IDIOPATHIC EPILEPSY – WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG OR CAT HAS A SEIZURE

Seizures are a common neurological condition seen in both cats and dogs, which can occur when there is abnormal electrical activity within the brain. The appearance of a seizure varies depending upon the area of the brain affected. Often the animal is unaware of what is happening, but it can still be distressing to see your pet having a seizure. That’s why we’ve spoken to our pet health expert about seizures in pets, the symptoms and what we should do.

What is epilepsy?

The term “epilepsy” is used to describe a condition that results in reoccurring seizures, with various causes. Some identifiable causes can include:

– Brain lesions

– Abnormal blood glucose levels

– Toxicities

– Inflammation

– Infection

The most common form of epilepsy, however, is primary or idiopathic epilepsy. This can be hereditary and certain breeds are predisposed to developing epilepsy, such as Beagles and Keeshonds. Typically, idiopathic epilepsy presents in younger animals, between six months to six years old, and can become a lifelong disease.

What to do if your pet has a seizure

The most important first step if your pet has a seizure is to not panic:

– Ensure your pet is in a safe place, moving any potentially dangerous objects out of their way.

– Keep any external stimuli, such as bright lights and noise, to a minimum.

– Don’t be tempted to try to hold your pet or place your fingers in their mouth.

– If your vet has prescribed rectal diazepam, this can be administered as instructed when it is safe to do so.

– Try to monitor and record the seizure. Time the length of the seizure and, if you can, consider filming it. The more information your vet has, the better.

Types of seizures

There are two different types of seizures; partial or focal seizures (petit mal) and generalised seizures (grand mal). A partial seizure develops with a change in electrical activity in one area of the brain. These can then develop into generalised seizures in which the whole brain is affected. Epileptic seizures generally last one to two minutes, with symptoms including:

– Facial twitches

– Staring into space

– Teeth Chattering

– Shakes

– Jerking and paddling limbs

Certain types of seizures can be life-threatening, such as prolonged seizures (status epilepticus) or cluster seizures – several full seizures happening within a short time frame. Your pet may require intensive hospitalisation to manage these life-threatening seizures.

Stages of a seizure

A seizure can be broken down into several stages:

– Pre-ictal stage. Before the seizure, the animal may develop subtle differences in their behaviour, such as seeking out their owner more.

– Ictal stage. This is the seizure itself, where you’re likely to see the symptoms above.

– Post-ictal stage. After the seizure, your pet may not return to normal straight away. This can last up to 24 hours, in which time the animal may display unusual behaviours. Abnormal eating or drinking patterns, disorientation and transient blindness can all occur in the post-ictal stage.

Examinations

If your pet does develop epilepsy, it is important that you take them to see your vet, who can help to rule out any potential underlying causes. They will conduct a full examination. Blood tests are also recommended, and your vet may suggest further tests, such as an MRI scan. Keeping a seizure diary, recording the time, duration, appearance and severity of the seizure, as well as any possible trigger factors, could help your vet identify the cause of the seizures.

When other causes have been eliminated, your vet may diagnose your pet with idiopathic epilepsy. This can be managed with anti-epilepsy drugs (AED), and lifelong treatment may be required. Seizure medications can have some undesirable side effects and may not be required if your pet has had a single seizure, or several isolated seizures separated by long time periods. Remember to contact your vet immediately if your pet experiences their first seizure, they show continued neurological symptoms, they have more than 2 seizures within 24 hours, or their seizure lasts for more than 2 minutes.

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