Epilepsy is an incurable disease affecting between 0.5 and 5% of all dogs, regardless of breed. Although this is worrying, particularly if you’re anxious about your dog having a fit, canine epilepsy can be treated in a way that will make your own and your dog’s lives easier. To do this, it’s important to know what the symptoms are and what to do if your dog has a seizure.
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Here are some tips to help you understand canine epilepsy better and some advice on what to do if your dog has a fit. Knowing the signs and how it affects your dog may also help your veterinarian understand how to help you and your pet better.
1. Understanding canine epilepsy
Like in humans, epilepsy is a disease that causes seizures, during which dogs lose consciousness, have convulsions (shake), and have difficulty breathing. These fits can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, although they rarely go over three. It is impossible to predict how often these will occur.
It is not really possible to detect if a dog has epilepsy before they have their first seizure. Some dogs will have seizures for their entire life with no clear reason as to why.
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There are two types of epilepsy, primary and secondary. Secondary epilepsy is epilepsy caused by other health problems, such as head injuries, tumors, infections, being poisoned, liver or kidney problems, or even low blood sugar.
Primary epilepsy is diagnosed if a veterinarian can’t find any particular reason as to why they are having seizures. Primary epilepsy usually occurs between the ages of one and five and will not prevent your dog from living a normal life, as long as they are looked after properly.
2. Which breeds are affected?
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Primary epilepsy (without an explainable cause) can affect any dog, regardless of their lifestyle. However, some breeds are more likely than others to suffer. In general, epilepsy is much more common in purebred dogs than in crossbred dogs.
Some breeds most commonly affected by epilepsy are Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Cane Corsos, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Lagotto Romagnolos and Irish Wolfhounds. With some breeds, seizures can occur daily.
3. How do I know if my dog is having a fit?
Epileptic seizures present differently in different dogs. However, there are three distinct phases that you should be able to spot. By familiarizing yourself with what the signs aer, you can better prepare yourself to know what to do.
Firstly, before a fit, you can often see a change in their behavior. This phase is called the ‘aura’ and manifests in agitated movements (restlessness, nervousness, shaking, excessive drooling), vomiting and anxiety (whining, barking, hiding).
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The convulsive, or ‘ictus’ phase , is the fit itself. Their muscles stiffen and spasm and they may urinate, defecate, vomit or drool. Their breathing may become heavier and more difficult, and their tongue might also turn blue. During this stage, the dog is unconscious and will not be able to control what they’re doing.
Finally, the dog will go into the ‘postictus’ phase, which can last from a few minutes to several days. Your dog may be disoriented and may not walk straight, suffer from temporary blindness or muscle weakness. Some are hungrier and thirstier than usual and can find it difficult to stay continent.
4. What should I do if my dog has a fit?
When your dog has a seizure or you think that they will have one, it is important to stay calm and act quickly, or plan on how to manage a fit in the future.
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Firstly, you must remove anything that your dog could bang their head against, supervise them on the stairs and limit noise and light exposure.
During the seizure do not touch your dog, do not try to hold their head or touch their tongue, as they could accidentally bite you. Once the seizure has ended, watch them closely to record what their symptoms are and help them stay calm however you can.
There are also several things you can do to prepare yourself for future fits and help your vet understand your dog’s condition. You can keep a journal in which you write down everything you see during the seizure, or film it to show your vet at your next appointment. In the long term, this can help them adapt treatment, or see if it’s working.
Note how long the fit goes on for; this can also help distract you, as your dog’s illness can be distressing.
5. Life with an epileptic dog
If your dog suffers from primary epilepsy, it can’t be cured, but proper treatment can reduce the amount of seizures they have. Your veterinarian will know how best to treat these and the best thing to do is watch your pet carefully and follow the vet’s advice.
The treatment for epilepsy usually takes the form of tablets or medicine that your dog will have to take at the same time every day. Do not stop treating your dog without explicitly being told to by your vet, as this could trigger another fit.
Similarly, stick to the dosage given by your vet and have regular check ups.
Epilepsy is one of the 5 most common genetic diseases affecting dogs. Following all these tips should make your own and your dogs’ life easier, but if you have any worries, contact your vet immediately.
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