We promised you we’d be bringing you an article on canine epilepsy the day after we shared the song about epileptic dogs from the funny and entertaining Flight of the Conchords…but we didn’t.
We didn’t, however, forget you, or our promise.
Epilepsy in dogs is one of the most common neurological diseases, with an estimate of up to 4% of all dogs affected. It affects cats, too, but at a much lower percentage. Some dog breeds are more susceptible to epilepsy than others, and it is also an inherited disease. This doesn’t mean if your dog’s parents had epilepsy, he will definitely suffer seizures, it simply means that your dog has a greater chance of epileptic seizures than a dog with no history of epilepsy in his doggy family tree.
So what is epilepsy? Just as with humans, epilepsy refers to repeated seizures. These seizures may simply be a one time event (from multiple causes), to seizures that happen throughout a lifetime.
A seizure happens because of an ‘electrical storm’ in the brain, according to the Canine Epilepsy.Net. When too many brain cells become excited, too much electric activity happens in the brain and a seizure can occur. This doesn’t mean siezures happen when your dog gets excited, or emotional, but simply when the brain’s normal electric activity doesn’t work the way it should.
There are basically 3 different types of seizures. Grand Mal, Petit Mal (also known as an absence seizure or partial seizure), and Absent Seizures. The Grand Mal is the scariest for you and me to witness. The dog will fall to the ground unconscious, stiffen, and his limbs will jerk about. During this seizure, he’ll have no control over bladder or bowels and will also often froth at the mouth. Petit Mal is a partial seizure, where he’ll only have some limbs jerking about, and will often remain somewhat conscious during the episode. An Absent seizure is a exactly how it sounds – the normal signs are absent, in fact, the dog will appear catatonic, unresponsive to stimuli.
While epilepsy is a scary thing to witness, it’s really important for you and others to remain calm. Also, removal of other animals from the room is important as the other animals may become confused or scared and attempt to attack the dog having the seizure. If you’re there when your dog starts having the seizure, remove all things that he could hurt himself on, or become entangled in. But don’t try and stop him swallowing his tongue – he’s not going to, and you’ll most likely end up being bitten because of involuntary clenchings of the jaw.
Most seizures will only last about 2 minutes. Make sure you do record lengths of seizures, as longer ones can be dangerous – especially ones that go on for 30 minutes (very rare). If your dog has a seizure of 5-10 minutes or more, make sure you seek immediate veterinary help.
The aftermath of seizures can be as scary for us as the actual seizure. The aftermath, or post-ictal behaviour, can go on for a long time, often lasting hours, where the dog may seem disoriented, aggressive, agitated, and suffer blindness, among other things. This behaviour can often be mistaken as part of the seizure. It’s recommended, if your dog has a post-ictal phase that is prolonged or severe, to visit the vet.
Epilepsy is not a death sentence. In most cases it can be treated successfully and your dog can have a rich and long life. However, at the first sign of a seizure, do go and see your vet. Your dog will be given a course of medication, tailored to him and his needs. This medication is going to be for life, and a set routine will be needed when it comes to medication time each day.
Hopefully with the medication your pet will never have another seizure again. He may need more naps during the day (lucky dog!), but as he won’t be driving a car (dogs shouldn’t drive cars, no matter how intelligent or skilled, as they’re notorious for zooming off after cats, postmen, balls and sticks that they may see), epilepsy shouldn’t have any more impact on your dog’s life than a daily regimen of pills. And if you put them in those stinky but dogalicious pill pockets, your dog will feel very special because he’s getting a yummy extra special treat each day.
So, here’s to all the epileptic dogs out there – you’re just as special and wonderful as the other dogs.
For more information on the subject click here and read up on canine epilepsy from the fine folk at Canine Epilepsy.Net.