Does my pet have epilepsy?

Epilepsy is the term used when an animal develops seizure type activity. There are many reasons why epilepsy can develop, but first perhaps some definitions would be useful:

Seizures are periods of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain (convulsions).

Epilepsy is a disorder characterised by recurring seizures that originate from the brain.

This may be due to for example a brain tumour but most cases are:-

Idiopathic epilepsy of “unknown cause” with no evidence of any damaged areas in the brain. When vets say “epilepsy” then this is the type we are referring to.

We divide the causes of seizures into two areas, those involving the brain (intracranial) and those not involving the brain (extracranial).

Intracranial causes include cancer, viral infections such as distemper, trauma (e.g. a road traffic accident).

Extracranial include things like poisoning and low blood sugar such as a diabetic coma.

If a patient presents with a history of seizure activity we will almost always take a blood sample to screen the patient for a variety of diseases. We will perform a thorough clinical examination, paying special attention to the nervous system.

If the blood test is normal and the examination unremarkable, we generally assume that the cause of the seizures is related to the brain. So idiopathic epilepsy is a diagnosis made by excluding the other causes of seizure activity. In making a diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy the most important factors we look at are the age of onset and the pattern of the seizures. The first seizures usually occur between 6 months and 5 years of age. Dogs that start to seizure outside this range often have another identifiable cause.

Fortunately, many cases of idiopathic epilepsy are well controlled on daily doses of inexpensive epileptic drugs, although it can take several months to reach the level at which seizures cease completely.

Severe seizures that come on repeatedly (called status epilepticus) are medical emergencies and should be seen as an emergency. Should your pet have a seizure then prevent it from injuring itself on surrounding objects.

Remember that even if your pet is barking and twitching, it is unconscious and so will not respond. If you are worried that your pet may be displaying any type of seizure activity please contact the clinic as soon as possible.

Simon Robinson