Epilepsy in Dogs

Dogs can have epilepsy just as humans do.  Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes the dog to have sudden, recurring physical attacks, with and without loss of consciousness.  Idiopathic epilepsy is caused by an unknown factor.  Genetic epilepsy runs in some lines in some dogs.  Untreated epilepsy tends to become more severe and the seizures occur more and more frequently until the dog dies.  Fortunately, treatment is available.

Seizures usually occur after a short aura.  When the aura occurs, the dog may be frightened or dazed and may either hide or seek out attention.  This is followed by the seizure, in which the dog will fall on its side, become stiff, chomp its jaw, salivate profusely, urinate, defecate, vocalize, and/or paddle with all four limbs. These seizure activities generally last between 30 and 90 seconds.  The dog has usually recovered by the time you reach the veterinarian.

Seizures are more common when the dog is asleep or in the early morning. The younger the dog is when the seizures start, the worse the epilepsy will be.  However, most of the time when the onset is before the age of two, the dog will respond to medication.

After the seizure, the dog will be confused and disorientated, and may exhibit aimless wandering, compulsive behavior, blindness, pacing, increased thirst and increased hunger.  The recovery period from this may be immediate, or it may take up to twenty-four hours to recover completely.

Sometimes dogs with established epilepsy can have seizures in clusters at regular intervals of one to four weeks.  Large breed dogs are particularly prone to this.

Not all seizures are caused by epilepsy.  If your dog has more than two seizures in the first week after the original seizure, the veterinarian will probably rule out epilepsy and pursue problems such as hypoglycemia or a tumor in the brain.  If the seizures begin before six months of age or after five years of age, they are generally caused by something other than epilepsy.

Epilepsy is treated with drugs such as Phenobarbital or potassium bromide.  It is suggested that the dog not be allowed to swim until his seizures are under control, to avoid accidental drowning.  The dog will need regular blood tests to ensure that the drug levels are correct in his system.  If your dog continues to have seizures, the medication probably needs adjusting.  Dogs on potassium bromide should not be given salty snacks, as this may cause a seizure.  Also, older dogs on potassium bromide should be monitored for kidney problems and may be placed on a special diet.  Also, suddenly stopping your dog’s medicines will trigger seizures that will be severe and possibly life threatening.

There really is no way to prevent epilepsy, since it is due to genetic causes or unknown brain abnormalities.  The best you can do is research the blood lines of the dog you are considering buying and make sure none of its relatives have epilepsy.  Some breeders are honest about the epilepsy in their lines, but many breeders try to conceal the problem, so calling other puppy owners from this breeder is a good way to check for problems.