Canine epilepsy can take several forms. One of those forms is focal seizures, typically characterized by a facial tick or twitching of the head or another part of the body. While these can be distressing to both you and your pooch, they can also be a symptom of a bigger problem. Your vet will need to thoroughly examine your dog to determine the best course of treatment.
Seizures are caused by discharging neurons in the brain. In a generalized, or grand mal, seizure, this activity spreads throughout the brain, but in a focal, or partial, seizure, it stays localized to a small area of the cerebral cortex. This typically causes the seizure activity to be confined to a single twitching muscle, although it can also cause a complex partial seizure, which is characterized by abrupt, unusual changes in behavior such as cowering, sudden aggression or biting at imaginary flies.
Focal seizures are secondary seizures that have an identifiable cause -- in this case, a structural abnormality in the brain. Although they seem mild and manageable when compared with a grand mal seizure, focal seizures could be a symptom of a brain tumor or other serious condition such as brain trauma or a viral disease. Your vet can run tests to help identify the underlying cause and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
If treating the underlying cause doesn’t put a stop to focal seizures, your vet may prescribe anti-seizure medication such as phenobarbital, primidone or potassium bromide. Because these medications can carry side effects that may include liver or kidney damage, they are usually not prescribed unless two or more seizures occur within a span of six weeks. Veterinarians generally do their best to weigh a dog’s quality of life against the risks of medication. A dog taking seizure medication will require checkups every six months or so to monitor the liver and kidneys.
Some dogs don’t respond well to traditional medications, and some dog parents aren’t willing to risk the potential side effects. Alternative treatments have varying degrees of success in treating canine seizures. Acupuncture is one such treatment that has been shown to be effective in helping to control seizures. Certain calming herbs, such as passionflower and skullcap, are also believed to help, as is supplementation with B vitamins. It’s best to consult your vet about alternative treatment options. She may be able to refer you to a certified pet nutritionist.
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