Seizures are not uncommon in dogs. A seizure typically involves your dog lying on their side, losing consciousness, often with twitching of the muscles and paddling of the limbs.
Many dogs lose control of their bladder and bowel during a seizure. Most seizures last only a few minutes. Your dog will often remain disorientated for some time after the seizure, but they are usually back to 100% within a few hours. Partial seizures can also occur where there is no full loss of consciousness, or twitching only affects one part of the body.
Causes of a seizure
In epilepsy, seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity within the brain causing intermittent seizures. Idiopathic epilepsy is the term given to seizures which have no other specific underlying cause. Epilepsy typically affects young dogs between 1 and 3 years old. In older dogs it is more likely that there is another cause for the seizures. Epilepsy is more common in certain breeds and certain family lines. Epilepsy is less common in cats.
What to do during a seizure
If your dog is having a seizure it is important to try and remain calm. Make a note of the time the seizure started. If your dog is at risk of injuring themselves eg. falling down the stairs they can be moved with care but otherwise it is best not to interfere with them. Move any objects they may injure themselves on out of the way. During a seizure your pet is unaware of what they are doing and may accidentally injure you if you try and move them. Keeping the room dark and quiet can also help your dog.
During the seizure your pet is unconscious and therefore not in pain or distress. Afterwards they may be scared or anxious so it is best to sit with them and try to keep them calm and quiet.
If the seizure lasts more then 5 minutes or if they are having repeated seizures then contact the veterinary surgery and you will be seen as soon as possible.
How is Epilepsy diagnosed?
There is no test available for epilepsy. Diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy involves excluding other causes of seizures or collapse eg. toxin ingestion, liver disease and heart disease. If your pet has repeated seizures, investigation and treatment may be advisable. Your veterinary surgeon will take a full clinical history and will ask details about the seizure. They will examine your dog and may take a blood test to rule out metabolic causes of the seizures. They may advise referral for an MRI scan to rule out structural changes like tumours within the brain. If all these tests are normal a diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is made.
Most epileptic dogs can have their disease well controlled with daily medication. This is likely to be needed for the rest of their life. Epilepsy can be mild or severe and some dog's seizures are easier to control than others. Phenobarbital is the drug most commonly used to control seizures but in some dogs a combination of drugs may be needed. Dogs on Phenobarbital for epilepsy will need periodic blood tests to ensure optimum levels of the drug are in your dog's bloodstream. The tests also monitor adverse effects on the liver.
There is now a new drug Imepitoin which works in a different way to Phenobarbital. It acts on a specific receptor in the brain cells to reduce the amount of excessive electrical activity present. There is no requirement for repeated blood tests to monitor optimum levels and no adverse affects on the liver. Regular assessments with your veterinary surgeon are vital to ensure the correct dosage is achieved.
Your veterinary surgeon will discuss and advise on which treatment they think necessary for your dog's seizures.
If your dog has very mild or infrequent seizures it may be preferable not to initiate treatment if the seizures are not affecting their overall quality of life. Many dogs have a single unexplained seizure and therefore we will not recommend starting long term medication on the basis of a single seizure.