In the Doghouse

Health - November 29th, 1974

by Dr. Herb Friedman

This article is in response to many requests received for an explanation of canine epilepsy. This particular syndrome is puzzling to the ordinary pet owner and always causes a great deal of anguish.

Most veterinarians run into cases of epilepsy quite often, but for some reason some fail to make the pro­per diagnosis or treat it properly.

This is not always the fault of the veterinarian because the syndrome is diagnosed strictly by signs and symptoms related by the worried pet owner who often gives confusing infor­mation.

The typical case of epilepsy begins somewhere after the animal reaches adulthood and is usually initiated by a stress factor such as giving birth to puppies, having a new ani­mal introduced into the household, etc. Both sexes are susceptible to epileptic episodes and the condition is seen much more frequent­ly in the dog than in the cat.

All breeds of canine are victims of this condition but in my experience, it is much more frequently seen in the smaller breeds such as the Dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, Toy and Miniature Poodle, Maltese, Pug and Sheltie. Animals that ap­pear most sensitive and nervous seem especially prone to the syndrome.

A typical case of epilepsy begins when the animal, who up to this time has appeared very normal, top­ples over and begins to moan or scream while lying on its back and kicks all four legs in an extended position. Foam may or may not be coming from the mouth but the animal ap­pears glassy-eyed and oblivious to its environment and surroundings.

Sometimes the animal does not scream but almost always lets out a moan as if to warn that he is in distress. Most animals will fall over and many lose con­trol of their bodily functions during the seizure and in­voluntarily urinate and defecate during this time of extreme nervous activity.

The seizures usually last from one to five minutes in duration and when they arc over, the animal will appear exhausted, lie still for a while, and then slowly get to its feet. Often the animal will head for the water bowl and the food dish and eat and/or drink huge amounts. In a short while, the animal once again appears normal and may never experience such an episode again.

More frequently however, the first incidence makes the second more easy and likely to occur. Probably, this is due to the excit­ability threshold of the nervous system being lower­ed. In any case, renewed epileptic seizures should be expected. They may occur every month or more fre­quently, or once or twice a year. Many times, the owner is out when the seizure occurs and only sees the probability that it had oc­curred upon his return home.

There is no cure for epilepsy in animals or in man—only methods of con­trol. The best treatment is daily administration of Dilantin with or without phenobarbital, depending on the severity and frequency of the seizures.

If you are giving the animal his medicine faith­fully as prescribed, you are doing all that is possible. There are conditions that approximate epilepsy but differ enough that a wrong diagnosis should be avoided. Poisoning with some of the chemical poisons will cause a depression and may have marked muscle spasms or epileptic-type seizures.

However, if treatment is prompt and correct, and if the animal survives, there is no logical reason to ex­pect a recurrence. Physical injury to the head or neck area may bring about simi­lar symptoms such as ob­served with epilepsy. Usually however, there are ex­ternal signs that physical injury has occurred and probably the extent of the injury can be seen on X-ray examination. The most confusing and discouraging cases are those of brain tumors that affect the same area of the brain as those centers that bring about epileptic seizures.

When this occurs, the similarity of symptoms is uniquely alike and the veterinarian and pet owner will both be very discourag­ed when the medication has no effect and the condition of the animal continues to deteriorate.

The animal may suddenly go blind and then shortly afterwards lose balance and coordination. The prognosis in such a case is never good and usually, euthenasia is the most humane answer. With epilepsy however, the pet owner should never give up hope because whereas medications cannot exact a cure, it can keep the con­dition under very satisfac­tory control.