Epilepsy in Dogs – Symptoms, Treatment, Causes


Epilepsy in dogs refers to the occurrence of seizures or fits in dogs.

When a dog has an epileptic fit, it unexpectedly falls on its side, the legs straighten, stretch and become rigid, the head twists around and the lips are pulled apart to expose the teeth. Such seizures may last for a few minutes and then, the dog can be seen running around as if nothing has happened.

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Symptoms of epilepsy in dogs

Some of the symptoms of epilepsy in dogs are listed below:

  • Seizures are the most common symptoms of epilepsy in dogs. Seizures include stiffening of the legs, gnashing or grinding of teeth as well as emission of different sounds and vocalizations.
  • There may be changes in behavior as well as mood swings
  • Increased instances of vomiting as well as drooling
  • Increased and frequent instances of thirst
  • Increased tendency towards social isolation, wherein the canines try to hide from the world
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle spasms and contractions that are violent in nature
  • Confusion and mild disorientation
  • On occasions, the dogs may even lose consciousness

If the symptoms continue with seizures that last for more than five minutes, it is essential to see a vet. Some of the types of seizures that warrant a visit to a vet are as follows:

  • Generalized seizures wherein the dog may fall over and become unconscious. Extreme rigidity and stretching of the limbs may be accompanied by loss of breath for around 15 to 30 seconds. There may be increased salivation, defecation and urination.
  • Partial seizures wherein one section of the body is affected by seizures leading to facial twitching and jerky movements of a limb. The dog may twist the body to one side or bend the head. Complex partial seizures may lead to behavioral changes that include cognitive defects, fear, unusual sounds and smells as well as strange visions. Such changes may elicit itself in increased canine aggression, cowering or hiding, biting, increased thirst or hunger as well as vomiting or diarrhea
  • Cluster seizures elicit similar symptoms as mentioned above and tend to occur in bunches or clusters with brief periods of consciousness in between.
  • Status epilepticus are life-threatening and can last nearly 30 minutes or more with similar symptoms but no consciousness between episodes.

 Causes of Epilepsy in dogs

Epilepsy in dogs is categorized into two types depending on the causes. They are as follows:

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The first one is idiopathic Epilepsy which has no known causes. It is also known as primary or hereditary epilepsy.

  • Research studies have proved that epilepsy in dogs tends to be passed down through the bloodline and certain breeds are more at risk to develop the disorder than other breeds. Some of the breeds that are more vulnerable to develop epilepsy are Beagles, German Shepherds, Belgian Tervuerens, Keeshonds, Dachshunds, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, Collies, Schnauzers, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, St. Bernards and Dalmatians.

The second one is called secondary epilepsy and has a definite cause. Before terming cases of epilepsy in dogs as idiopathic, the vet runs a number of tests to rule out toxins or physiological reasons as the primary causes. Some of the causes for secondary epilepsy are mentioned below:

  • Medical conditions such as low blood sugar or Hypoglycemia.
  • Abnormalities in the functioning of the thyroid gland or hypothyroidism
  • Other existing diseases such as distemper and encephalitis
  • Canines that chew on items that contain lead, such as painted wood,¬† can have instances of lead poisoning that may lead to epileptic seizures
  • Cases of seizures that begin early at five years and above are most often caused due to the presence of brain tumors
  • The deposition of excess amounts of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain or hydrocephalus can lead to epilepsy in dogs
  • A female canine that is lactation may get afflicted by eclampsia or severe drop in calcium levels leading to seizures
  • Contact with or ingestion of toxins such as pesticides, poisonous plants, fertilizers, arsenic, chocolate and strychnine
  • A trauma or an injury to the head caused due to an auto accident, an extreme blow to the head or a fall can lead to epilepsy
  • Failure of organs such as liver or renal failure can lead to epilepsy
  • Severe infestation with parasites such as intestinal worms and end stage heartworms or the presence of anemia caused due to ticks and fleas can lead to secondary epilepsy in dogs

Treatment of epilepsy in dogs

Epilepsy in dogs that is idiopathic in nature has no cure. However, most of the treatment for canine epilepsy is related to treating and alleviating the symptoms. The treatment methods include:

  • A vet may prescribe drugs such as Phenobarbital to reduce the symptoms of seizures. The dug may be taken in the form of a pill or in liquid form. The dosage, the form as well as stopping of the drug is best left to the discretion of the vet
  • Medications such as potassium bromide may be used to treat epilepsy in dogs, particularly those who are afflicted with certain liver diseases.
  • Valium may also be used in conjunction with other medications to ease the symptoms of epilepsy in dogs
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