PETS & VETS: Seizures and epilepsy in your pet: what to do and how to treat them

Advice from Michael Morrow, St Vincents Veterinary Surgery

There are very few things as stressful for a pet owner as witnessing their pet having a full seizure type event.

Most owners have never experienced a person or animal having a seizure first-hand, and to see one’s own pet in such a state is extremely distressing. There can also be a sense of helplessness during the fit itself.

The most important thing at this point is to stay calm and to minimise light and loud noises.

Typically, if your dog had a sudden seizure we would advise closing the curtains and lowering the lights, turning off music or televisions and sitting calmly and quietly with the dog, (obviously taking care during a full blown seizure that you or your family aren’t injured by the fitting animal as well as protecting the animal from hurting itself).

Then call your veterinary practice for advice, but avoid the temptation to run to the car and rush to the vets as this can create an additional level of stress. The exception to this is if there are multiple seizures with little or no respite between fits.

This now becomes a medical emergency and it is vital to seek veterinary attention immediately.

The veterinary team will be able to advise you on how to proceed and should be contacted in the case of both mild or more serious cases.

Seizures can pose a diagnostic challenge as there are many possible causes.

The age of the animal, frequency and severity of seizures and any other clinical signs can guide us in our diagnostic workup. When we speak to clients on the phone after witnessing a single seizure we take a full history and description of the event, and arrange a clinical examination and screening blood test to rule out underlying disease processes.

In addition, we may refer the animal for a neurological assessment and MRI scan of the brain at one of the many excellent referral centres available to us. In most cases of seizures in younger animals we are left with a diagnosis of epilepsy after ruling out these other possibilities.

In the case of suspected epilepsy we ask the owners to start a fitting diary, where they record the date and time of the event, any unusual stimulus, the length and severity of the seizure and the duration of the recovery period before the normal behaviour is apparent again.

This diary is an extremely important tool in the management of seizures. It is not unusual for dogs to develop epilepsy between two and five years of age, and this can be quite unexpected in an otherwise healthy animal.
While there is always a temptation to start medicating any animal after witnessing a fit, the decision to begin therapy should be carefully weighed up against a lifelong treatment and potential side effects of the drugs used.

I use three criteria to determine whether or not to start therapy: The frequency of the fits, the severity of the event itself and the length and type of recovery period. This is why the fitting diary is so important.

So, a dog having multiple mild seizures two or three times a day would be a candidate for treatment, as would a dog having a severe seizure with a long difficult recovery period but only occurring once or twice a month.

On the other hand, a dog having a seizure three or four times a year with an uneventful recovery would probably be advised to hold off on treatment at that point in time.

Most treatment options involve drugs that lower the excitability and reduce the likelihood of a seizure event occurring.

We need to find a balance between reducing the frequency and severity of seizures whilst not over sedating the animal. Once therapy is initialised we repeat blood tests to monitor drug levels as well as the general health of the pet on a regular basis, and most cases respond favourably to a first line medication. In some cases we may need to trial alternative drugs or use the first line drug in conjunction with ancillary medication.

Should you have any concerns about your pet’s health, please contact the practice and arrange an appointment to discuss with one of our veterinary team.

St Vincents

Michael Morrow owns and runs St Vincents Veterinary Surgery, a family owned practice providing personal care for pets in and around Wokingham. For more, visit www.stvincentsvets.co.uk or find them on Facebook

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