An Owner's Guide to Canine Epilepsy

Watching your dog go through a seizure is a frightening experience.
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Although your dog might recover relatively quickly after experiencing a seizure, it's likely to take you longer to recover emotionally if you witness it. If your dog suffers from epileptic seizures, don't despair. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to control seizures. Most dogs receiving ongoing treatment can live fairly normal lives. Caring for a dog with epilepsy does require regular trips to the vet for blood testing and drug dosage adjustments.

Canine Epilepsy

Epilepsy is generally diagnosed in dogs between the ages of 1 and 5. Epilepsy basically refers to brain seizure activity. During a seizure, the animal's body stiffens and he falls over. He might start furiously paddling his legs, lose control of his bladder and bowels, make constant biting or chewing motions and shake violently. The episode generally lasts between one and two minutes. Occasionally, dogs die during seizures.

Types of Epilepsy

Primary epilepsy refers to a dog exhibiting no signs of brain injury. Also known as idiopathic epilepsy, this type appears genetic in some cases, as certain breeds are unusually prone to this neurological issue. These include the poodle, beagle, boxer, Labrador and golden retriever, German shepherd, Irish setter, keeshond, cocker spaniel, dachshund, Shetland sheepdog and collie. Secondary epilepsy refers to another disease or trauma causing the seizures. In that case, dogs must receive treatment for the underlying disorder. Dogs with status epilepticus undergo constant seizures, while those with cluster seizures experience more than one in a 24-hour period.

Seizure Phases

An epileptic seizure consists of three distinct phases. It starts with an aura, when your dog might appear nervous and anxious. He senses something is wrong and becomes frightened. This phase lasts about a minute. Next comes the actual seizure, which can range in severity from barely noticeable to extreme. The final, postictal phase begins after the seizure's conclusion, when the dog seems disoriented and weak. The postictal phase corresponds to the seizure's intensity. After a severe seizure, the dog might collapse or experience temporary vision loss.

Epilepsy Treatment

If your dog experiences one seizure or mild seizures occur infrequently, your vet might adopt a "wait and see" attitude. However, if seizures occur in succession, or more than once a month, your vet probably will prescribe medication for your pet. For most dogs, phenobarbital is the drug of choice for seizure control and prevention. This relatively inexpensive prescription barbiturate acts as a suppressant in the dog's brain. Alternatively, your vet might prescribe potassium bromide for seizure control, but it can take up to three months for therapeutic amounts to build up in the body. However, dogs with liver ailments can ingest potassium bromide, while phenobarbital can harm the liver. Dogs with frequent "cluster seizures" might receive injectable diazepam -- marketed under the trade name Valium -- given by a vet after the initial seizure begins.