Watching your dog experience a seizure can be a scary thing, and for good reason: seizures are usually very intense, and if your dog has one, you will probably see him or her convulse and thrash, cry and yelp, drool, and urinate and defecate excessively. So what exactly are seizures, and why do they affect some of our canine friends?
Seizures result from abnormal brain activity, the cause of which is not always understood. Not only are they distressing to witness, they also vary greatly in severity. While some seizures are considered mild, often a seizure is a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.
Seizures should not be ignored. Although some seizures are ideopathic, meaning there is no identifiable underlying cause, often can signal a variety of underlying conditions in your pet. Culprits include epilepsy, brain tumors, trauma, certain toxins, and metabolic issues such as low blood sugar, low calcium levels, high blood pressure, or liver disease. If your pet has a seizure, it is extremely important to work with your veterinarian to determine the cause
If your pet experiences as seizure, a diagnostic evaluation might include the following:
- Complete blood count and/or blood chemistry profile
- Liver function tests
- Blood pressure tests
- Evaluation of cerebrospinal fluid
- Imaging studies such as CT or MRI scan
- In some cases, consulation with a specialist
Epilepsy in dogs
Epilepsy is a syndrome of recurrent, unprovoked seizures without a known cause. You have probably heard of epilepsy before, as it is known to affect many humans [revise]. Epilepsy can also affect your pets. In fact, epilepsy is a common reason for seizures in young-to-middle-aged dogs, though it rarely affects cats. It is likely that genetics play a role: several dog breeds are at risk of developing epilepsy, including breed, breed, and breed.
Treatment of Epilepsy
Epilepsy cannot be cured but it can usually be controlled with anticonvulsant drugs. Dogs diagnosed with the condition way undergo treatment for life, and sometimes more than one drug is needed in some patients for adequate seizure control. And while many dogs are well controlled, some are not despite multiple medications.
In addition, adequate seizure control does not necessarily guarantee that a dog will be entirely seizure free. The degree of seizure control may need to be balanced against potential side effects of medications. Frequent consultatoin with your veterinarian is very important for optimal management of your pet's epilepsy and to monitor for side effects of the medications. Medication dosages should not be changed without talking to your veterinarian first.
Phenobarbital, usually given as a pill, is commonly used as a traditional anticonvulsant medication in dogs and cats with epilepsy. While it is generally a well-tolerated drug, as with any drug some patients experience side effects. In order to make sure an adequate dose of phenobarbital is being given, and to monitor for side effects, it is important that blood levels of phenobarbital as well as complete blood counts and blood chemistry profiles be monitored periodically while your pet is on the medication. Liver function tests can be needed if liver toxicity is suspected. Your veterinarian will advise what monitoring needs to be done and how often.
There are many ways you can help manage your pet’s epilepsy:
- Maintain a seizure log that lists date, time, length and severity of seizures and share this with your veterinarian
- Do not change or discontinue medications without consulting your veterinarian
- Have blood work and other lab work done when recommended by your veterinarian
- Consult your veterinarian about potentially dangerous seizure situations
- Put a medical alert tag on your pet’s collar so that if they become lost whoever finds them will be aware of their seizure disorder and need for medication.
Several treatmentss are available for pets with epilepsy. By working closely with your veterinarian, you can maximize the chances of controlling the disorder and giving your pet a long, happy, and comfortable life.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
What should I do if my pet experiences seizures?
While observing, the owner should keep a diary of when/where the seizures occur, how long they last, was the animal acting strangely/doing any activity in particular before the seizure, and how long after the seizure did it take for the animal to be 'normal'. This may provide clues if a pattern is noticed.
There are definite seizure triggers for some animals, and if they can be identified, the number of seizures can be reduced if the trigger (activity, excitement, etc.) can be avoided. One dog I knew had a 'going-to-the-vet' seizure trigger. Hard to avoid that one sometimes, but with pre-visit medication, special speedy appointments, the problem was reduced.
Seizures have 3 phases:
Pre-ictal, ictal, post-ictal. "Ictal" means seizure.
- Pre-ictal. The "pre" phase often goes unnoticed, but you may notice an altered state of consciousness or restlessness, lasting for a few seconds or minutes.
- Ictus is the seizure itself, and it may last a few seconds or minutes.As mentioned above, a continual seizure, Status Epilepticus, is a medical emergency, and the pet should be rushed to the vet for medication to break the seizure and prevent brain and organ damage from hyperthermia (increased body temperature), acidosis (metabolic imbalance), hypoperfusion (reduced blood flow), and hypoxia (reduced oxygen to tissues). All of the above possibilities occur on a much reduced scale for small seizures, too, so control is important.
- Post-ictal phase is the time after the seizure where the animal appears dazed, confused, depressed. The animal may even appear blind - running into walls, etc. Some animals sleep a lot. This typically lasts several minutes but can last hours, depending on the seizure duration and frequency.
First, though, let’s look at what epilepsy is.
Epilepsy is characterised by recurrent seizures or convulsions caused by random electrical impulses that travel the nerve circuits of the brain and affect muscles throughout the body. Ron Hines (DVM PhD) compares what happens during a seizure to a snowball starting an avalanche. A few electrical impulses start off a chain reaction that excites other nerve cells and so on and so on until the muscle contractions cause your dog or cat to have either a grand mal seizure or a petit mal seizure.
How dogs can smell epileptic seizures before they happen
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: There are good boys, and then there are very good boys like these dogs here. They're searching for a scent that no human can detect: the scent of an epileptic seizure. We've long known that dogs can detect seizures in humans in some cases 45 minutes before they occur. That's one reason why organizations like Handi'chiens in France provide service dogs for people with epilepsy. And in some cases, this can prove lifesaving.
It might give people time to take medication that could prevent or reduce the severity of a seizure or move somewhere safer where an injury is less likely to occur. Incredible? Yes. But proven? Not until French researchers teamed up with Medical Mutts, a US-based organization that trains seizure alert dogs.
That marker, they believed, was a scent that dogs can detect. So in 2018, they set up an experiment. First, they collected dozen of samples of breath and sweat from people with different forms of epilepsy. Some of them were taken during or right after a seizure, while others were collected after exercise or at rest.
Then they distributed them among seven different steel containers in this room. Finally, they let out, or, they let in the dogs. One by one, Casey, Dodger, Lana, Zoey, and Roo walked into the room. They were trained to stop and stand still if they think they detected the scent of a seizure. And if they were right, they got a treat, good dog! To the researchers' excitement, the canines excelled.
Three of the dogs, Casey, Dodger, and Zoey, sniffed out the odor associated with seizure with 100% accuracy. The two other pups, Lana and Roo, who had less time to train, weren't quite as accurate. But they still correctly identified two-thirds of the seizure samples on their first try.
What makes these results even more remarkable is that the scent samples were from different people and also produced by different kinds of seizures. And what exactly is that marker made of? Here's the thing: We still don't know. It's likely that seizures trigger a change in the body's electrical activity, the researchers say. And those changes can affect the composition of odor molecules that we emit through our sweat, breath, and, likely, urine.
Now, whether people emit these odors before a seizure in time to reduce its worst effects is still in question, and it's not something that the researchers tested. But some experts claim that people emit a specific group of odor chemicals 15 to 45 minutes prior to seizing, which dogs can detect. So what exactly makes canines such smell superstars? It's their incredible noses.
With as many as 300 million olfactory receptors, a dog's nose is up to 100 thousand times stronger than our own. That means they can detect a few scent molecules among trillions of them. Scientists are now trying to build electronic noses that are just as powerful. The idea is that they too could be used to sniff out diseases. But for now e-noses are nowhere near as good as dogs, and in some ways, doesn't that seem like a good thing?
EDITOR'S NOTE: This video was originally published in April 2019.
Treating epilepsy in dogs with Dr. Kelly
by Kelly Dunham, DVM
This week let’s talk about the epileptic dog. There are many factors which could be affecting or causing epilepsy, and it is often hard to pinpoint the exact cause. More often than not the cases we’re going to see are idiopathic or related to a mass/tumor. So, what do we do?
Sometimes the answer is nothing. If the pet is having more than 3 seizures in a 3 month period or more than 1 per month, repeatable or long seizures lasting more than 5 minutes or within a 24 hour period or if there is an identifiable disease, that pet is a candidate for treatment.
If none of these factors are met, then we typically elect to monitor. I will often request that my clients keep a journal to better track any seizure activity, including the date, duration of seizure and post-ictal signs, and possible triggers.