Brainstorms: Epilepsy and Your Dog

Few things are more distressing to a pet owner than the helpless feeling that descends when the animal appears to be suffering. Frantically, they wring their hands, look skyward and pray to just make the suffering stop.

This is certainly the case with seizure disorders like epilepsy, which can be one of the most frightening events to observe in a pet. Seeing the animal’s body stiffen, eyes roll backward into the head and mouth foaming can be terrifying, to say the least, and suggests all kinds of potential problems.

Simply defined, “epilepsy” refers to a variety of seizures that can range from mild-to-severe and stem from a number of causes. Generally, a seizure is often a response to another condition which is usually brain-based, like a tumor or stroke. This is known as symptomatic or secondary epilepsy. If the cause is unknown, then it’s referred to as either idiopathic or primary, epilepsy. Similar to humans, idiopathic epilepsy is caused by a gene mutation inherited from a parent canine. These seizure types normally surface between one-and-three years of age. Some breeds, including beagles, all shepherds, border collies, poodles, shelties and wire-haired fox terriers tend to be more predisposed to epilepsy than others. It’s estimated that epilepsy can affect up to 14 per cent of all dogs, while remaining fairly rare in cats. By comparison, epilepsy is present in about one-to-two per cent of humans.

Epilepsy tends to fall into two broad categories: partial, which affects only an isolated area of the brain, and generalized, which includes the classic tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure that most people typically associate with epilepsy. This subtype also includes absence (petite mal) seizures as well. Partial seizures tend to affect the animal’s facial movements or limbs, often resulting in stumbling, although the dog doesn’t necessarily lose consciousness. Typically, a seizure usually lasts under five minutes.

The period following a seizure is called…

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