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Epilepsy is just another name for fits and it occurs in the dog more frequently than you might think.
Causes : There are basically two forms of epilepsy, one is the inherited form which is common in some breeds this is also called idiopathic epilepsy and the other is epilepsy which is secondary to some other disease situation or factor. Inherited epilepsy is present in certain dog breeds and in particular strains within those breeds. There is quite a list of susceptible breeds, I have commonly seen it myself in Alsatians, Labradors and Golden Retrievers for example but as I said it is present in quite a few breeds including crosses. The symptoms of this form of the disease are often first seen at a young age say two years of age.
The second or secondary form could occur in situations such as brain cancers, trauma to the head, liver disease, kidney disease, low blood calcium, poisonings to name just a few situations. This form is normally seen in older dogs.
Symptoms : Fits can be very variable and quite minor in some dogs but a classical description of an idiopathic epilepsy type fit would be as follows. There is a pre-fit period which is difficult to spot although it is said that other dogs in the house will notice it, the dog may be restless in this phase. The actual fit first has a tonic phase where the dog goes all stiff. This may be followed by a clonic phase where the dog paddles its feet and may salivate and whine and pass urine or faeces.
After the dog recovers there may be a period of post-fit depression where the animal is sleepy and confused and may bump into things. This as I have said is the classical description but be aware this pattern may vary from dog to dog. Another feature is that the dog may have been sleeping or dreaming just prior to the onset of the fit.
Once a dog has had an idiopathic type fit there is a likelihood that a pattern will develop and more fits will occur on a regular basis, say one a week or once every couple of months. However if the fit is secondary to some other disease in the body then things could just get steadily worse.
Diagnosis : In a normal vet epilepsy would be diagnosed by the clinical signs, the owner’s description and by eliminating the other possible causes by running diagnostic test such as blood assays etc.
Treatment : As an owner what you should do is call the vet immediately for advice or to arrange a visit or consultation, then keep your dog in a quiet dark place and reassure it until it recovers. You should take care not to get bitten as these dogs are sometimes not aware what is going on and may be aggressive in their panic. If the animal is still fitting when the vet arrives he may inject it intravenously with valium [diazepam] and your dog may be hospitalised if the fit is prolonged.
Once the animal is recovered and stable it can then go drugs designed to prevent fits happening in the future, these drugs are called anticonvulsives a common one in veterinary practice is called phenobarbitone but your vet will sort out which is the best drug to start of on and the dose rate. Where epilepsy is not secondary to some other disease condition the majority of dogs have a satisfactory response to anticonvulsives and go on the lead a near normal life. The downside of these drugs is that they have to be given day in day out for the rest of the dog’s life.