A pug sitting in a red chair

Epilepsy is the main cause of seizures in pets and a commonly diagnosed neurological disorder that we see at our facility. Witnessing a seizure in your pet is a frightening experience, and it’s an event that any pet owner would want to understand and address right away.

The team at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center is here to help you navigate the difficult challenges that can occur during your pet’s life. Epilepsy can be one of those challenges and if it becomes a problem for your pet, helping you understand it is an important first step in managing it.

Causes of Epilepsy In Pets

A seizure event can be brought on by a number of causes, including, exposure to a toxic substance, a tumor, liver or kidney failure, low blood sugar, an autoimmune inflammatory disease, or an infectious disease. Frequent, repeated seizure episodes, however, are classified as epilepsy and, in many dogs, it is thought to be a genetic disorder.

Although epilepsy can affect cats, it’s more common in dogs, where it occurs in about 2–5% of the canine population. Certain dog breeds are more likely to be diagnosed with epilepsy such as Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Poodles.

The Seizure Timeline

A typical seizure has three components:

1.The Pre-ictal Phase (aura) – In the period prior to a seizure, some pets may act nervous, anxious, or very clingy toward an owner. This phase is often not easy to identify and may last for only a few seconds.  

2.The Ictal Phase – During the middle seizure phase, the symptoms can range from mild neurological changes (a dazed expression, lip licking, slight shaking), to a generalized seizure with a loss of consciousness and dramatic twitching, shaking, convulsing and/or paddling. A pet may also urinate, defecate, or salivate uncontrollably during this period.

3.The Post-ictal Phase – In the period immediately following a seizure, pets tend to be quite disoriented. You may notice confusion, pacing, salivation, restlessness, aggression or temporary blindness.

The best way to help your pet during a seizure is to clear the area around your pet so it doesn’t injure itself by bumping into something. Never try to put your hand or any object in your pet’s mouth or near its head, as you could be seriously bitten. This could also injure your pet. If you need to move your pet to a safer area (away from stairs or a body of water) we recommend gently pushing your pet away from the area with a large cushion.

If the seizure lasts longer than a few minutes, seek emergency medical care immediately, as this could indicate a serious problem that requires medical intervention. If a pet has two or more seizures in a 24-hour period, the pet needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian.

The Road to Wellness

Several initial steps are taken in an effort to make a diagnosis of epilepsy, as it is often not straightforward. Our veterinarian will take a thorough health history, perform a nose to tail examination, including, a neurological exam and basic diagnostic testing to check for signs of toxicity, metabolic disease, or infectious disease. In some cases, a referral for an MRI or CT scan may be needed to rule out a brain tumor or inflammatory lesion, or other cause.

While epilepsy in pets isn’t curable or preventable, it can be managed with long-term use of medication designed to control the seizure-triggering electrical impulses in the brain. Once this ‘anticonvulsant’ medication is started, it must be continued for life. 

If you are concerned that your pet may have epilepsy or you’d like to schedule an appointment for your pet, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center. We are here to help your pet have its best life and will be happy to assist you!