Cause of dog seizures can be hard to determine
Integrative Pet Vet
The most common neurological condition in dogs is the seizure, which affects approximately 1 percent of dogs. A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical discharges from brain cells that result in uncontrolled muscle activity seen as involuntary jerking movements of the head and limbs. Excessive drooling can occur, along with voiding urine or stool.
Seizures generally start and stop suddenly and last a few minutes or less. Immediately after a seizure, the dog may be uncoordinated, temporarily blind, appear confused or disoriented, restless or even aggressive. This can last for minutes to hours. Affected dogs can seem completely normal between seizures.
Often the cause of seizures can be challenging to determine because numerous abnormalities in the body can trigger seizures. These include abnormal organ function, environmental toxins or abnormalities in the brain itself. Examples of organ dysfunction that can lead to seizures include liver disease, kidney disease, low blood glucose levels or heart disease. Problems with the brain itself include infections and tumors.
Brain tumors are not uncommon in older dogs. Unfortunately, growing numbers of young dogs have brain tumors. Certain breeds like the Boxer, Boston Terriers and English Bulldogs are predisposed to developing brain tumors. While the neurological signs of a brain tumor vary considerably, seizures can be one of the signs.
With the wide range of causes for seizures, a complete work-up including physical examination, neurological examination, blood tests and urinalysis should be performed. Based on the results of these tests, additional testing may be recommended. This might include evaluation of the heart, if indicated, or specialized imaging like MRI or CT scans of the brain.
Ideal management of seizures depends on a clear diagnosis; however, this is not always possible even with extensive evaluation.
Once other possible causes are eliminated, a diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is often made. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures, affecting 80 percent of dogs with seizures. Idiopathic means that the cause cannot be determined. Some authorities feel that there may be an inherited aspect to idiopathic epilepsy with beagles, collies, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers commonly affected, but it can occur in any breed.
When a seizure occurs, remain calm and note the time that the seizure started. Make sure the pet is on the floor and away from water, stairs, other pets and children. Pets are not at risk of swallowing their tongue, so do not reach into their mouth during a seizure. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes or there are multiple seizures in a day, contact your veterinarian. A single seizure that lasts only a few minutes is generally not dangerous. There is more concern when there are multiple seizures within a short period or if the seizures continue for longer than a few minutes. Prolonged seizures can result in elevated body temperature, which can lead to other problems.
Therapy should be directed at the cause of the seizure. For example, if the primary problem is low blood glucose, this should be corrected.
Deciding when to start anticonvulsant treatment depends on the frequency, severity and diagnosis. The goal of anticonvulsant drug therapy is to reduce seizure frequency to an acceptable level because it is not always possible to completely prevent all seizures. About 30 percent of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy do not respond to anticonvulsant therapy.
There are a number of commonly used anticonvulsants and combinations of anticonvulsants. Each has advantages and disadvantages including cost and side-effects. Integrative support for the seizure patient includes supplements and herbs for organs that are impacted by the side-effects of anticonvulsants. For example, phenobarbital can cause liver problems and herbs like milk thistle may be beneficial for supporting the liver. Other supportive care for seizure patients includes evaluating alignment of the neck, nutritional supplements, acupuncture and Chinese herbs.
Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about seizures in dogs.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his doctor of veterinary medicine, he holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and certified canine rehabilitation therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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