What is Epilepsy?
Seizures are the physical manifestation of uncontrolled and hyper-synchronous electrical activity in the brain and are the most common neurological problem in canines and felines.
How can I tell if my dog has Epilepsy?
Different types of seizure can occur in animals; most typically ‘generalised’ seizures are seen. Generalised seizures cause a loss of consciousness, involuntary repetitive movements, urination, salivation and defecation. Smaller or ‘partial’ seizures involve more focal areas of the brain and may appear as muscle spasms/tremors, abnormal sensations or even hallucinations. Your pet may exhibit any variation of the aforementioned signs however be rest assured that your pet does not feel pain during a seizure and are largely unaware they are occurring.
What is the cause of Epilepsy?
Seizures may occur due to an identifiable cause; like intoxication, kidney disease, liver disease, brain malformations, tumours or inflammation (so called ‘symptomatic’ epilepsy). When an underlying cause cannot be identified, primary or idiopathic epilepsy is the presumed diagnosis. In most cases we assume this is related to an underlying genetic predisposition, but multiple genes and environmental factors are involved in developing epilepsy.
How is Epilepsy diagnosed?
No single test can tell if your pet has primary epilepsy. It is what we call a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ as multiple tests are required to exclude all other causes of seizures. Typically, a diagnostic investigation is split into two parts; firstly to investigate and exclude diseases where the seizures are caused by a problem outside of the brain, secondly to investigate and exclude those within the brain itself. Your pet will most likely have a blood sample taken and a urine sample as part of the diagnosis process.
Primary epilepsy most likely has a complex genetic and environmental cause. It is rare that vets and scientists have been able to identify the genes responsible in individual animals or dog breeds; however, several dog breeds are known to have a higher ‘familial’ risk of epilepsy, the same may be true for cats. Most epilepsies are ‘poly-genic’, involving mutations in lots of genes. This means that unlike recessively inherited genetic diseases, breeding to prevent epilepsy is very difficult and primary epilepsy can be diagnosed in any individual animal of any breed despite multiple normal generations and litters.
How is Epilepsy treated?
It is possible for most epileptic animals to have an excellent quality of life. However, epilepsy is a chronic and occasionally progressive disease that will need to be managed.
There are many different anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) available for the treatment of epilepsy. Your neurology clinician or primary care vet will determine which AED is suitable based on the type and number of seizures your pet has had, but also on licensing, formulation, and cost considerations.
What is the prognosis of Epilepsy?
The prognosis for epilepsy is typically good although it is largely dependent on the number of seizures an animal suffers.