While epilepsy is an uncommon disease in our pets, fewer than 1 in 100 develop the condition, it is the most common neurologic condition we treat. Just like their human counterparts, pets with epilepsy can lead full, enjoyable lives.
The term epilepsy applies to pets who have at least two unprovoked seizures. Seizures are caused by excessive abnormal activity of neurons in the brain. Seizures can have many causes: ingestion of toxins, liver or kidney disease, previous head trauma, or a genetic predisposition.
Based on your pet’s history and age we often try to predict the most likely cause of your pet’s seizures. . About one third of dogs get diagnosed as idiopathic epileptics, meaning there is a possible genetic cause and other causes of seizures have been ruled out. Genetic causes of epilepsy in cats is much more rare, so a workup is often recommended for them to look for an underlying cause.
Most often, pets are unconscious and unaware they are having a seizure. For pet owners it can be hard to watch your pet experience a seizure as you can feel very helpless when this happens. Below are some guidelines on what to do if you witness your pet having a seizure.
How To React to Your Pet’s Seizure
Watching your pet have a seizure is unnerving, especially when you pet was lying or sitting peacefully just before the seizure started. Keep calm and remember these dos and don’ts:
- Don’t place your hands or face near the pet’s head. The old idea of slipping something into the mouth is wrong: Your pet won’t swallow his tongue, and you may get bitten.
- Do make the animal comfortable if you can do so safely, lowering it to the floor and making sure it can’t fall off furniture or downstairs.
- Do note the length, time of day, and severity of the event, so you can inform the vet afterward and describe the episode.
- Do seek emergency medical attention if the seizure lasts five minutes or is part of a group of seizures, called cluster seizures.
- Do remember seizures are not painful for your pet. A dog or cat may feel like he’s run a marathon afterward. He may be disoriented, tired and especially hungry, and he may need between an hour and a day to recover. He may even have temporary blindness right after a seizure.
What a Vet Looks For
Based on your pet’s history, breed, and age, your doctor my recommend a neurologic work-up prior to prescribing antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) to rule out other causes of seizures. A full blood panel can screen for systemic problems, such as kidney or liver dysfunction and low blood sugar. A blood pressure check might be recommended as chronic kidney disease, common in older cats, can cause high blood pressure that injures the brain. Low blood sugar may create similar problems. Some young dogs can have vessels that bypass the liver, so that the organ doesn’t properly filter blood.
After doctors exclude systemic diseases as a cause of seizures, they use an MRI and a spinal tap to isolate causes within the cranium, such as brain tumors, encephalitis (inflammation or infection of the brain), or stroke.
For pets who experience seizures more than once every one to two months, or for pets with an underlying disease, daily medications are often recommended The most commonly used antiepileptic medications in pets include phenobarbital, levetiracetam, zonisamide, and potassium bromide. Levetiracetam has gained in popularity as a first line AED, because side effects tend to be mild. Phenobarbital remains a standby, with zonisamide and potassium bromide available if others don’t work. Studies on the use of CBD for seizure control on ongoing and early data shows promising effects. For pet’s who are not well controlled on medication, options such as a vagal nerve stimulator are sometimes used.
Many pets never need to see a neurologist for their seizures as your family veterinarian can often recommend when medications should be started and how to monitor your pet once they are on an AED. For pets with more difficult to control seizures, referral to neurologist is often recommended as we have the expertise to manage pets on multiple AEDs and to provide you and your pet the support you need.
CARE is an all-purpose facility for the treatment of pets, similar to a medical center for humans. We give board-certified specialty care based on referrals from primary veterinarians, plus 24/7/365 emergency care. You’ll find a visual tour of the practice at carecharlotte.com/tour.