of seizures in dogs vary from person to person.
Epileptic seizures in dogs
Epileptic seizures can flare up in dogs for no apparent reason or be triggered by stressful events such as sudden, unusual noise or light stimulation.
Before a seizure occurs, it can be announced by certain signs which make up the phase called prodrome. Variable in duration (this can be up to several days), it can be characterized by behavioral changes or unexplained severe fatigue. These symptoms are sometimes difficult to detect, or even nonexistent. Owners accustomed to epileptic seizures will nevertheless be able to recognize the signs specific to their animal.
When the seizure is imminent, the dog may show these same signs, but in a more obvious way. This phase is called the aura. It can be compared to a partial seizure.
It precedes the seizure itself, the stroke, which is made up of convulsions and possibly excessive salivation. This phase can last more than 5 minutes. If the seizure is generalized (i.e. the overexcitation of the neurons concerns both cerebral hemispheres), the seizure may be composed of pedaling movements, called the clonic phase as well as a tonic phase during which the animal will be in opisthotonos (stiffness of the limbs and neck).
Finally, the post-ictal phase, during which the dog recovers from the seizure, manifests itself in a kind of depression. The animal appears a bit lost and may have difficulty walking or even standing on its legs for a while. He may also have trouble breathing because of the saliva that clogs his airways. This phase can last several days. The animal may also be aggressive and bite.
Structural, reactive and essential epilepsies
These are the 3 types of epilepsy found in dogs
- Essential epilepsy
This is the most common form and can be managed medically. It is also called primary or idiopathic epilepsy. Its origins are poorly understood, as it is associated with several constitutive diseases of neurons that cause them to all depolarize at the same time. These diseases are often inherited and due to mutations in several genes. Seizures can be triggered by outside stimuli such as noise, excitement, vision or smell.
The first essential epileptic seizures in dogs can occur at the age of 6 months. In some subjects, they appear much later, around 6 years old.
Breeds are more exposed than others: Beagle, German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd, Border Collie, Boxer, Cockers, Collies, Irish Setter, Labrador-Retriever, Poodle, St. Bernard, Siberian Husky, Welsh Corgis and Fox Terrier.
- Secondary epilepsy
Also called structural or intracranial epilepsy, it is the result of an abnormality in the structure of the brain, itself the result of stroke, birth defect, tumor, parasitic or viral encephalitis.
Structural epileptic seizures start at any age in dogs. Often, this disease is associated with other symptoms, such as difficulty moving or coordinating movements.
- Reactive epilepsy of extra cranial origin
The origin of reactive epilepsy in dogs is a blood abnormality affecting the functioning of the brain.
This form of canine epilepsy can be caused by hypoglycaemia following a pancreatic tumor, diabetes or exertion, for example. Some medicines can also cause it, such as those containing ibuprofen. Toxic substances also, such as Temik used as an anti-slug product or certain insecticides such as organochlorines. This form of epilepsy can also be caused by liver failure which causes hepatic encephalopathy.
Veterinary management of epilepsy in dogs
The epileptic seizure is an emergency, the seizure must be stopped especially if it lasts more than 5 minutes to avoid irreversible neuronal damage. The vet will assess several parameters such as heart function, temperature and certain blood parameters.
The owner can also try to alleviate the crisis of the animal himself: in the event of a crisis, an environment should be created as less stressful as possible, without light or noise.
In general, there is only treatment for the first form of epilepsy, the so-called essential. And even here, medical care does not cure it, but rather improves the dog’s quality of life by reducing the frequency and intensity of seizures.
If the convulsive seizures are of extra cranial origin, the cause must be treated (diabetes, liver failure, etc.).
After the diagnosis, the veterinarian usually prescribes a drug with sedative action, such as gabapentin or phenobarbital for example.
An animal that has only one isolated epileptic seizure will not be prescribed any special treatment. Indeed, the treatment aims to reduce the frequency and violence of seizures, if they occur often. It is therefore important to note the dates of onset of seizures and their duration so that the veterinarian can adapt the treatment as needed.
However, treatments for canine epilepsy are not without side effects: drowsiness, lack of muscle tone, etc.