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Causes and Prevention of Epilepsy in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Causes of Canine Epilepsy

Dog Epilepsy can be caused by a number of things, each of which ultimately lead to abnormal electrical activity of the brain. The exact mechanism that triggers seizures is not known. Typically, epilepsy is classified as being either idiopathic (of unknown origin and presumed to be genetic) or symptomatic. Idiopathic epilepsy, which is also referred to as “true epilepsy,” has no diagnosable cause during life or upon autopsy after death and is more common in certain breeds, although it can occur in any breed and in mixed breeds. Symptomatic or acquired epilepsy does have an identifiable physical cause, such as a brain tumor, head trauma or a disorder of the endocrine system.

Prevention of Epilepsy

Dogs suffering from seizures of unknown origin should not be bred because of the potential genetic component of idiopathic epilepsy. This is especially true in predisposed breeds. Intact females with epilepsy should be spayed, since estrus is thought to increase seizure activity, strength and/or frequency. Dogs diagnosed with epilepsy should not be allowed to swim, as a seizure during swimming can lead to drowning and death. Abrupt withdrawal (or a skipped dose) of oral epilepsy medications can cause the onset of additional seizures. Research is ongoing to try and identify a gene or genes responsible for epilepsy, so that carriers of the condition can be screened before they are bred.

Special Notes

While seizures are of course disturbing for dog owners, they usually are not life-threatening, although seizures that last a long time or recur in a short period of time do require immediate treatment. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy usually behave normally between seizures (this is called the “interictal” period). If the epileptic episodes can be controlled, which they normally can be, most dogs will enjoy a relatively normal length and quality of life.

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