Pets and epilepsy

Posted on: 06 January 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

Epilepsy can affect animals too, so it's wise to be aware of the signs.

epilepsy in petsPets can be affected by epilepsy, a neurological disorder caused by disorganized nerve impulses in the brain. It is characterized by fits which occur when the limbs go rigid, then shake and kick.

Types of epilepsy

The most common form of the illness is primary (idiopathic) epilepsy. Sufferers usually have their first fit between the ages of one and three years old and it will most likely occur when they are relaxing or asleep.

"There is no warning of primary epilepsy because there is no specific cause," explains PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Elaine Pendlebury. "In fact, the animals are typically in good health, and unless they have parents or siblings with epilepsy, the fits can come as a total surprise and few owners are prepared for what they see."

Secondary epilepsy is likely to be the cause of fits in a pet with a brain tumour or a pet which has suffered previous trauma, such as a head injury, a serious infection like meningitis, or if the brain has been starved of oxygen.

The seizure process

An epileptic seizure is preceded by the aura, a stage in which the pet senses that the seizure is about to take place. The owner might notice a change in their pet's behaviour, as it may try to hide from, or stay close to them, or become aggressive. After this, the seizure itself will take place.

The pet becomes unconscious and will fall on its side, often paddling its legs in the air. Many dogs will urinate or defecate at this stage. The seizure usually lasts for about two or three minutes, then the animal will be confused and disorientated.

What to do during a seizure

Keep calm and remember that the fitting pet does not feel any pain.

Remove furniture in close proximity to your pet and prevent them from falling from a height such as down stairs or off a sofa.

Make sure your pet cannot harm itself by rolling into a heater or fire, sharp corners or anything that may obstruct its breathing.

Switch off the TV, radio and any bright lights to create a more relaxed environment.

Make a note of how long the fit lasts, and inform your vet of the frequency and severity of any seizures. You should also be aware of your pet's breathing patterns, eye dilation or motion, any salivating, body twisting and muscle twitching.

Once the seizure is over, it is important to be there for your pet as your presence and attention will be a comfort while they regain consciousness.

Treating epilepsy

If your pet experiences a fit, it is essential you contact your vet and provide as much information as possible about the episode. Your vet can then determine any further treatment.

Medication is available to help reduce the intensity and duration of seizures. Pets usually require lifelong treatment for epilepsy and it's important treatment is given regularly. It's also important to maintain a balanced diet and regular exercise routine, unless the cause of the epilepsy is low blood sugar or a heart condition.

Dogs with epilepsy must have a suitable diet and exercise regime. Your vet will be able to advise you about this.

Web Links

www.pdsa.org.uk

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