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Epilepsy In Dogs – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Epilepsy In Dogs

Epileptic seizures are one of the most often reported neurological disorders in dogs. This has been estimated to affect approximately 1% of the canine population. The term ‘epilepsy’ is heterogeneous and it is defined as a transient happening of symptoms, signs, or both due to recurrent, unprovoked, or the brain’s synchronous neuronal activity.

Epilepsy is defined as 2 or more seizures resulting from a non-metabolic, non-toxic cause that is split at least 24 hours apart. An epileptic seizure may also be called a fit or convulsion and is an involuntary transitory interruption of normal brain function that is typically accompanied by dyscognitive features such as out-of-control muscle activity. Epileptic seizures can happen at any time of day while the pet is awake, sleeping, or resting. Usually, most seizures last for 30-90 seconds.

Seizure events can result from:

  • Symptomatic/structural - Disease localized to the brain
  • Reactive - A reaction of the healthy brain to a toxic or metabolic insult
  • Idiopathic – A genetic or unknown cause

Epileptic seizures can be differentiated into three segments.

The pre-ictal phase (aura): This period is distinguished by an altered change in the dog's behavior. The dog may seem to understand that ‘something is happening to them’.

Ictal phase: The medical term for seizure is “ictus” and the seizure is caused by a transient, spontaneous disturbance of brain activity. The ictal period generally lasts within seconds but in some cases, it may continue for more than five minutes.

The post-ictal phase: The dog would be in a disoriented, confused state after the end of the seizure episode. The convulsions can be scary for the dogs and can last up to an hour.

Symptoms Of Epilepsy

The pre-ictal phase or “prodrome and aura” stages symptoms:

  • Visual changes or nausea
  • Startled or panic behavior
  • Hiding/Confusion
  • Whine or shake
  • Clinging to owner

The “ictal” stage symptoms:

  • Kicking/paddling limbs
  • Shivering/jerking movements
  • Dazed and disoriented
  • Teeth grinding
  • Stiffness
  • Vocalization
  • Salivation or excessive drooling
  • Urination/ Defecation

Treatment Options For Epilepsy

There is no specific cure for Epilepsy but it can be treated to relieve symptoms.

  • Pain medications such as carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl), firocoxib (Previcox), grapipant (Galliprant), deracoxib (Deramaxx), meloxicam (Metacam) etc.
  • Anxiety medications such as Alprazolam (Xanax), buspirone, and Clomipramine (Clomicalm).
  • Antiepileptic drugs (AED): Phenobarbital, potassium bromide, diazepam.
  • Second generation AEDs: Felbamate, levetiracetam, gabapentin, zonisamide, topiramate and pregabalin.
  • Third generation AED: Lacosamide, Rufinamide.

Home Remedies For Epilepsy

  • Although the epileptic medications may have side effects, the gains often greatly outweigh the risk.
  • The epileptic treatment provided nowadays is to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures.
  • With continued follow-up by your vet, the dog can continue to lead a healthy life.
  • Maintain a seizure diary and note the important happenings.
  • Maintain follow-up visits to the veterinary clinic regularly in order to assess side effects and the effectiveness of the medication.

Prevention Of Epilepsy

Every episode of seizure is not essentially an emergency requiring a clinic visit. Things to do during the seizure episodes:

  • Stay calm and sit near the dog
  • Place your pet on the floor, on his side, cushion his head
  • Note the time of onset
  • Clear space. Remove any sharp objects or furniture
  • Outdoors, provide shade to your pet to prevent hyperthermia
  • Don’t keep the hands near your pet’s mouth
  • Speak gently and soothingly to your pet
  • Note the time of recovery
  • If possible, take a video or Record any specific seizure behaviors observed

Inform the veterinarian about the time of onset, duration, and any other specific details during the seizure.

Affected Breeds Of Epilepsy

Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Beagle, Belgian Tervuren, Basset Hound, Collie, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Jack Russell Terrier, King Charles Spaniel, Yorkshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Additional Facts For Epilepsy

1. Causes:

Provoked causes: (acute symptomatic seizures)

  • Acute toxic effects (sympathomimetics, antidepressants, etc)
  • Irregularity with prescribed antiepileptic medications
  • Electrolyte disturbances (hyponatremia, hypernatremia, hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia, others)
  • Withdrawal syndromes (benzodiazepines, ethanol, etc)
  • CNS infections
  • Hypoxic brain injury
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Inflammatory (anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, lupus cerebritis)
  • Sepsis
  • Stroke ischemic or hemorrhagic
  • Neoplasm

Extracranial cause

  • Congenital malformation
  • Metabolic disease
  • Cancer
  • Trauma
  • Blood clot
  • Inflammatory infectious disease (encephalitis, canine distemper)

Intracranial cause

  • Diseases characterized by inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Degeneration of the brain
  • Head injury
  • Tumors

2. Types of epileptic seizures:

Generally, epilepsy is classified into two large categories - generalized or partial.

Generalized seizures result from misfiring that affects the cortex of both hemispheres. Grand mal seizure is the most common seizure type in Dogs experiencing generalized seizures will convulse and lose consciousness.

In a partial (focal) seizure, one particular area of the cortex is considered to be activated initially. They may show simple symptoms such as motor or sensory phenomena. Without any changes in awareness, Dogs may have an unexpected change in activity such as twitching of facial muscles. Some Partial seizures may quickly generalize and widen to engage all cortical areas.

3. Mortality:

Epileptic dogs have a shorter lifetime when compares to healthy dogs. Approximately 40 percent of dogs with recurrent episodes of epileptic seizures have a mean lifespan of 8 years.

4. Diagnosis:

  • Complete physical exam
  • Dog’s reflexes
  • Biochemical analysis, complete blood count, urine test
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Cerebral spinal fluid analysis
  • MRI or CT scan

5. Prognosis:

There is no cure for epileptic seizures. This is a congenital, non-progressive (sometimes progressive) neurodegenerative disease. Treatment is usually supplemental and is based on the dog's symptoms.

When To See A Vet

Contact your vet right away,

  • If the seizure episode doesn’t stop within a few minutes
  • If you have any other concerns for the safety of your pet

Food Suggestions For Epilepsy

  • Smaller, more frequent meals of a high-quality, high-calorie food
  • Choose softer foods such as mashed, soft, or pureed foods
  • Moisten/soften foods with chicken broth, gravy, or butter
  • Finely chop up veggies, chicken, or meat
  • Watch the salt intake of dogs such as from canned soups or frozen meals
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, etc
  • Antioxidant-packed fruits: cherries, Blueberries, peeled apple, cantaloupe


Although epileptic seizures are not curable, most pets require months of medication and special feeding. With the right supportive care and medications, pets can live a longer, quality life.

Seizures are really a disturbing thing to experience for the pets and their owners. However, remember that you are not alone in this. Consult with your veterinarian to ease the concerns you have about seizures.

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