Epilepsy describes reoccurring episodes of seizures. The condition is characterized by a disorder of brain function, which leads to uncontrolled nerve cell activity. These uncontrolled orders cause altered behavior, cramps, seizures and attacks, or as much as unconsciousness. Primary epilepsy is differentiated from secondary epilepsy.
Epilepsy can be defined in the following manner, first by the variety of epilepsy itself, and second, the type of attack that occurs. Epilepsy is usually divided into two types: primary epilepsy and secondary epilepsy. Primary epilepsy usually develops between 1 and 3 years of age. However, one should note that it is possible for primary epilepsy to develop at different stages of the animal’s life. Once primary epilepsy ensues, it gains in frequency and intensity with increasing age. Pure-breeds are more commonly affected. Genetic predisposition for epilepsy is known to exist in Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Collies, Beagles, Tervueren, Dachshund and Keeshond. Also, a genetic predisposition can be concentrated in individual family lines. Secondary epilepsy follows the underlying disease and may affect dogs of all ages. As for epileptic attacks, it is helpful to distinguish two types: the general and partial attack. Symptoms of a general attack affect the whole of the brain, while in a partial attach only certain areas of the brain are affected. Generalized epileptic attacks are more common, which are also referred to as "grand mal" seizures. Typical symptoms of a "grand mal" seizure are sudden stiffness of the whole body, rolling of the eyes, loss of consciousness, uncontrolled urinating and defecation as well as repeated and often rhythmical cramping of the extremities. After a general attack, the dog is exhausted and communication with his environment is minimal to non-existent. Blindness may also occur. The animal may remain in a state of attack for a varying stretch of time, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes. In the event of a partial epileptic attack, the animal becomes mostly conscious. Symptoms are twitching of individual limbs, unilateral (one-sided) cramps or constant compulsive repetition of certain movements. Changes in behavior such as sudden aggressiveness, unprovoked barking and howling, anxiety attacks or snapping and swallowing of imag
Primary epilepsy may have a genetic predisposition or can be acquired. In the case that it is rooted in a genetic predisposition, the dog has inherited an uncommonly low cramping meaning that the nerve cells are easily over-stimulated nerve cells, which commonly causes epilepsy. In the acquired variety, a strong stimulus is necessary to lower the cramping threshold and trigger an attack. The exact causes are not fully understood. It is assumed they involve genetic defects of certain areas of the brain, which take place on a cellular level. Furthermore, a secondary variety of acquired epilepsy exists which is triggered indirectly. It involves pathological conditions, which can lead to attacks similar or identical to those of primary epilepsy. However, secondary epilepsy can always be linked to a defined injury, damage or impairment of one or more organs. The origin(s) of secondary epilepsy may be both located inside the brain or outside of it. Factors causing secondary epilepsy include high fever, metabolic disorders, infections (i.e. distemper), renal- or hepatic insufficiency, poisoning or brain tumors.
Diagnosis For successful treatment of epilepsy the exact underlying cause has to be determined. First of all, the epilepsy has to be diagnosed as either primary or secondary. In order to do so all possible causes have to be examined, especially if no genetic or inherited predisposition is suspected. Diagnosis is performed by means of general and neurological examination, blood and urine analysis as well as x-rays, CT, MRI or EEG. Diagnosis of primary epilepsy is usually completed after a vet has eliminated the possibility of secondary epilepsy. Therapy Therapy varies with the type of epilepsy. The primary variety warrants the administration of anti-convulsive medication. These drugs suppress uncontrolled activity of the nerve cells but often have serious side effects, and have to be chosen by a vet for each patient individually. Medication does not cure the condition but merely relieves symptoms. Medication and other treatment should not be discontinued abruptly, as this might trigger new attacks. In secondary epilepsy treatment is aimed at the underlying cause and may differ greatly. Prognosis In primary epilepsy the chances of healing are as much as 30% if treatment is initiated early enough in life. In secondary epilepsy, treatment is aimed at the provoking cause. Therefore, prognosis for recovery depends upon the underlying disease. In almost all cases intensity and frequency of the attacks may be reduced medically and thus allow the patient a good quality of life. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better the chances are for a successful treatment.
Epileptic attacks may potentially develop into a life-threatening situation. Owners should consult a veterinarian immediately after witnessing the animal’s first attack, as treatment is more effective the earlier the condition is detected.