Seizures can be quite sub­tle or dra­matic, but they are treat­able

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

TO WIT­NESS a dog have an epilep­tic fit, or a seizure, is very dis­tress­ing. Of­ten our thoughts will turn to epilepsy which, al­though it does oc­cur in dogs, is not the only cause of seizures.

Seizures can be caused by low glu­cose or cal­cium lev­els in the body, poi­sons, liver fail­ure, kid­ney fail­ure, some can­cers, or trauma to the head or neck, to list just a few.

In all of us the nerves in the brain are con­stantly send­ing ex­ci­ta­tory im­pulses.

These are lim­ited by the brain’s own in­hibitory im­pulses and is a finely tuned process.

It is thought that in cases of peo­ple with epilepsy there is a chem­i­cal im­bal­ance that re­duces the in­hibitory im­pulses re­sult­ing in ex­ces­sive stim­u­la­tion or ex­ci­ta­tion of the brain.

Seizures are not all the same. Some can be very sub­tle, others dra­matic. Sub­tle signs can be star­ing into space, twitch­ing fa­cial mus­cles, weak­ness or spasms in a limb or mo­men­tary loss of aware­ness (ab­sence seizure).

A gen­er­alised seizure (grand mal seizure) is when the pet will fall to the floor, the legs will be­come rigid and stretch out and the whole body will jerk and twitch (ton­ic­clonic seizure). The dog will be un­re­spon­sive. Some dogs show ab­nor­mal be­hav­iour be­fore a seizure. This could be rest­less­ness, at­ten­tion-seek­ing be­hav­iour or hid­ing away (pre-ic­tal phase).

Af­ter a seizure some dogs re­cover quickly while some are dis­ori­ented and off-bal­ance for a vari­able amount of time (post-ic­tal phase).

Own­ers of epilep­tic dogs of­ten be­come at­tuned to their dog’s be­hav­iour and are able to recog­nise the signs and pre­dict the event. Ca­nine epilepsy usu­ally starts in dogs as young as one year old and as old as about six years.

Al­though it can hap­pen in any breed and very oc­ca­sion­ally in cats, it is most com­mon in Ger­man shep­herds, Bor­der Col­lies, Golden Retriev­ers and Labradors.

It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that al­though dis­tress­ing to watch, epilep­tic seizures are rarely fa­tal. In some dogs when the seizures are to­tally un­con­trolled they can get into a cy­cle of a clus­ter of seizures over a short pe­riod, called sta­tus epilep­ti­cus. This si­t­u­a­tion is con­sid­ered an emer­gency as the ex­ces­sive mus­cle ac­tiv­ity will raise body tem­per­a­ture dan­ger­ously high, po­ten­tially caus­ing dam­age to the brain, heart, liver and kid­neys.

What to do if your dog has a seizure? Keep calm. Move the dog into a dark­ened area, qui­eten all noise and re­move by­standers from the area. If nec­es­sary move any­thing away from the dog which may cause it harm. You can soothe and stroke your pet. Re­mem­ber not to put your hand into any seizur­ing an­i­mal’s mouth as you can get badly bit­ten.

If you have your cell­phone with you, film the episode in­clud­ing the re­cov­ery pe­riod. If there is a pos­si­bil­ity of your pet hav­ing been poi­soned, take the pet, and the sus­pected poi­son in its orig­i­nal con­tainer, to the vet. Be­fore a di­ag­no­sis of ca­nine epilepsy is made all other causes of seizures need to be ruled out. This will re­quire a de­tailed his­tory from the owner, a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion, blood tests and even X-ray or MRI scans. In some cases a sam­ple of fluid cir­cu­lat­ing around the brain (cere­bro-spinal fluid) might need to be taken and tested to rule out in­fec­tious or in­flam­ma­tory con­di­tions.

Any un­der­ly­ing prob­lems must be treated and fu­ture prog­no­sis will rely on this.

Once ca­nine epilepsy has been con­firmed, treat­ment can start. Most cases are easy to treat and the med­i­ca­tion is quite af­ford­able. The aim of treat­ment is to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the fre­quency and sever­ity of seizures. But most epilep­tic pets will con­tinue to have some seizures. Thus man­age­ment, not cure.

Treat­ment is in the form of phe­no­bar­bi­tone, given as tablets, a syrup or a paste. The ini­tial dose is cal­cu­lated and then needs to be mon­i­tored and ad­justed as your vet feels nec­es­sary. Some dogs are very sleepy for the first week or two of treat­ment. Some dogs re­quire ad­di­tional med­i­ca­tion such as potas­sium bro­mide in­stead of/or in con­junc­tion with the phe­no­bar­bi­tone. It is very im­por­tant to have twice yearly blood tests to check the lev­els of phe­no­bar­bi­tone in the blood, which should be at a safe and ef­fec­tive level.

The med­i­ca­tions, al­though fairly safe, do have side ef­fects such as in­creased thirst, uri­na­tion and ap­petite. In­creased ap­petite can lead to weight gain so it may be nec­es­sary to dis­cuss a diet with your vet.

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