Epilepsy in animals
Epilepsy is a term used to describe repeated episodes of seizures. A seizure may also be referred to as a convulsion or a fit and is a result of abnormal brain activity leading to involuntary muscle activity.
Thankfully less than 1% of dogs and cats will suffer from epilepsy. The condition can be scary to witness, but most fits do not last more than a few minutes. If fitting lasts longer than this (status epilepticus) and occurs with frequency than you should seek veterinary attention for your pet.
If left untreated status epilepticus and epilepsy can lead to irreversible brain changes and may even reduce your pet's life expectancy.
What causes a seizure in pets?
There can be many causes of seizures, and these might include but are not limited to:
- Ingestion of a toxin (snail bait is a common cause)
- Underlying liver or kidney disease or other metabolic disease
- No known cause “idiopathic”
- Brain trauma
- Brain cancer
A pet who is experiencing repeated numbers of seizures, clusters of seizures, or seizures lasting for an extended period, requires a thorough medical examination. If an underlying cause for the seizure is not able to be identified, a diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is made.
Idiopathic epilepsy generally starts between the ages of 6 months to 3 years.
The underlying cause of idiopathic epilepsy is not entirely understood; however, the condition can be hereditary and is more common in the following breeds:
- Border Collies
What are the signs of epilepsy?
The signs of seizures can be either:
- Partial: a patient will remain conscious during the seizure but may show changes in their behaviour or their mobility.
- Generalised: these seizures involve the entire body. These animals may become stiff, they chomp their jaw, urinate, defecate, vocalise and paddle their limbs. They are generally not aware of any stimulus during the seizure and do not feel pain.
Seizures that last more than 30 minutes can cause permanent brain damage to your pet.
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will undertake a thorough examination of your pet, and this will include a neurological assessment, blood and urine tests and may also involve further imaging. These diagnostic tests will help rule out underlying causes such as poisoning and metabolic disease. Advanced imaging may be required to rule out brain cancer.
Pets that experience epilepsy frequently generally require medication. This anti-epileptic medication can help reduce the number, severity and duration of seizures. Medication for seizures may be necessary for life. Health checks with your veterinarian every six to twelve months are recommended.
Managing your pet's epilepsy at home
- Ensure you give medication as directed and do not stop or change the dose suddenly without discussing this with your veterinarian.
- Keep a calendar of the seizure activity and time the seizure so you can report back to your veterinarian. Information about seizure activity helps with diagnosis and management.
- If your pet is having a seizure, move furniture and other objects away the pet to prevent them from injuring themselves.
- Do not put your hands too close to your pet's mouth if they are having a seizure to prevent yourself from accidental bites.
- If your pet has been diagnosed with epilepsy and there are any changes in your pet's behaviour or they are experiencing an increased number of seizures, you should always contact your veterinarian for advice.