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Treating the Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs

Living with Epilepsy in Your Dog

By Madeleine Burry. April 03, 2013 | See Comments

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Treating the Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs

It can be scary to hear that your dog has epilepsy, but medication and careful attention can help you continue to give your dog a great quality of life.

Epilepsy in dogs can occur as the result of an injury, or can sometimes develop for unknown reasons. It’s possible that hereditary reasons play a role in why some dogs develop epilepsy. The symptoms of epilepsy in dogs can make life a challenge, but it is possible to give your dog a great quality of life.

With epilepsy comes occasional seizures, which have roughly three phases:

  1. Aura: This is the name for the period before the seizure, during which you’ll possibly notice a change in your dog’s behavior. Your dog may be more vocal -- whining or barking -- or be nervous, shy away at nothing, or salivate. This period can last between seconds and hours.

  2. Ictal phase: During this phase, your dog will have a seizure, potentially over in just seconds, but also possibly extending for a few minutes. With a grand mal seizure, your dog will lose consciousness. During a seizure your dog may become incontinent, can bark or attack at nothing at all, or shake and quiver.

  3. Post-seizure: After the dog’s seizure, or the post-ictal phase, your dog may be tired, confused, and restless. This can last for varying amounts of time.

It can be a real challenge to distinguish between these three phases, which have some similar signals. Identifying seizures can be further complicated by their ability to occur while your dog is sleeping, which makes the seizures fairly undetectable.

Treatment of Epilepsy in Dogs

While there are drugs available to treat epilepsy, these drugs work to reduce the number of seizures and how long they last -- they do not eliminate seizures entirely. There is no cure for epilepsy; only an alleviation of the symptoms is possible. Drugs for treating epilepsy -- including phenobarbital and potassium bromide -- are given orally, and should be given at the same time each day. Typically, once treatment begins, it lasts for your dog’s entire life. Do not stop giving medication to your dog without consulting your veterinarian first, since it can be very problematic for your pet.

Monitoring Your Dog’s Symptoms

Once your dog has been diagnosed and is being treated for epilepsy, you will play an important role. You should ideally track any seizures that you can spot -- of course, some may occur that are so mild and unobtrusive that you won’t know they happened. As best as you can, note whenever a seizure occurs and the duration of the episode. You’ll need to visit the vet a couple of times a year for your dog’s blood to be tested, and you can share the information you’ve been compiling about your dog’s seizures with your vet.

During a Seizure

A seizure can be a terrifying moment. If the aura period has been subtle, it can feel like the dog’s symptoms are coming out of nowhere. When your dog is having a seizure, here are a few simple steps you can take:

  • Stay calm: your stress won’t help your dog, and it won’t help you accomplish potentially helpful tasks that can reduce your dog’s risk of injury. You can talk to your dog in a soothing voice to comfort both the dog and yourself.

  • Move: Either move your dog, or, if it makes more sense, move potentially dangerous objects away from them. Since your dog is not in control of their movements, they will not be able to avoid sharp objects.

  • Monitor: Remember, it’s a good idea for you to keep track of the duration of your dog’s seizure. Set a timer on your cell phone or note the time. Not only will it help your vet to have this information, but if the seizure lasts a long time, it can be dangerous. It’s hard to trust your sense of time when something scary is happening, so it’s helpful to have a marker of the starting point. If your dog’s seizure lasts more than five minutes, call your vet, and be prepared to take your dog to the vet immediately. (Another reason to visit the vet is if several seizures -- what are called cluster seizures -- occur in the span of a 24-hour period.)

  • What not to do: Don’t worry about your dog swallowing their tongue, and don’t put yourself in danger by putting your hand in your dog’s mouth. Your dog can’t control their actions during a seizure, and could potentially injure you.

  • When it’s over: Even when the seizure is over, stay by your dog who will likely be confused. Offer comfort by petting your dog and talking to them.

While seizures can be scary, with attention, you can prevent your dog from injuring himself. And on a non-seizure day, other than giving your dog daily medication, the quality of life for your pet is the same as it would be for any other dog.

A survey published by JAVMA found that despite the challenges that accompany the diagnosis – the need to monitor and medicate your pet, the increased costs, and the chance of an epileptic episode – people whose dogs had epilepsy still felt their dog’s quality of life was high. The main finding was that while people were aware of the challenges of epilepsy, their relationship with their dog was still rewarding, and the dog’s quality of life did not feel extremely diminished. Despite everything, the rewards of living with a dog with epilepsy can be greater than the challenges.

More on Dog Care

OCD in Dogs
Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health
Anxiety in Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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