Epilepsy in dogs & cats
What is epilepsy?
A common neurological condition, epilepsy causes multiple regular seizures in sufferers. These seizures, or fits, are caused by uncontrolled or abnormal amounts of electrical activity in the brain – when this electrical activity misfires, the impulse is sent from cell to cell, causing increased activity. Seizures can last for a few seconds or for minutes.
While all cases are different, epilepsy seizures can present themselves singularly or in clusters, and it’s important to note that your animal can have seizures without actually being epileptic.
What are the symptoms of epilepsy?
Much like in humans, epilepsy in dogs and cats presents itself in a series of regular seizures.
Both cats and dogs experience the three seizure phases:
- The pre-ictal phase – strange or abnormal altered behaviour in which your animal may appear restless or anxious. This behaviour can start hours before a seizure.
- The ictal phase – the seizure itself.
- The post-ictal phase – after the seizure, your animal may seem sleepy, disoriented and confused and will often be restless for a few hours.
How do I know if my dog has epilepsy?
Epilepsy in dogs presents itself in two types of seizures, the most common of which is the generalised, or grand mal seizure, during which a dog is likely to lose consciousness. Generalised seizures can last for seconds or a few minutes. The second is a focal seizure, whereby the excess electrical activity only occurs in one part of the brain, causing unusual movements, such as twitching or stiffening, in a certain part of the body. These seizures usually only last a few seconds.
It’s important to note that seizures can start off as focal, and then develop into a generalised seizure.
Common epilepsy symptoms to look out for in dogs include:
- Stiffening of the body
- Jerking movement
- Muscle twitching
- Loss of bowel functions
- Loss of consciousness
How do I know if my cat has epilepsy?
Cats can experience two types of seizures, the more common generalised seizures, and partial seizures, which are less frequently seen.
Common symptoms of a generalised seizure include:
- Spasms or convulsions
- Loss of bowel control
- Partial seizures are hard to see and happen when only a small part of your cat’s brain is affected by abnormal electrical activity.
- Common symptoms include:
- Excessive meowing or growling
- Abnormal body movements
- Common symptoms include:
What should I do if my pet has a seizure?
We know that it can be distressing to see your pet experiencing a seizure. However, it’s important to remain calm. You should document the time, date and duration of these fits, along with any behaviour abnormalities, so you can report back to your vet.
There are a few things you can do during a seizure to help your pet feel more comfortable:
- Dim any bright lights and turn off loud noises such as the television or music.
- Place your pet in a clear space so they don’t injure themselves.
- Let your pet know that you are there but be wary that they may become disorientated or even aggressive.
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
Epilepsy can be caused by several different problems and there is no singular test to determine whether your pet has epilepsy or not. Instead, veterinarians look to exclude certain conditions and will usually begin with a full medical history, including any previous conditions, current medication, the number and duration of the seizures and whether there seem to be any triggers, and will also conduct a physical examination.
What tests are carried out?
Your veterinarian will carry out tests to look for any irregularities in your pet’s health:
- A complete blood count test will provide information and details about both the red and white blood cells, including any abnormalities that might explain the seizures.
- A urine analysis will test kidney function and if there are any abnormal substances present in the body, such as crystals.
- MRI scanning of the brain may be used to examine the brain structure.
These tests are designed to rule out liver, kidney or heart diseases while monitoring blood sugar levels and electrolytes. Additional tests, such as chest X-rays, heart ultrasounds or toxin screens can also be used to determine other underlying health conditions.
How is epilepsy in dogs or cats treated?
When it comes to epilepsy in cats and dogs, an early diagnosis and treatment will help to limit the long term impacts. As soon as your pet begins having regular seizures – normally classed as two or more seizures in 6-8 weeks – they must receive treatment. This is because further seizures can lead to permanent damage. Specific treatments for epilepsy are different depending on the case, however, most are not designed to cure the condition, but rather to gain control of the seizures and lessen their frequency. It’s important to note that even with effective treatment, it is not always possible to entirely prevent seizures.
There are a range of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) available that can be administered to your pet for treatment of seizures. Your veterinarian will determine the right AED based on your pet and will prescribe the right dosage. Some AEDs are metabolised quickly in the liver, meaning your pet may require regular check-ups as drug dosages might need to be altered over time. However, this depends on your pet’s response to treatment.
Is epilepsy in cats and dogs life-threatening?
When it comes to epilepsy in cats and dogs, by receiving the right treatment, there’s no reason why they can’t have a great quality of life. While it is a serious condition, the prognosis is relatively good, however, this can depend on a few factors:
- Seizure frequency
- Treatment options and response
- Any other medical conditions
If you suspect your pet might have epilepsy just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help. If you’re a referring vet, it’s easy to start a referral case.