Downeast Dog News


By Dr. Judith Herman | Sep 01, 2018

Q. My two year old poodle, Sophie, had a seizure this week. The veterinarian said it was epilepsy. Can you tell me what epilepsy is?

A. Epilepsy is the term used for repeated seizures. Seizures can occur as a one time event for many reasons. When seizures happen many times, this is what is called epilepsy. The seizures can come every few days, weeks, or months. They can cluster in a single day too. Sometimes we can find the cause of seizures, such as, a brain tumor, liver disease, or following a head injury. This is defined as symptomatic, or secondary epilepsy. When the cause isn’t found, we call it idiopathic or primary epilepsy. Idiopathic is a term we use when the cause is unknown.

A dog with idiopathic epilepsy may have inherited it from his parents. It is important to let the breeder know if your dog has epilepsy. They can take steps to avoid that breeding and try to remove the disease from their line. It may have been caused by an event too small to detect in the brain or at whelping.

If your dog starts to seizure, contact your veterinarian right away. She will take a thorough history to see if the dog was exposed to anything toxic, any accidents, or any other possible triggers. Next an exam including a neurologic examination, which will evaluate behavior, coordination, reflexes, and neural functions. From there, blood work will be done, such as a complete blood count, routine serum chemistry profile, urine analysis, and thyroid function tests. Sometimes a test for ammonia levels in the body are done. These tests are bile acid assays or ammonia tolerance test. In New England, a blood lead is also done to rule out lead poison.

Some causes for seizures that are identifiable would be abnormal thyroid function, either high or low, too high cholesterol with hypothyroidism, liver shunt, infectious diseases, such as distemper, and vaccinations that triggered seizures in susceptible dogs. These causes are identified with further testing.

To rule out other possible causes for the seizures, further tests may be needed. If your pup is out of the 1 to 3 year range ,which is the common time for idiopathic epilepsy to show up or there are abnormalities found in the work up, your veterinarian may recommend more tests and possibly refer you to a neurologist. There was one study that showed over one third of the dogs between the ages of one to five had an identifiable cause for seizures. Further tests may include an MRI or CT of the brain to evaluate the structure of the brain, a spinal tap to evaluate the fluid in the central nervous system for infection and clues to other brain diseases, antibody titers in the blood and spinal fluid to identify specific cause of an infection, toxin tests indicated from the history or findings from the exam, and an electroencephalogram, which records the brain wave to look for an electrical storm. This additional work is something you and your veterinarian will discuss.

Seizures are an electrical storm in the brain. The brain works in a balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurons. When the balance is off and too many excitatory neurons are triggered at the same time, a seizure occurs.

If the cause of the seizures are not correctable or not found, then treatment is necessary. The main course of action is medication that will calm down the electrical storms in the brain. These medications have to be given daily and cannot be stopped suddenly. Adjustment to the dosage needs to be done with the supervision of your veterinarian. If the medication is stopped or lowered too quickly, a cluster of seizures can occur which can be life threatening. When your pup is put on anticonvulsants, medication to stop seizures, your pup will need to be examined by your veterinarian at least one time a year.

Alternative modalities and diet changes may help control the seizures in conjunction with medication. Acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal medicine have positive effects on some seizing companions. In some cases a ketogenic diet has also helped reduce seizures. This diet is low in carbohydrates and high in fat. It is a low inflammatory diet, which in some cases, have reduced seizures. Supplements such as DMG, dimethylglycine (an amino acid) , and CBD oil (caution not all CBD oils are the same) have helped some dogs. Valerian root is an herb that has helped when there is a break in the dog’s medication. Before doing any alternative modality or supplements, discuss it with your veterinarian or a certified alternative veterinarian.


Judith K. Herman, DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME 04345