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Description or definition:


There are two different types of Epilepsy in dogs:

 Idiopathic Epilepsy is when there is no known cause for the condition and it is assumed it may be an inherited condition, which is also referred to as Primary Epilepsy. Secondary Epilepsy, when there is a specific cause for the seizures. A veterinarian will normally run a variety of tests to rule out possible physiological or toxic causes before diagnosing the dog as having the idiopathic version.

Seizures are the result of muscle responses to an abnormal nerve signal burst from the brain. They are a symptom of an underlying neurological dysfunction.

 The following tests are advised before a diagnosis of Idiopathic/Inherited epilepsy is     made:
bulletGlucose tolerance test to check for hypoglycemia.
bulletThyroid panel, 6 tests, to check for low thyroid function/hypothyroidism.
bulletEEG, to see if there are findings suggestive of a lesion.
bulletCerebrospinal fluid analysis, to look for encephalitis, distemper and other infection.
bulletBlood tests to check for lead poisoning.
bulletCT scan or MRI, again to look for a brain lesion.

An epileptic seizure is the clinical manifestation of abnormal brain activity in the cerebral cortex.  These abnormalities can create seizures that vary from the mile “petitmal” to the generalized, full body “grand mal.”

An epileptic seizure itself can be broken down into four stages.

  1. The Prodome: This stage can last from minutes to hours or even days before the manifestation of the actual seizure activity. This stage is typically characterized by changes in the dog’s mood or behavior.
  2. The Aura: signals the start of a seizure. Nervousness, whining, trembling, salivation, affection, wandering, restlessness, hiding and apprehension are all signals.
  3. The Ictus, the actual seizure: A period of intense physical activity usually lasting 45 seconds to 3 minutes. The dog may lose consciousness and fall to the ground. There may be teeth gnashing, frantic thrashing of limbs, excessive drooling, vocalizing, paddling of feet, uncontrollable urination and defecation.
  4. The Post Ictus/Ictal: after the seizure, the dog may pace endlessly, appear blind and deaf and eat or drink excessively.

Types of Seizures:

Mild: (Petit Mal) this can be a simple as momentarily staring into space, or upward eye movement.

Moderate: (Grand Mal) the dog falls down, loses consciousness and extends its limbs rigidly. Paddling of limbs, salivation followed by possible loss of control of bladder and bowels and vocalization (blood curdling scream) may follow. This may occur for 1 to 3 minutes and is most often followed by a period of restlessness, pacing, bumping into objects and loss of balance. After the Post Ictal period the dog is conscious by may appear disoriented. During this period great care must be taken to prevent the dog from injuring itself.

Status Epilepticus: Can occur as one continuous seizure lasting 10 minutes or more, or a series of multiple seizures in a short time with no period of normal consciousness, this may be life threatening.

Cluster Seizures: Are multiple seizures within a 24hour period of time, may also be life threatening. It is often difficult to distinguish between the two types and veterinarian assistance is imperative.

Some of the physiological reasons a dog may have secondary epilepsy are:

  1. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
  2. Hypothyroidism – A condition in wh8ch the thyroid functions inadequately.
  3. Disease – Seizures are a common symptom of diseases such as encephalitis and distemper.
  4. Lead poising – This can be seen in dogs that like to chew on items such as painted wood.
  5. Brain Tumors – This is the most common cause of seizures that begin after the age of 5.
  6. Hydrocephalus – The accumulation of excess cerebrospinal fluid within the brain.
  7. Eclampsia – this occurs when a lactating female’s calcium levels drop to dangerous levels.
  8. Toxins – Pesticides, fertilizes, poisonous plants, arsenic, strychnine and chocolate
  9. Trauma – Trauma can occur from some type of severe blow to the head such as being hit by a car, bat, kicked or fall.
  10. Organ failure – End stage liver or renal failure
  11. Parasitic – Severe cases of intestinal worms, end stage heartworms or even anemia from fleas and ticks can cause seizures.

It has been proven that epiepsy often runs in bloodlines and new studies are showing that certain breeds are more likely to have the disorder. Some of the breeds it occurs in more often are Belgian Tervuerens, Beagles, Dachshuds, German Shepherds, Keeshonds, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, schnauzers, Poodles, Dalmatians and St. Bernards.

Just because a dog is diagnosed with epilepsy doesn’t mean he or she can’t live a long , happy life. In some dogs a seizure will be a one-time occurrence with no further episodes or after effects. In other dogs, epilepsy will be an ongoing battle for the owner and the dog.

Diet plays an important role in the management of Canine Epilepsy. It is very important to feed a kibble that is preservative free. Preservatives such as Ethoxyquin and BHT, BHA should be avoided as they can cause seizures. Supermarket foods are loaded with chemical dyes preservatives.  It is best to feed you dog high quality kibble made from human grade ingredients.

Footnotes: Overview Of Seizures Their Causes And Treatment by Marion Mitchell

                  Epilepsy in dogs by Tenna Perra

                   Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook

                   First Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats



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Copyright © 1998 - 2009. Shiloh Shepherd Dog™ Club of America.
All rights reserved. Revised: January 2008

The information on this website was written by ISSR breeders and other concerned individuals, however we are are NOT veterinarians. This information is being provided as a general overview, from information we were able to find about each disease through our own research. These summaries are not intended to be relied upon as medical or veterinary advice, nor do we consider ourselves experts in the veterinary field or in any of these conditions. While we do our best to provide the most up to date information, new research is constantly being done on these diseases. We recommend that you do further study and talk to your veterinarian on any topics you see here, as we cannot guarantee that the information posted here is the most current information available.  This site was originally designed and maintained by Debbie Knatz.