These days our dogs are being diagnosed with many of the same health conditions that we have, and one of them is epilepsy which is distinguished by recurring seizures. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by misfiring of the electrical synapses in the brain. This in turn causes additional, erratic nerve transmissions that are not coordinated. These scramble the messages to the muscles in the body, which results in a seizure. Epilepsy is a chronic condition, though it should be noted that not all seizures are caused by epilepsy. There are different divisions of canine epilepsy, and it is not limited to one condition but a larger catalog of disorders.
Idiopathic epilepsy (also known as Primary Epilepsy) has no specific brain abnormality except for the seizures. Genetics are now suspected in the cause of idiopathic seizures of several dog breeds including Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Dachshunds, Keeshonds, Collies, Beagles and the British Alsatian. It is now also being considered as an inherited problem in other breeds. I know of one geneticist who is studying the American Staffordshire Terrier to see if there is a link to epilepsy in the breed. My AmStaff Skye was diagnosed with idiopathic juvenile seizures and had her first seizure when she went into her first season; she was about a year old. Most dogs diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy experience their first seizure between the age of one and five years.
Symptomatic epilepsy (also known as Secondary Epilepsy) consists of seizures that can be linked to a specific cause or abnormality. Symptomatic Epilepsy can be caused by an underlying factor that you may not even have considered. It has been linked to brain tumors, hypothyroidism, canine distemper or another infection (which can cause brain damage), congenital hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and the ingestion of toxins like gardening chemicals and lead paint chips.
There are four basic types of seizures in varying degrees of severity; they are the petite mal (mild), grand mal (moderate), status epilepticus, and clusters. The status epilepticus and the clusters are the most dangerous and can be life threatening.
While canine epilepsy can be severe, some seizures can be controlled and even eliminated with the proper diet. It is important to stay away from chemical preservatives in your dog’s food as these may be seizure triggers. Skye eats CANIDAE ALS Grain Free which has no chemical preservatives. Seizures that cannot be controlled by diet, may be controlled with homeopathic methods or by medication if need be. If a dog needs to be medicated to control their seizures, there are several medications available.
Most seizures can be controlled with Phenobarbital and it is sometimes used in conjunction with Potassium Bromide. It should be noted that Phenobarbital is a barbiturate and can cause liver or kidney damage with prolonged usage. You need to have blood tests done every four to six months to check that the liver and kidneys are functioning properly. Potassium Bromide has been used alone when Phenobarbital has caused liver damage.
There can be a side effect with use of the bromides, called bromide intoxication. Bromide intoxication manifests itself in uneven locomotion, stumbling over nothing and even falling down. If your dog has these symptoms, talk to your vet about lowering the dosage or changing medication. Skye was originally on a combination of Phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide and I witnessed Bromide intoxication. Her medication was changed to Sodium Bromide and though I have to watch her sodium levels, she no longer has any issues with Bromide intoxication. Neurontin, also known as Gabapentin, is a newer drug developed for use in human epilepsy and it is safe for use in canine epilepsy as well. However it can be costly – about $250.00 per month. Valium is not primarily used in the prevention of seizures, but it is used after the seizures happen to help calm the dog.
If your dog begins having seizures, have your vet look for underlying health issues. If none are found make sure to check your dog’s pedigree and lineage for a possible genetic link. Since Skye has been on just the Sodium Bromide I have not seen any side effects. We go to the vet every six months for blood tests, which are always normal.
Canine epilepsy is no longer the monster it used to be, and our companion animals can live long, healthy, fulfilling lives with the proper care. You wouldn’t know to look at Skye that she had ever had seizures, and I feel very blessed.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently
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