Dogs can also suffer from epilepsy, which manifests itself in seizures. Know its causes and symptoms and the treatment that will allow your pet to have a good quality of life.

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological diseases in dogs, but with proper treatment affected dogs can enjoy a good quality of life for many years. Epilepsy occurs in dogs and cats, although it is less common in felines. Some dog breeds show a certain predisposition, such as the German Shepherd, the Beagle, the Poodle, the Labrador, or the Cocker Spaniel. Hereditary epilepsy has been documented in dogs of the breeds above and is suspected in others, such as the border collie.

Causes of seizures in dogs

The seizures are recurrent in epileptic dogs. Their origin lies in the brain itself since they manifest abnormal electrical activity in the cerebral cortex, where neurons suffer sudden shock and synchronization.

Loss of consciousness, impaired movement and tone of the muscles, and abnormal behaviours occur during a seizure. They are motivated by different causes, even not settled in the nervous system itself. They can originate in the brain (intracranial) or an independent disorder of the central nervous system (extracranial) and are classified according to their cause.

Intracranial causes (epilepsy)

  • Organic (symptomatic epilepsy): distemper encephalitis, intracranial tumour, head trauma, stroke, or congenital malformations such as hydrocephalus.
  • Functional (idiopathic epilepsy): it is impossible to know the specific cause that alters brain function.

Extracranial causes

  • Metabolic: hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia, liver or kidney problems, hypoxia (poor brain oxygenation).
  • Toxic: exposure to lead or organophosphates.

Symptoms of epilepsy in dogs and how it is diagnosed

In an epileptic dog, three phases are distinguished during an explosive attack, which presents symptoms of epilepsy characteristic in dogs such as those described below. However, you should know that sometimes only one or two of them are appreciated because the others have been less obvious.

Epilepsy in dogs

Phases of a seizure

Aura

The initial phase in which the dog begins to feel strange and show abnormal behaviour: restlessness, looking for its owner, constantly licking, barking. It can last minutes or days.

Ictus

It is the phase in which the seizure itself occurs. The dog collapses and loses consciousness. The muscles undergo intense and regular contractions, leading to movements of the head, pedalling, and opening and closing of the mouth. In addition, most salivate excessively and urinate.

Post-stroke

It is the recovery phase. The animal may show incoordination, disorientation, and even transient blindness. Some feel thirsty and hungry. It lasts for several hours or days.

Types of seizures according to how they manifest

The vast majority of the time, the dog experiences generalized seizures, in which the electrical discharges originate in the entire cerebral cortex, showing the three characteristic phases: aura, stroke, and post-stroke. Occasionally, partial seizures are described, in which the epilepsy focus is located in a specific part of the brain.

Depending on the location of the focus, the symptoms vary. There is usually no loss of consciousness, but behavioural disorders, such as aggressiveness or hyperactivity and jerky muscle movements in the face or a single limb. Partial seizures can become generalized when the focal discharge spreads to the rest of the neurons in the cerebral cortex.

Diagnosis of epilepsy in the dog

Not all dogs that have suffered a seizure are epileptic. To diagnose idiopathic epilepsy in dogs, all possible causes of attacks – extracranial or intracranial – must first be ruled out since if these causes can be treated, the seizures will stop. Therefore, your veterinarian will perform a general and neurological examination, as well as blood and urine tests, X-rays, and ultrasound, to rule out metabolic or infectious problems that may cause the seizures.

If the results show that everything is in order, imaging tests such as CT or MRI should be performed to find out if the animal suffers from any structural abnormality or a tumour in the brain. Once these problems are ruled out, it is determined that the dog suffers from idiopathic epilepsy.