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Epilepsy in dogs and cats: causes, symptoms and treatment of epilepsy

Epilepsy in dogs and cats. What is the treatment of canine epilepsy?

Both epilepsy in a dog, what epilepsy in a cat is a serious neurological disorder.

Among the many diseases that our pupils can get sick, there are also those that cause universal horror and terror and are related to the neurological system and the brain.

They are of particular concern because of the drastic symptoms that develop suddenly.

Moreover, these diseases are not always possible to be unequivocally diagnosed or even cured effectively.

In this article I will try to clearly and understandably explain to you what it is epilepsy, how to recognize and treat it.

You will also find practical tips and notes for affected carers epilepsy in dogs and cats.

The guardian, coming to the clinic with his dog or cat, describes the "strange behavior of the animal", lists the symptoms and expects the doctor to make a proper diagnosis and, above all, to start treatment that will cure the symptoms and cure them.

Meanwhile, especially in the case of many diseases of the nervous system, it is not always possible to definitively cure a dog or a cat, and thus meet the expectations of the patient's caregiver

A perfect example of what I am writing about is just that epilepsy, disease - or rather a symptom around which many myths and false statements have arisen. Let's deal with them!

  • What is epilepsy?
    • Why does epilepsy occur in dogs and cats?
    • What is status epilepsy?
    • Is epilepsy in a dog fatal?
  • A bit of history of epilepsy
  • Division and classification of epileptic seizures
  • The incidence of epilepsy
  • Epilepsy in dogs and cats
  • Epilepsy in dogs and cats
  • Dog and cat seizure phases
  • Treatment of epilepsy in dogs and cats
  • Epilepsy medications for dogs and cats
    • Diazepam
    • Phenobarbital
    • Potassium bromide
    • Pexion
    • Other antiepileptic drugs
  • How much is epilepsy treatment?
  • What to do during an epilepsy attack?
  • Epilepsy and other diseases
  • Briefly own coincidence

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy, or epilepsy, is a group of chronic neurological disorders manifested by epileptic seizures.

They are an expression of transient brain dysfunctions, consisting in excessive, sudden and spontaneous bioelectric discharges within nerve cells.

When nerve cells (neurons) are active, when they are suddenly, transient, they are functional disorders that result from abnormal activity in one part of the brain known as the forebrain.

Why does epilepsy occur in dogs and cats?

What is epilepsy and why epilepsy attacks occur?

It is commonly believed that seizure with all its symptoms is the result of an imbalance between the processes of excitation and inhibition.

Within the brain, neurotransmitters are secreted - neurotransmitters, i.e. chemical compounds - molecules that carry information between neurons, which are a specific way of communication between these cells.

Arrangement of neurons GABA - vigorous producing gamma acid - aminobutyric acid is the main inhibitory system and it is its impairment, deficiency or dysfunction of its receptors that is probably an important pathogenetic factor of epilepsy.

Too glycine and taurine which are amino acids play a role braking.

In the process of seizures, other neurotransmitter systems are also of great importance - such as:

  • cholinergic,
  • serotonergic,
  • catecholinergic.

During seizures, electrolyte disturbances occur in the membranes of neurons and the demand for glucose and oxygen increases.

They are not compensated by the body, with the consequence being acidification and damage to neurons In other words, the body is unable to supply its cells with the right amount of glucose and oxygen, which causes them dying away.

The aftermath of the attacks will therefore be damage to neurons, which, as we know perfectly well, are not subject to regeneration and multiplication in the postnatal life, and degenerative changes in areas of the brain important for the functioning of the brain.

Interestingly, each seizure increases the likelihood of the next one due to the courtesy phenomenon of a kind of habituation of nerve cells to constant stimulation, thus lowering the seizure threshold.

So a kind of vicious circle arises that drives subsequent seizures.

What is status epilepsy?

When writing about seizures, it is impossible to omit the term status epilepticus, which is inherently related to the subject of epilepsy in animals.

Status epilepticus it is uninterrupted an epilepsy attack lasting longer than half-hour (by another definition lasting at least 5 minutes).

As status epilepticus the occurrence of two or more seizures is also determined, between which there is no full recovery of the animal.

Is epilepsy in a dog fatal?

In the event of status epilepticus the mechanisms causing the inhibition and termination of seizures, which are accompanied by the death of neurons, are impaired.

It is a condition very serious threat to life, can lead to permanent neurological damage and even death and requires immediate and intensive treatment.

It sounds quite complicated and indeed at the cellular level it is a complex and not yet fully understood process, although the owner of the animal is probably more interested in the symptoms and information on how to help the animal in such a situation.

A bit of history of epilepsy

Epilepsy is one of the earliest described diseases in medical history.

Its first descriptions come from ancient Egypt and Babylon.

The ancients regarded seizures as "supernatural" and attributed them to divine origins.

At the same time, they aroused not only curiosity, because it was not known where they came from, but also great fear as an unknown phenomenon.

The term epilepsy comes from the Greek epilambanein and means to attack or grapple strongly.

Hippocrates, writing about the disease of the gods in his monograph around 400.. p. n. e. recommends as a treatment method:

  • healthy lifestyle,
  • proper nutrition,
  • physical activity.

In the Middle Ages, epilepsy was again attributed to a supernatural origin and called the satanic disease (morbus daemonicus).

A breakthrough in the field of epilepsy came in the nineteenth century, when the origin of seizures was proven and the first effective treatment with the use of potassium bromide.

The beginning of the 20th century turned out to be a real revolution thanks to the use of new ones antiepileptic drugs - phenobarbital and phenytoin.

Epilepsy in animals was not described until the nineteenth century, but it was successfully treated only recently, in the first half of the twentieth century.

Interestingly, many famous people, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Fryderyk Chopin suffered from epilepsy, which did not prevent them from achieving significant successes and permanently entering history.

Division and classification of epileptic seizures

Seizures they may cover only certain parts of the brain, specific areas of the brain, and then they are partial or concern neurons in both hemispheres - in the case of a generalized seizure.

The most common breakdown epilepsy, we can find in any scientific study is the one based on the causes.

According to it, the following can be distinguished:

  1. Idiopathic epilepsy (primary epilepsy), in which we cannot directly establish the cause of the disease and a genetic factor is suspected.
  2. Secondary epilepsy, where the cause can be determined and which is the result of structural damage to the forebrain.

Another breakdown includes:

  1. Cryptogenic seizures, that is, of unclear origin, which is suspected to be the result of structural abnormalities.
  2. Reactive convulsions, which are a normal reaction of the body to a toxic or metabolic disorder in the body.

Depending on the cause, we can distinguish:

  • vascular seizures,
  • inflammatory seizures - infectious,
  • toxic seizures,
  • traumatic seizures,
  • seizures as a consequence of developmental anomalies,
  • metabolic seizures,
  • idopathic seizures,
  • cancerous seizures,
  • degenerative seizures.

The incidence of epilepsy

Convulsions cause hospitalization in approximately 10% of neurological patients

Epilepsy is one of the most common diseases nervous system in animals and every veterinarian who works with small animals meets with her every day.

According to data from Western veterinary clinics specializing in neurology, seizures are on average the cause of approx 10% hospitalization among patients with neurological symptoms.

Among this number, more or less half are cases idiopathic epilepsy and symptomatic epilepsy.

In general, it can be estimated that around 1% of dogs suffer from idiopathic epilepsy, which seems like a huge amount (other sources say 0.5-5%).

Of course in predisposed breeds this percentage is much higher.

Accurate pedigree analyzes as well as breeding research prove beyond any doubt genetic background this disease in certain breeds of dogs, which include:

  • beagle,
  • German Shepherds,
  • Belgian Shepherd Dogs Tervueren,
  • collie sheepdogs,
  • golden retrievers,
  • dalmatians,
  • St. Bernardine,
  • dachshunds,
  • poodles,
  • spitz,
  • boxers,
  • labradors,
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Of course idiopathic epilepsy it is described in many other races, not just those mentioned above.

The exact mechanism of the inheritance of seizures has not yet been described and discovered and is still conjecture.

Nevertheless, the general rule dictates suspecting a hereditary background.

Bitches and males with epilepsy should not be reproduced and it is best to perform castration or sterilization immediately.

Importantly, the disease occurs in all breeds of dogs in both sexes and it concerns individuals practically at any age (from 3 months to 10 years).

So how do you see epilepsy can occur in both a puppy and an old dog.

Epilepsy in dogs and cats

Diagnostics - what are the causes of epilepsy?

As already mentioned idiopathic epilepsy it is beyond easy definitions and its cause cannot be identified

In the case of secondary epilepsy however, it is possible to identify the causative factor.

In general, it can be said that the seizures, in this case, are a consequence of the disorders that are taking place intracranially or extracranially.

Intracranial disorders result directly from disease processes in the brain and are a consequence of:

  • bleeding,
  • inflammation of the brain,
  • meningitis,
  • heart attacks,
  • neoplastic processes,
  • emerging scars.

Intracranial disorders can also arise as a result past brain injury, in effect traffic accident or falling from a height.

In turn, extracranial disorders result most often from poison or metabolic diseases, thus they often originate in distant organs and tissues.

Convulsions may occur in the event of poisoning:

  • heavy metals,
  • plant protection products,
  • organophosphorus,
  • metaldehyde, which is readily eaten by dogs (it is a component of slugicides),
  • any other commercially available pesticides or herbicides.

Seizures can also be caused by:

  • any water and electrolyte disturbances,
  • changes in ionic balance,
  • glucose disturbances,
  • disturbance of calcium homeostasis,
  • tetany in labor,
  • vitamin deficiencies, especially from group B.

Let's not forget the cases drug overdose or applying them not in accordance with the intended purpose, as well as Fr liver and kidney diseases (hepatic encephalopathy, portal-collateral circulation, and uraemia), which often cause seizures, and infectious diseases (tetanus, rabies, distemper).

The metabolic changes that can trigger seizures are:

  • hypoglycemia (low blood sugar),
  • hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar),
  • hyperthermia (high internal temperature),
  • hyponatrenia and hypernatremia (low and high potassium levels),
  • hypo and hypercalcemia (low and high serum calcium levels),
  • Hypothyroidism.

As you can see for yourself, dear Reader -  epileptic seizures can cause many different causes and disorders and sometimes it is difficult or even unrealistic to make the correct diagnosis, which also often requires many tests.

Epilepsy in dogs and cats

Symptoms of epilepsy in a dog

Seizures take a very different course and sometimes, especially in a mild form, may go unnoticed by the owner of the dog or cat for a long time.

Symptoms occurring in a mild form in humans, in the form of short-term loss of consciousness, lack of response to stimuli, proptosis, or cessation of previously performed work in animals, are unlikely to be a reason for consultation.

Partial epileptic seizures may result in unusual animal behavior, such as:

  • loss or lack of control of one limb,
  • catching non-existent flies,
  • licking,
  • head movements,
  • walking in circles,
  • sometimes vocalization.

After some time, of course, they disappear, and due to their "small and harmless" nature, they are less often a reason for medical consultation.

However, the drastic ones, with full symptoms, are always terrifying and are a reason for a quick visit to the veterinary office.

In the case of generalized attacks, we have loss of animal consciousness, accompanied by tonic-type contractions (tonic phase takes up to 30 seconds, and the skeletal muscles of the limbs and neck show increased tension, which is manifested by stiffness of the whole body), clonic manifested in turn rhythmically, repeating itself movements of the limbs and the whole body.

During a seizure, there are also:

  • salivation,
  • defecation, or defecation,
  • uncontrolled urination as an expression of nervous system excitation.

In the video below you can see what it looks like epilepsy in a dog

Wolfie 's epileptic seizures
Watch this video on YouTube

Dog and cat seizure phases

Neurologists divide a generalized attack into three phases:

  1. The teaser phase that is prodromal.
  2. The seizure proper ictus.
  3. Phase post-paroxysmal that is magical.

IN preview phase we do not have typical symptoms, and most often it shows the patient's unusual behavior, not matching his typical behavior.

In some animals it will be over-agitation, pointless walking in circles, looking for secluded places to hide, while other animals will feel an excessive need for contact with their master, and others may show aggression.

The actual seizure in turn, it is characterized by the animal losing balance, taking a lying position on the side of the body or bending the neck up, followed by convulsions, most often of a nature clonic - tonic:

  • limb movements,
  • jaw snapping,
  • muscle tremors,
  • haircut with ears.

Convulsions are accompanied by stimulation of the autonomic nervous system in the form of:

  • drooling,
  • dilation of the pupils,
  • excretion of feces,
  • urine excretion.

This phase is short, usually up to approx 2 minutes and goes into post-paroxysmal phase, during which the animal is resting and very slowly returns to the state it was before the attack.

At the same time, it may show anxiety, aggression or be confused, and at the same time weakened.

Usually, it also has more or less problems with movement and balance.

Treatment of epilepsy in dogs and cats

Treatment of epilepsy in a dog

Can epilepsy in a dog be cured??

Unfortunately not - epilepsy is incurable disease, thus it is associated with the continued use of antiepileptic drugs.

The main goals of treatment are therefore to provide your pet with "the comfort of being ill " consisting in extending the time between successive attacks, reducing the severity of symptoms and alleviating their course.

Importantly, confirmation diagnosis of epilepsy should not result in immediate introduction antiepileptic drugs.

They should be ordered in the event of a series of attacks or in the event of another attack occurring in a short period of time.

If the attacks occur once every few months and are not of high intensity, continuous administration of drugs seems unjustified due to the accompanying side effects.

So we treat with certainty status epilepticus and attacks that occur frequently, i.e. several times a month.

We should always try to stop the seizures first and ensure the survival of the animal, and only in the long run should we try to prevent the occurrence of further seizures.

By joining the treating canine epilepsy during an epileptic seizure a quick interview should be made about symptoms, history of previous attacks, treatment, or even exposure to toxins.

You should also establish an intravenous line and collect blood for tests:

  • morphology,
  • biochemistry,
  • electrolytes,
  • glucose.

At the vet's office, the doctor will measure the internal temperature as seizures may occur hyperthermia with a temperature of 40-42 degrees, which is not a fever and requires the patient to cool down.

The consequence of untreated hyperthermia may be skeletal muscle breakdown leads to acute renal failure.

Then we assess the respiratory system, cardiovascular system and, if possible, oxygen saturation.

Epilepsy medications for dogs and cats

For interrupting an epilepsy attack in clinical practice, drugs from the group are used benzodiazepines, With diazepam at the forefront.

They are potent anticonvulsants that stimulate inhibition processes mediated by GABA receptors.


Intravenous administration of diazepam results in rapid attainment of brain levels and rapid cessation of convulsions.

If we are unable to deliver the drug in this way, it will be administered by rectal infusion.

This drug is not suitable for long-term treatment as it induces tolerance and simply stops working.

It is a drug called. first throw (base) to stopping epilepsy attacks.


It is the primary drug when it comes to long-term treatment and can be administered orally, which greatly facilitates the therapy.

It increases the seizure threshold in treated animals.

The owner of the dog or cat must absolutely know that he cannot stop taking the drug as it may be associated with the occurrence of an epileptic attack.

The therapeutic concentration in the brain is reached after approx 2 weeks from the start of treatment.

Phenobarbital can also cause:

  • excessive sedation,
  • polyuria,
  • increased appetite,
  • desire,
  • impair liver function.

Therefore, you should remember about blood tests and the level of aerobic enzymes - transaminases.

The only veterinary preparation containing the active substance phenobarbital is Phenoleptil in the form of tablets:

  • 12.5 mg,
  • 25 mg,
  • 50 mg,
  • 100 mg.

Potassium bromide

Another widely used an anticonvulsant drug, which can be administered alone or in combination with phenobarbital.

It is excreted by the kidneys and thus does not burden the liver, but it takes a very long time to reach its therapeutic concentration, ie 3 months.

A loading dose can be used to shorten the duration, but this action is associated with a greater risk of side effects.

Importantly, it is a prescription drug, which can go a long way increase the cost of treatment.


A new veterinary drug in treatment of epilepsy in dogs and cats is also Pexion containing imepitoin, which is an agonist at the benzodiazepine receptor.

Other antiepileptic drugs

Sometimes in treat epilepsy one should use new drugs, recently introduced into human medicine, and at the same time effective and safe for the patient and without obvious side effects (only sedation - sedation).

Belong to them:

  • gabapentin,
  • levetiracetam,
  • zonisanide.

In the conditions of a well-equipped veterinary office an infusion pump you can put the patient into a "coma" state with propofol, pentobarbital or medetomidine.

However, it should be remembered that such activities require intubation of the dog, and sometimes even artificial ventilation, in order to increase safety.

Convulsions as a consequence of discharges in the cerebral cortex are an extremely energetic process (nerve cells require a lot of glucose to function).

Therefore, the animal should be properly hydrated with fluids containing glucose supplemented with vitamin B1, which is often lacking in the body.

How much is epilepsy treatment?

Not without significance in treating canine epilepsy the costs of treatment remain the same, constant administration of drugs, which after all cost money, blood control tests, or changes in dosing schedules.

As a general rule, the principle should be that the bigger the dog, the greater the expenses due to the need to prescribe more drugs.

What to do during an epilepsy attack?

How to help your dog with an epileptic seizure?

Canine epilepsy is an incurable disease and you have to take into account that the attacks will continue for the rest of your pet's life.

They often manifest themselves in the most inappropriate places and situations - in the house where the dog lives, in the presence of children and other household members.

So what to do in such a situation?

  1. First, don't panic and stay cool.
  2. It is obvious to constantly prescribe drugs and strictly follow the recommendations of the attending physician.
  3. We must not allow for a shortage antiepileptic drugs, which with today's access to pharmacies is not a big problem.
  4. Every owner of a sick dog should have a box at home - a first aid kit with drugs to stop attacks, easy to apply and be able to administer the drug rectally. Moreover, he should know exactly how much to administer so as not to harm or overdose the drug.
  5. And if the "home" attempts to intervene do not bring the expected results, you should immediately go to the nearest active veterinary clinic.

Epilepsy is a really dangerous disease and any delay in treatment may have consequences.

Epilepsy and other diseases

Seizures can be a symptom of other diseases

As I mentioned, the cause of convulsions in a dog or cat may be intracranial factors - metabolic and toxic, and other diseases in distant organs.

In this case, theoretically deletion causes of epilepsy may cure the patient.

If e.g. we have a patient suffering from glycemic disorders (disturbances in blood sugar levels, e.g. diabetes), and convulsions are a consequence of a drastic decrease in glucose levels, normalizing it in the blood will reduce convulsions.

Likewise, when a pet has been poisoned, expelling the toxin from the body can result in disruption an epilepsy attack.

So much for the theory.

In practice, the conditions and diseases that cause convulsions in the dog are usually severe and it is not always possible to bring the animal to full health.

It turns out more than once that patient suffering from epilepsy it requires some kind of surgery and general anesthesia, and takes it constantly antiepileptic drugs.

What should be done in such a situation?

It is essential to inform the operating physician or the anaesthesiologist about it, because then it is required the use of an appropriate model of safe anesthesia.

Some drugs used in anesthesia can cause seizures by lowering the seizure threshold.

We must also remember that they are metabolized in the liver, which as a result of long-term administration antiepileptic drugs may not be fully functional, and therefore recovery from anesthesia may be delayed.

Briefly own coincidence

Personally, I have had convulsions in my practice more than once in a dog or myself status epilepticus and I must say clearly that sometimes the treatment deviates from the standard regimens.

There is nothing wrong with the use of trained algorithms and procedures, but as life shows, sometimes they require modification and adaptation each time to a specific clinical case.

I remember exactly the case of a young Labrador who was several years old with a diagnosed one idiopathic epilepsy, which treated phenobarbital it had escalating seizures.

After conducting thorough blood tests, along with the determination of the serum concentration level of the drug, I decided to introduce another one an anti-epileptic drug.

Only after such a procedure, multiple tests and multiple dosing of drugs, it was possible to reduce the frequency of attacks to the level acceptable to the owner.

The treatment process itself, however, lasted several weeks and would undoubtedly not have been possible had it not been for the dog's great determination.

Why am I mentioning this?

Probably to make everyone realize that treatment of epilepsy it is not really simple, and therapeutic success is always the result of a very close collaboration between the dog's doctor and the dog owner.


Treating epilepsy allows you to live a fairly normal life

Epilepsy is a very complex disease and I do not always manage to fully control it.

It requires constant, lifelong treatment and close cooperation with a veterinarian.

Unfortunately, the disease imposes more responsibilities on the owner of a sick dog and is associated with greater costs.

At the same time, it allows for a fairly normal life, because between attacks the animal remains "fully healthy", and thus allows you to enjoy the presence of the dog and gives many wonderful moments and reasons for joy together.

Hope you already know what they can be causes of epilepsy in your dog or cat, how to recognize the disease and how to treat it.

If you have questions related to epilepsy, or you want to learn more about the therapy itself - now add a comment under the article.

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