What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain dysfunction that affects the nervous system.  It is the most common nervous system disease in dogs, but is quite rare in cats.  A thorough examination performed by a veterinarian, along with other diagnostic tests can help distinguish between an isolated seizure and epilepsy.

Seizures can have several different stages.  There can be a phase where the animal’s behaviour is altered, warning that a seizure may occur.  The second phase is the seizure itself and is associated with uncontrolled muscle activity.  The animal then goes through a recovery phase, where they can still display abnormal behaviour for a period of time following a seizure.  These stages can vary in length, and this is important information to discuss with your veterinarian.

Seizures can be categorized into two basic types of seizures, including generalized or partial seizures.  In a generalized seizure, the animal loses consciousness and goes through tonic-clonic movements of the entire body.  This type of seizure is seen with idiopathic epilepsy, or metabolic or toxic disorders.  With focal seizures, the animal remains conscious, although this may be somewhat altered.  There will be a focal repeated movement of some area of the body.  This type can evolve into generalized seizures, and can be much harder to control.  Focal seizures are more common in cats.

What Causes Seizures?

There are many causes of seizures, which is why it is very important to have your animal examined by a veterinarian.  The causes of seizures are divided into 2 categories:

1.  Extracranial causes usually lead to generalized seizures and are rare.  These causes are outside of the brain but have effects on brain function.  These can include toxins, metabolic diseases, liver disease, or rarely, kidney disease.
2.  Intracranial – These are the most frequent causes of seizures in dogs and cats.  They can be disorders with observable pathologic lesions such as: tumors, inflammation, degeneration, or congenital (meaning birth) malformations of the brain.  Other causes also include genetic and idiopathic epilepsy where brain lesions cannot be found.

How Are Seizures Diagnosed?

For the veterinarian to reach a diagnosis on an animal having recurrent seizures; a number of factors must be taken into consideration:
– Type and frequency of seizures, and age of animal at the onset of seizures are the most important factors.
– Breed of dog or cat (some breeds are more likely to develop epilepsy than others)
– History from the owner
– Physical and neurological exams
– CBC, biochemical profile, and urinalysis (to help rule out metabolic diseases)
– CSF tap (cerebral spinal fluid) and MRI (these tests are only performed in certain cases)

What Can I Do At Home?

If your pet has a seizure at home, there are a few things you can do to help.  Place your pet’s head on a towel or pillow and remove any surrounding objects so it doesn’t injure itself.  Darken the room you are in and gently stroke or talk calmly to your pet.  Remember to keep your hands away from their mouth because you might get accidentally bitten! If the seizure lasts more than a minute or two, this could be an urgent emergency.  Call your veterinarian!

Also be aware that your pet may not act normal for some time after their seizure, so please use caution in handling them.

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