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Seizures and Epilepsy in pets – part III

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Breed Incidence

Any dog may become an epileptic for acquired reasons such as postencephalitis, brain trauma or birth injury. However, in certain breeds, epilepsy is a common problem. Such breeds are regarded as having a high incidence of genetic epilepsy or at least a tendency to epilepsy. Some breeds have been studied carefully and the exact genetic mechanism of epilepsy is known (Beagles, Keeshunds).{{more}} In others, it is generally accepted that genetic epilepsy occurs (German Shepherds, St. Bernards, all Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, all Poodles). Some breeds are suspected (Retrievers, Labradors, Shetland Sheepdogs, Siberian Huskies). In some breeds the problem may be limited to just a few blood lines, but in others it seems widespread. Any individual dog may have epilepsy for genetic reasons or it may have acquired it. It is rarely possible to diagnose the exact cause with certainty.

The problem of genetics is the major reason that no dog that has had seizures of unknown (perhaps inherited) cause should be used for breeding. Females should always be spayed to achieve better control of seizures. Male dogs also benefit from neutering because of reduced sexual stress.

Treatment of Seizures

Dogs with seizures due to diseases other than epilepsy are given specific treatments for their disease. They may also be given anti-convulsants. Epileptics are treated with anti-convulsant drugs. If seizures are mild, occur singly and less frequently than one every 1-2 months, the side effects of the drugs may outweigh the benefits of seizure control. If status or multiple seizures on 1 day have occurred, then the epileptic must be treated. 80-90 percent of epileptic dogs are controlled – that is most epileptic dogs can be well treated. This does not mean cured. In some breeds, such as German Shepherds, this may drop to 25 percent control. Control – which is a dramatic decrease in, but not necessarily absence of, seizures – may only be achieved after many months of therapy with a variety of drugs or drug combinations. Control may be lost even after several years of success.

Common side effects with anti-convulsants are increased thirst, urination or appetite, drowsiness, clumsiness and hyperexcitability. These effects may be temporary or may persist as long as the drug is given. Some drugs produce minor liver changes. These changes may become serious in some individuals. Epileptics on medication require periodic physical examinations and blood tests. Evidence suggests that dogs do not suffer during a seizure, but disorientation commonly occurs after a seizure. This may be upsetting to the dog. Some dogs may scream or moan in a seizure. This appears to be involuntary and not associated with pain. Provided the epilepsy is controlled, the life expectancy of an epileptic dog is not shortened but normal. If a dog has had no convulsions for 1 year, your veterinarian may slowly reduce the dose of anti-convulsant over several months. Some dogs eventually may be weaned off medication. During a seizure, the dog is rarely dangerous but should not be moved or handled unnecessarily except to stop it from injuring itself. Talking to the dog may help reassure it. If the seizure lasts over 10 minutes, call your veterinarian.

For further information, contact: Dr. Collin Boyle
Unique Animal Care Co. Ltd. Tel: 456 4981