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Epilepsy in dogs

Veterinarian Dr. Karin Schlotterbeck explains:

Epilepsy is one of the most common chronic diseases of the nervous system in dogs and cats. These are repeated malfunctions of the cerebrum in which the balance between electrical charge and discharge of the nerve cells is temporarily disturbed. Excessive activity of neurons that emit uncontrolled electrical impulses leads to epileptic seizures in the cerebrum. This can vary in very different forms.

The symptoms range from mild motor deficits in various limbs (e.g. twitching of a leg or muscle), twitching of the lips, imaginary “snapping at flies”, unmotivated barking or chewing. This is the case with partial or focal epilepsy .

In generalized epilepsy, the entire animal body is affected. Seizures occur with loss of consciousness, paddling movements of the limbs, uncontrolled urination and defecation, dilated pupils (mydriasis), frequent increased salivation and uncontrolled chewing movements. In such situations, owners should not intervene to protect themselves. Most of the time these attacks last no longer than two minutes. Single and/or rarely occurring attacks initially have no health consequences; very few nerve cells die. If a seizure lasts longer than 10 minutes (status epilepticus), which is rare, or if the seizures repeat at short intervals over many hours (clusters) without the dog having regained consciousness, there is a danger to life and the dog should be taken care of Intensive care unit.

After an attack, dogs are usually exhausted and dazed, and some show urge to wander, blurred vision, a wobbly gait, or abnormal hunger or thirst for hours.

Epilepsies can be congenital or develop over the course of life. A distinction is made between the three forms:

Primary epilepsy

Primary or idiopathic epilepsy occurs most often in dogs and has an unclear cause. A hereditary, genetic origin is suspected. The brains of these animals show no anatomical changes.
This form of epilepsy first appears between five months and five years and more commonly affects Labrador, Golden Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, Belgian Shepherd and Irish Wolfhound breeds.

Primary epilepsy definitely needs to be treated if seizures occur more frequently than once a month. So-called antiepileptic drugs are used for this purpose.

Secondary epilepsy

In secondary or symptomatic epilepsy, the seizures are caused by a structural disease (such as trauma, inflammation, anomaly, infarction, i.e. circulatory disorder or a tumor) of the cerebrum or a brain metabolic disorder. There is no specific age distribution with this form.

Depending on the cause, secondary epilepsy can be treated differently and therefore has a very different prognosis for treatment.

Cryptogenic epilepsy

The cause of cryptogenic epilepsy is unknown.

However, if the seizure is caused by a metabolic disorder outside the central nervous system, it is not referred to as epilepsy, but rather as reactive seizures . The cramps always affect the entire body. In this case, the animals are treated according to the origin of the metabolic disorder.
As with primary epilepsy, treatment with antiepileptic drugs must be carried out if the seizures occur more frequently than once a month.

Before starting therapy, one should always carefully consider to what extent the quality of life is impaired by occasional seizures compared to the strong effect of antiepileptic drugs (activity is inhibited, fatigue, increased appetite).