Epilepsy in Dogs - an Overview

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By Tess Thompson

Epilepsy is not confined to humans alone and can occur in other animals as well. Canine epilepsy is often genetic. Epilepsy in other pets, including feline epilepsy is far less common as there is minimal hereditary constituent of epilepsy in these animals.

Recurrent unprovoked seizures are a characteristic of epilepsy. While certain breeds like the Belgian Shepherd have a greater incidence of epilepsy, the general incidence is estimated at anything between 0.5% and 5.7%.

The term epilepsy is confusing as many use it to describe recurrent seizures regardless of the cause. Epilepsy is normally differentiated according to the cause behind it or the absence of it. Primary or idiopathic epilepsy does not have an identifiable cause and is established after eliminating other possible causes of seizures. Secondary epilepsy has an identifiable disease as a cause.

Some specialists prefer to further classify secondary epilepsy according to the category of the underlying disease. Epilepsy caused by metabolic factors and diseases like hypoglycemia, kidney, or liver failure is termed as reactive epilepsy. Epilepsy caused by trauma or diseases associated with the brain like brain tumor, stroke, or head injury are referred to as symptomatic epilepsy.

Although most dogs that have primary epilepsy suffer their first seizure within the ages of one and three, age alone is not the primary diagnostic factor. Epilepsy is determined first by a physical examination and by obtaining a detailed description of the seizure from the animal’s owner. A complete blood count, serum chemistry profile, urinalysis, bile tests and thyroid check up is also done to confirm whether the episode was actually a seizure. This is also done to confirm the possible cause behind the seizure, if any. Since the dog is unlikely to undergo a seizure in the presence of the veterinarian, he may require the owner to keep a detailed record of every seizure that occurs including the observed symptoms, duration, and recovery.

Feline and canine seizures may be generalized, mild, or "Grand mal" seizures. Grand mal seizures involve lossofconsciousness and tonic spasms of the musculature followed by generalized jerking. Partial seizures are restricted to one area of the body and characterized by spasmodic movement of muscles, movement of one leg or facial twitching. A partial seizure may progress or be confused with a generalized seizure and can be identified by noticing that it originates from one side of the body.

Complex partial seizures, also known as psychomotor seizures are basically changes in behavior. The fundamental symptoms of this type of seizure is a state of violent mental agitation that translates into running, flank chewing, tail chasing, and aggression in otherwise normal dogs. Cluster seizures are multiple seizures that occur within a short period. Status epilepticus is a state of continuous seizure that lasts about thirty minutes or multiple episodes without consciousness that occurs in intervals.

Recurrent canine seizures are an omen of difficult times ahead. Although primary epilepsy is incurable it can be decreased with the aid of anticonvulsants like Phenobarbital and bromide. Seizures can also be instrumental in revealing an underlying yet curable disease if attended to in time.



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