Epilepsy is defined as recurrent seizures caused by an abnormality in the brain. It’s estimated that 1 in 111 dogs are affected by epilepsy. Dogs with epilepsy typically experience their first seizure between 1 and 3 years of age.
Idiopathic (meaning the cause is unknown) epilepsy is the most common cause of recurrent seizures in dogs. Idiopathic epilepsy affects mixed-breed, cross-breed and purebred dogs. Some breeds appear to have a genetic predisposition to the disease. They include Labrador Retriever, Belgian Shepherd, Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, Boxer, Irish Wolfhound, English Springer Spaniel, Vizsla, Bernese Mountain Dog, Standard Poodle, Belgian Shepherd, Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Border Terrier
Understanding Idiopathic Epilepsy
A seizure, also known as a convulsion or a fit, is a brief disturbance in brain function. It occurs when brain cells experience an abnormal electrical discharge. In a dog with idiopathic epilepsy, the brain appears normal, but its cells seem to be predisposed to this hyperexcitable state.
The word seizure comes from the Greek language and originally meant “to take hold.” A dog undergoing a seizure may involuntarily jerk his head or limbs. Some dogs are unaware of their surroundings or lose consciousness. They may salivate excessively or lose control of their bladder and/or bowels.
Seizures typically last no more than a few minutes. Afterward, dogs may seem confused, restless or aggressive. This post-seizure period may last a few minutes or several hours.
Diagnosing Idiopathic Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a disease of exclusion. Seizures are an obvious sign, but other conditions can also cause seizures.
To reach a diagnosis of epilepsy, a veterinarian will take a medical history and conduct a physical and neurological examination. Blood work can help to identify possible causes of seizures such as underlying diseases, overdoses of certain medications, or toxins. Head injuries may also result in seizures. Frequency and time of onset of seizures are also considered. Thorough descriptions of seizures or videos of seizures as they occur can be helpful. Idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed after other possible causes have been ruled out.
If you think your dog may have epilepsy talk to your veterinarian.