Quick-Search Epilepsy Info

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This page is intended to provide you quick answers to your epilepsy questions.  Just click on one of the questions below to see the answer, then click again to close.

Please Note:  This information is based on US veterinary practice.  Treatments and availability of medications may vary from country to country.

How do I handle epilepsy in my breeding program?

How is primary epilepsy inherited?

Nobody knows precisely but the few genes identified thus far are not the cause of epilepsy in all breeds and, unfortunately, are not apparently involved in Australian Shepherd epilepsy. The only thing that is clear is that the inheritance is complex: It may involve multiple genes, gene regulation (things that turn genes on/off or up/down), or genes that confer risk factors. It is possible that environment may play some role – it clearly sometimes provides a trigger for seizures – but the roots of the disease are genetic.

Which bloodlines are safe from epilepsy?

Unfortunately, epilepsy has become such a widespread problem in Aussies that there are very few, if any, bloodlines that have been untouched by the disease. The only advice we can give is to do extensive research into any prospective crosses, examining the extended family history of siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. of prospective mates. In short, you should examine not only your dog’s “vertical” pedigree, but also the “horizontal” pedigree. Responsible breeders will spend the time and know the risk involved with their breeding stock, and should be able to give you specific details as to the incidence of IE in their bloodline(s).

How can I find out which lines have experienced epilepsy?

The easiest way to begin researching which lines have experienced epilepsy is to network with other breeders and ask questions (breeders who are supporters of ASHGI’s 10-Steps Program are a good place to start!) You can also research pedigrees via ASHGI’s IDASH Open Health Database. Because some people are better informed than others and some are more willing to admit when there are problems it is important to get input from as many people as possible in the bloodlines that you are researching.
You may also be contacted by other breeders who are researching your bloodlines. For the sake of this breed we all love, please be honest and candid with them about any affected or carrier relatives you know about, and ask them to keep you apprised if they find any you aren’t aware of. By networking with each other and sharing our information, we can all take steps to avoid making more “unlucky” crosses.

How do I evaluate risk?

ASHGI’s IDASH Pedigree Analysis Service will evaluate risk for epilepsy and a variety of other inherited diseases, defects, and faults on dogs you own or litters you have bred.

How does having an affected or carrier dog affect my breeding program?

The degree to which one’s breeding plans are affected by the appearance of an affected or carrier dog in the horizontal or vertical pedigree depends on how recently in the pedigree the dog appears. Obviously, affected individuals should not be bred, and neither should first-step relatives (parents, offspring, and siblings) of the disease.

But what about dogs who are not first step relatives or affected dogs? This area becomes a bit more gray, because while there is a very good argument for not breeding close relatives of affected and carrier dogs, we also cannot afford to eliminate all dogs in the gene pool who meet this criterion–to do so would risk further constriction of the gene pool to the point where the remaining “epilepsy-free” individuals might have higher-than-normal frequency for genes that contribute to some other genetic disorder. Relationship to a dog with epilepsy should be considered a fault; the closer the relationship the greater the fault. For dogs that are not first-step relatives that fault needs to be weighed with the individual’s other virtues and faults before a breeding decision is made.

The decision about whether this type of dog should be bred is a highly personal one, and is largely dependent on the would-be breeder’s comfort with risk-taking. In any case, the people buying offspring from any high-risk breeding should be notified in advance of the risk their puppy carries, so that they can make the best choices possible for their dog.

I have a seizing dog

Potential causes of seizures

  • Primary Epilepsy – also known as idiopathic, genetic, or inherited epilepsy. Epilepsy is assumed to inherited when no diagnostic evidence can be found to explain the cause of seizures. It is a case of ruling out every other possibility. The first seizure in a dog with primary epilepsy usually occurs between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. The age of onset and family history may suggest a genetic basis for primary epilepsy if there is a familial history of seizures.

 

  • Secondary Seizures –refers to seizures for which an underlying cause can be determined. Some possible causes include:
    • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
    • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid)
    • Drug reactions in dogs with the MDR1 mutation
    • Infections causing brain damage (such as canine distemper, Cryptococcosis, etc.)
    • Toxicity (ingestion of lead paint chips, insecticide, poisons, etc.)
    • Brain tumor
    • Portosystemic shunts. Improperly routed intestinal blood vessels bypass the liver (one of the body’s important waste-product detoxifiers)
    • Cobalamin malabsorbtion
    • Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis
    • Acepromazine – can reduce the seizure threshold and thus bring on a seizure.
    • Trauma
  • In dogs less than one year of age, the most commonly-found causes of seizures can be broken down into the following classes: degenerative (storage diseases); developmental (hydrocephalus); toxic (lead, arsenic, organophosphates, chlorinated hydrocarbons, strychnine, tetanus); infectious (distemper, encephalitis, and others); metabolic (such as transient hypoglycemia, enzyme deficiency, liver or kidney failure); nutritional (thiamine, parasitism); and traumatic (acute injury). In dogs 1-3 years of age, a genetic factor is most highly suspected. In dogs 4 years of age and older, seizures are commonly found in the metabolic (hypoglycemia, cardiovascular arrhythmia, hypocalcemia, cirrhosis) and neoplastic (brain tumor) classes. Under each age category (the age when seizures first occurred), the possible causes (etiology) are approximately listed as the most likely first and the least likely cause last.
    • Less Than 1 Year of Age
      • Anomaly: hydrocephalus.
      • Inflammatory:
      • Infectious – Viral: canine distemper; parasitic; bacterial; fungal
      • Immune mediated
      • Metabolic:
        • Hepatic – portosystemic shunt; Autoimmune thyroiditis (early stage: TgAA positive); Hypoglycemia; Electrolyte disorders
        • Toxic: Single or combination vaccines; Lead; Drug related; Other exposures
        • Trauma: Acute; Delayed
        • Degenerative: Storage disorders
        • Primary (Idiopathic) Epilepsy
      • Between 1 – 5 Years of Age
        • Primary (Idiopathic) Epilepsy
        • Inflammatory:
          • Infectious – Viral: canine distemper; parasitic; bacterial; fungal
          • Immune mediated
          • Metabolic:
            • Hepatic – Thyroid dysfunction; portosystemic shunt; Hypoglycemia; Electrolyte disorders
            • Anomaly: hydrocephalus
            • Trauma: Acute; Delayed
            • Toxic: Single or combination vaccines; Lead;
            • Drug related; Other exposures
            • Neoplasia: Primary; Metastatic
      • 5 Years of Age and Older
        • Neoplasia: Primary; Metastatic
        • Metabolic:
          • Thyroid dysfunction; Hypoglycemia – insulinoma;
          • Hepatic – cirrhosis; Electrolyte disturbances
          • Vascular:  Focal ischemia – Thromboembolism; vasospasm
          • Hemorrhage: hypertension; vasculitis
          • Inflammatory:  Infectious – Viral: canine distemper; parasitic; bacterial; fungal
          • Immune mediated
          • Primary (Idiopathic) Epilepsy
          • Degenerative
          • Toxic: Lead; Drug related; Other exposures

What to do if your dog has a seizure.

  • Note the time to determine how long the seizure lasts.
  • Keep your hands away from the dogs’ mouth. The dog will not swallow its tongue, but may unintentionally bite you.
  • Gently pull the dog by the scruff of its neck away from adjacent dangers (stairs, streets, pool, fireplace, and electrical wires).
  • If your dog is on a hard surface, a blanket or something soft under the head my help to avoid injury.
  • Keep the dog as quiet as possible. Loud or sharp noises may prolong the seizure or make it worse.
  • Removed other dogs from the area, as they may disturb or attack the seizing dog.
  • Remove children and other animals from the area for safety and so you can concentrate on the dog.
  • If possible, take a video of a seizure; seizures rarely happen in the vet’s office and observing the dog’s behavior may help the vet make an accurate diagnosis.  If you have previously made a video but the dog’s behavior during seizures changes markedly, make another video for the vet.
  • If the seizure lasts more than five minutes or if several shorter seizures occur consecutively, get veterinary assistance immediately.
  • Note a complete description of the seizure in a seizure log: frequency, duration, and severity, as well as any behavioral abnormalities associated with the seizure. An accurate description is important because there are other conditions with symptoms that mimic seizures, such as cardiac and/or pulmonary disease, narcolepsy, cataplexy, myasthenia gravis, and metabolic disturbances.

Helping your dog after a seizure

Following a seizure, your dog may be completely disoriented and will attempt to restore its body’s needs; hunger, thirst deep sleep, barking and insecurity are all normal. Allow your dog to drink freely and eat small amounts of food; however avoid excessive food consumption because it could trigger vomiting. If your dog is pacing or seems disoriented, confine it to a comfortable crate or a small room to prevent injury until normal behavior returns. If overheating occurs due to prolonged or multiple seizures, a blowing fan, wet jacket, or cool cloths applied to the feet and abdomen will assist in the cool down. If you have multiple dogs, separation or protection may be necessary. A seizing dog can trigger the “pack” instinct in which an injured animal is attacked. Monitor your other dogs in this situation.

After a seizure, your dog may exhibit some of the following behaviors: bumping into walls and doors, restlessness, autonomic discharge and transient blindness. For many owners, this is just as distressing as the actual seizure. Always remain calm – your dog’s behavior often reflects your behavior. If your dog is anxious or fearful, sit and comfort it.

You may find it helpful to give your dog a small dose of rescue remedy and/or a small amount of vanilla ice cream immediately following a seizure. The reason for this is that rescue remedy tends to have a calming effect on a dog and the ice cream helps restore the blood sugar level in the dogs’ body that tends to drop drastically during a seizure. Not only does it taste good, but bringing the blood sugar level up to normal can help to prevent additional seizures. Low blood sugar itself can cause seizures. If your dog has very obvious pre-seizure behavior and you give a little ice cream before a seizure happens, this can sometimes stop the seizure altogether. You might want to thaw the ice cream a bit by letting it sit out on the counter or “zapping” it in the microwave briefly.

Who should I tell about my dog?

It is most important that you share information about your affected dog with those people who have a stake in his pedigree. Obviously, your dog’s breeder is the first person who needs to know, in case either of your dog’s parents is still being actively used in their breeding program. Then, depending on your relationship with your breeder, you should coordinate efforts to notify the stud owner, and any owners of full or half siblings. Ideally, the task of notifying owners of siblings should fall to the breeder, since few puppy buyers know or have relationships with all the owners of his or her dog’s siblings, so this is where it is very important to have an honest and supportive breeder to help out. If by some chance your breeder is not honest or supportive and indicates to you that he or she is unwilling to share this information with the stud owner or owners of full and half-siblings, it may fall to you to get in touch with those owners you are aware of, to let them know. It will be awkward, but the information is important, and hopefully they will be thankful you told them.

After the owners of your dog’s relatives, another, perhaps equally important place to share your information and provide blood samples to the ongoing Aussie epilepsy research studies. IT IS CRITICAL THAT WE HELP THE RESEARCHERS HELP US, TO SAVE THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD AS WE KNOW IT. The researchers will maintain your data in complete confidentiality.
Another set of people you should tell, are any interested parties who may approach you doing pedigree research. As mentioned elsewhere in this website, these people most often honestly seeking information to help them make more informed breeding decisions, they are not usually out on a witch hunt. They are seeking information, not ammunition, and your information might be the one piece that makes a difference!
Finally, if you know your dog’s parents or pedigree, consider submitting your dog’s diagnostic documentation to the IDASH Open Health Database.

Why should I go public about my dog’s seizures?

Nobody who’s had to watch helplessly as their beloved pet is gripped in the throes of a grand mal would ever wish that experience on anyone else. But without knowing about the affected dogs in a pedigree, breeders are doomed to continue breeding proven carriers and other close relatives, to the misfortune of those who purchase puppies from these crosses. And thus, the cycle will repeat itself.

The only way we can stop this cycle is to start sharing information about our affected dogs, in an honest, candid manner. Some people who have grown up in the “old school” of purebred dogs, where one is taught to sweep one’s genetic problems under the rug and out of the public eye, will likely be resistant to the notion of broadcasting the names of affected and carrier dogs. It is important that we change this trend, and for all of us to approach the matter of sharing information about IE (and other genetic diseases) in an open and supportive manner. It’s the only way we’re going to get a handle on it!

Treatments for Seizures

Each dog is different, so is their ability to metabolize medications. In order for any drug therapy to be effective, the amount of the drug in the body must be consistently monitored and adjusted to accommodate each individual dogs own body chemistry. No two dogs will react the same way to the same drug in the same dose. So, initially you must observe your dog, communicate with your vet, monitor your dog’s blood levels, and adjust the type or quantity of medication given accordingly.

Medications used to control seizures:
Phenobarbital (PB)
• the most commonly prescribed drugs for the treatment of seizures
• most epileptic dogs can be controlled effectively with PB alone
• relatively inexpensive
• fairly easy to maintain PB serum levels with 2 or 3 times a day daily dosing
• few side effects other than some interaction with the liver
• Dogs on Phenobarbital need to have their liver enzymes tested every few months using the following tests ALT (SGPT), AST (SGOT), GGT, and Alkaline Phosphatase.
• available by prescription in pill capsule or liquid form
Potassium Bromide (KBr)
• should be considered for dogs whose seizures are considered refractory (not controlled by another AED (anti epilepsy drug)
• Combining potassium bromide and phenobarbitol may be useful for patients who do not respond well to phenobarbital or primidone alone.
• is the anticonvulsant of choice for dogs with liver disease as it is not processed by the liver
• preferred for dogs with kidney problems
• effective in controlling cluster seizures
• should be given with food and not on an empty stomach
• available by prescription in pill capsule or liquid form
Kepra (Levetiracetam)
Very helpful if Phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide are not enough to control seizures.
Few side effects and does not affect the liver

Primadone (Mysoline)
• metabolizes into Phenobarbital within the dogs’ system.
• can also cause liver damage.
• some dogs who do not respond to PB will respond to Primadone.

Felbamate
• often beneficial for dogs who are resistant to PB and KBR.
• can also cause liver damage.
• extremely expensive
• requires dosing every 8 hours

Diazepam (Valium)
• available as an injectable, oral, or rectal application
• good choice to halt a cluster seizure or interrupt status epilepticus.

Gabapentin
• one of the newer AEDs (anti epilepsy drugs.
• offers some exciting potential for use in dogs.
• most often used as a secondary (or add-on) drug to help treat seizures that cannot be controlled by other AEDs alone
• has been recommended by board certified neurologists for seizure control.
• only partially metabolized by the liver in dogs
• can be used in combination with liver-metabolized anticonvulsants (i.e. Phenobarbital
• must also be given at least three times a day to have effective serum drug concentrations.
• rather expensive

Dilantin
• currently not recommended for use in canines to control seizures.
Other drugs that may be used: Valproic Acid, Zonisamide

Alternative Treatments to control seizures:
• Acupuncture
• Gold Bead Implants
• Chinese Herbs
• Homeopathic Remedies and Flower Essences
• Diet
• Vitamin and Mineral supplementation
These treatments can be done alone or in conjunction with traditional seizure medications, but be sure to discuss your decisions with your vet or vets. Some methods may contradict or counteract one another, and it is best to make your vets aware of all your protocols. In addition, remember that it is important not to delay prompt or aggressive treatment for dogs having severe seizures. Consider using traditional medications first to get the seizures under control and then incorporate alternative methods into your program with the goal to be to reduce your dogs’ drug intake. Each dog is different, so is their ability to metabolize medications. In order for any drug therapy to be effective, the amount of the drug in the body must be consistently monitored and adjusted to accommodate each individual dogs own body chemistry. No two dogs will react the same way to the same drug in the same dose. So, initially you must observe your dog, communicate with your vet, monitor your dog’s blood levels, and adjust the type or quantity of medication given accordingly.

– Tips for living with an epileptic dog.
o Never leave your IE dog alone with other dogs. If your dog were to experience a seizure, the other dogs might attack it.
o If you must leave your dog unsupervised, secure him in an area where he cannot accidentally injure himself during a seizure (falling down steps, knocking over unstable or top-heavy items, falling into a pool, etc.)
o If you must be away from home and there will be no adult at home who can look after the dog, make sure you make arrangements for appropriate supervision and care for the dog from people knowledgeable about his condition, informed on how best to care for him, and both willing and able to deal with a seizure should one occur.
o If you have children, instruct them in how to behave should they see the dog have a seizure for their own protection and the dog’s. Do not leave very young children unsupervised with the dog.

I’m concerned about Primary (hereditary) Epilepsy

What is primary epilepsy? Why does it happen?

  • Primary Epilepsy, epilepsy or “epi” for short, may also be called “idiopathic” epilepsy (IE.)  The disease is typified by repeated seizures over time which cannot be positively linked to a specific cause by any diagnostic test or exam.  This type of seizure disease is now presumed to be hereditary though in some instances environmental factors may “trigger” the onset of seizures.

What are the different types of seizures?

  • Focal or Absence Seizure – this can be as simple as momentarily staring into space or a brief upward eye movement with no loss of consciousness.
  • Petit Mal or Partial Seizure – movements is restricted to one area of the body, such as muscle jerking, movement of one limb, turning the head or bending the trunk to one side, or facial twitches. Dog is usually alert and aware of his surroundings.
  • Complex Partial Seizure – during this type of seizure, a dog’s consciousness is altered and he may exhibit bizarre behavior associated with bizarre such as lip-smacking, chewing, fly biting, aggression, vocalization, hysterical running, cowering or hiding in otherwise normal animals. Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal distress, salivation, blindness, unusual thirst or appetite, and flank biting are other signs. Abnormal behaviors may last minutes or hours and can be followed by a generalized seizure.
  • Grand Mal, Generalized, or Tonic Clonic Seizure – this type of seizure begins with contraction of all skeletal muscles and loss of consciousness. The dog usually falls to his side with the legs stretched out and the head back. Respiration may also stop (apnea). This is the tonic portion of the seizure, and it is usually very short in duration and quickly gives way to the clonic phase of the seizure. The clonic phase of the seizure is characterized by paddling of limbs, dilation of pupils, salivation, vocalization, chewing, loss of control of bladder and bowels. This phase may occur for 1-3 minutes and is most often followed by a period of restlessness, pacing, bumping into objects and loss of balance. (Post Ictal period) The dog is conscious but may appear deaf, blind and disoriented.
  • Status Epilepticus – status can occur as one continuous seizure lasting 10 minutes or more, or a series of multiple seizures in a short time with no period of normal consciousness.
  • Cluster Seizure – more than 1 seizure in a 24-hr period, sometimes with only brief periods of consciousness in between. It can be difficult to tell status epilepticus from frequent cluster seizures; but both are considered life-threatening emergencies.

How do I recognize a seizure?

Seizures can be very subtle or very obvious, depending on the dog and the circumstances. Any abnormal behavior that is out of character for your dog and that appears to be neurological in nature, could be considered a seizure. Seizure activity may be very different than what you would normally expect, i.e.: a dog that falls over, jerking or paddling its limbs. Quite the contrary, a seizure can be something a subtle as a dog becoming disconnected for a moment and then suddenly snapping back to reality or a dog whose pupils dilate and who suddenly starts salivating for no apparent reason. All of these things should be a source of concern and should be monitored for increased occurrence or for more severe symptoms. If you suspect your dog may be having subtle seizures, discuss the circumstances with your vet, or make an appointment with a veterinary neurologist to get a more accurate assessment.

Seizures occur in several distinct stages:
• The Prodome – may precede the seizure by hours or days. It is characterized by changes in mood or behavior.
• The Aura – signals the start of the seizure. Signs include restlessness, nervousness, whining, trembling, salivation, affection, wandering, hiding, hysterical running, and apprehension.
• The Ictus, the actual seizure – a period of intense physical activity usually lasting 45 seconds to 3 minutes. The dog may lose consciousness and fall to the ground. There may be teeth gnashing, frantic thrashing of limbs, excessive drooling, vocalizing, paddling of feet, uncontrollable urination and defecation.
• The Post Ictus/Ictal – occurs after the seizure, and may be the only sign of epilepsy the owner sees, particularly since many seizures occur at night or early in the morning. For minutes to days after the seizure, the dog may be confused, disoriented, restless, or unresponsive, or may appear blind and deaf and eat or drink excessively. At this stage the animal is conscious but not functional.

I think my dog might have had/be having a seizure. Is it epilepsy?

Although family history may be a strong indication of whether your dog’s seizures are likely to be primary epilepsy, the disease is normally diagnosed when all other possibilities have been eliminated—and there are several other medical conditions that can sometimes cause seizures.  For more information on this click on “Potential Causes of Seizures.”   If you think your dog is having seizures, click on “”What to do if your dog has a seizure” for a recommended protocol to follow that will help your vet with diagnosis.

List of Quick Resources

o Canine Epilepsy Resource Center
o Epi-K9 Discussion List
o Current Aussie Epilepsy Research
o Find a neurologist on the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine website. Scroll down to “specialty”, click the drop down, and select “neurology.”

What can I do to help fight epilepsy?

How are we going to save the Aussie from this disease?

We can only save the Aussie from epilepsy if we work together to do so. That means supporting research with both samples and donations – ASHGI has been a major supporter of Aussie epilepsy research and welcomes donations for that cause. Adhere to the principles of ASHGI’s 10-Steps program. If you are a breeder, know your breeding dogs’ epilepsy risk levels and share that information when you plan litters

What does the IDASH Pedigree Analysis Service have to do with epilepsy?

ASHGI’s IDASH Pedigree Analysis Service provides breeders with a way to determine how much risk their dogs carry for a variety of inherited diseases, defects, and faults including epilepsy. In the early 1980s, C.A. Sharp, ASHGI’s first president, started collecting health data. Her archives and those accumulated by ASHGI provide the basis for the pedigree analysis reports. Knowing how much pedigree risk a dog has for epilepsy or any of the other inherited issues enables breeders to make informed breeding decisions.

How can the IDASH Open Health Database help fight epilepsy?

If owners submit data on epileptic dogs that meets the IDASH criteria, that information will be available indefinitely for anyone researching pedigrees. Knowing which dogs have had epilepsy and which have produced it will help breeders make informed breeding decisions that will lead to the reduction of epilepsy cases.