Living with an Epileptic Dog
Epilepsy is a short circuit in the brain. It is a series of misfires of the neurosynaptic function that ultimately sends confused signals to the body, which creates the uncontrolled fits.
According to Dr. Jeffery Glass of the Animal Kindness Veterinary Hospital in Las Vegas, epileptic seizures are a very frustrating condition. "When a dog comes to us after its initial attack, we perform a series of tests so that we can narrow down the field of possible causes. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in the dog. "Unlike most other conditions, idiopathic epilepsy (primary generalized epilepsy) has no determined cause. There is no way of knowing what might have set off the seizure until a CBC (complete blood count) is run and urinalysis performed."
Are Beagles Prone to Developing Epilepsy
I am not a Vet but rather a long time Beagle kennel owner. I will say that I have owned, raised, and seen a lot of Beagles since I bought my first three Beagles back in 1967. To this date I have never owned a Beagle that has developed epilepsy. I will say that kennels that breed Beagles for rabbit hunting as well as family pets tend to have the healthiest Beagles you can find. The reasoning behind this is that Beagles bred with hunting traits in mind tend to be hardy and healthy enough to withstand hours and hours of rabbit hunting. These breeders have bloodlines that are kept free of genetic faults such as inherent medical problems or bad conformations. They do this through "selective breeding" and "culling." That means the breeder will not keep, breed, or use a Beagle with a known fault such as epilepsy. This prevents this genetic fault from being passed on to future generations of Beagles. If these type Beagle kennels ever get a Beagle with epilepsy, that dog is immediately spayed or neutered and sold with a limited registration so that the dog can never be used for breeding. I also encourage all other Beagles with a dog that has epilepsy to make sure your dog is fixed so it can not pass on this genetic fault to future Beagles. Therefore, if you are looking for the healthiest Beagle you can find I suggest you contact the kennels that breed Beagles for both hunting and family pets. Ask for several references from the breeder and contact the references directly. Ask these folks how they like their Beagle and if the dog has ever developed any type of problems? Remember, a Beagle is a major life purchase that will become a part of your family for a life span averaging 12 to 15 years. DO NOT acquire a Beagle from a kennel or any other source that you have not checked out thoroughly. If you don't know the breeding of the dog, or can not talk to several satisfied customer references from that kennel, then seek your puppy from another source -- it only makes sense to increase your chances of getting the healthiest Beagle possible by doing your homework as an informed consumer (future Beagle owner).
There are three distinct phases of an epileptic seizure.
Phase One (Abnormal Behavior) – fear, nervousness, disorientation, attention seeking. This phase begins with an aura. The dog may show signs of apprehension, anxiety, or agitation shortly before the onset of convulsions. He or she may run to the owner for comfort, or retreat to a hiding place for the duration of the attack.
Phase Two (Seizure Activity) – loss of consciousness, limbs rigid or paddling, salivation, eyes dilated, chomping of the jaw, urination, or defecation. Lasts 30 to 90 seconds. This phase, also called the ictus, is the shaking and convulsing of the body. Typically, this stage lasts a minute or two, but it may continue for longer periods. This is phase is undoubtedly the most worrisome time for owners.
During the first phases of an epileptic seizure, here are some things to do:
Phase Three (After seizure) – excited or depressed, pacing, restless, eating and drinking a lot, staggering, apparent blindness. May last from a few minutes to a few days. Also called the postictal phase, it immediately follows the end of the seizure. Depending on the dog and the severity of the seizure, this phase can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Confusion, anxiety, blindness, disorientation, lethargy, or constant pacing are signs that the dog is having a difficult time recovering from the seizure.
In various levels of epilepsy, the dog may exhibit uncontrolled displays of behavior such as screaming, chewing on air, aggressiveness, and fear. Other symptoms may involve a turning or twisting of one side of the body or head, or episodes of blank staring.
In general, epilepsy is not a life-threatening condition. However, if initial seizure continues for more than a few minutes or several seizures occur one after another, the condition becomes very serious. The dog must be treated immediately or face the possibility of permanent brain damage or even death.
Testing for Epilepsy
After the initial seizure, the veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam to try to determine possible causes, including several diseases that may be linked to the attack. If the first tests do not show any obvious cause, the next series of tests may include a complete neurological examination of the brain stem function, an electroencephalogram (EEG), which records activity in the brain, and a complete blood count.
These diagnostic tests will show any signs of liver or kidney disease, systemic infection, toxins, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), primary brain disease (tumor, meningitis), trauma, or a variety of nutritional deficiencies, including calcium, potassium, sodium and thiamin.
If all of these diseases are discounted, the veterinarian can conclude that the dog suffers from idiopathic epilepsy. This diagnosis is undetectable and incurable. Some dogs may experience only periodic and isolated episodes of seizure activity. They can happen a few times and never occur again.
Most cases of epilepsy begin after 3-years old, but can start as early as a few months. In most cases, puppy epilepsy is attributed to hypoglycemia, which usually occurs after the puppy has had an active period after several hours of not eating. If hypoglycemia is determined, the veterinarian may suggest a solution of sugar and water to level out the blood sugar.
The anticonvulsant prescribed most often is Phenobarbital. It acts to increase the threshold in the brain when a seizure will occur. Treatment is usually lifelong. Phenobarbital is not a cure – your animal may still have seizures occasionally but they will be less severe when on medication. It is highly effective for generalized seizures because it is affordable and easily dispensed by pill, liquid, or injection. The dog is monitored for number and strength of any following seizures and the medication is adjusted accordingly.
Seizures will not damage your dog's brain unless they are very long or happen very frequently. If this occurs then the dog should be reevaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
After 2 to 3 weeks of medication, the Phenobarbital levels in the blood should be checked to make sure they are in the therapeutic or effective range to best control your dog's seizures. This blood should be collected just before the morning or evening treatment is given.
The side effects of Phenobarbital are better than other available seizure medications. Some reactions to Phenobarbital may include central nervous system depression, excessive eating, excessive thirst, and excessive urination. These signs may occur in the first two weeks while the dog gets used to the drug, but should stop after that. Once a therapeutic level of drug is reached, the dog should have a blood test once a year at vaccination time to monitor the Phenobarbital levels and liver function.
Other medications for controlling epileptic seizures are Primidone and Phenytoin. The required dosage for Primidone is higher and more frequent. It has the same side effects as Phenobarbital, but can also create adverse reactions when certain other drugs are mixed with it. Phenytoin is the drug used most frequently on humans, but it is also used for dogs. Its dosage is also considerably higher than Phenobarbital.
Diazepam (Valium) can be used for dogs who have other conditions that prevent them from taking any of the standard drugs. If a known liver problem exists or at one time was treated, Diazepam can be used to calm down the animal, but it is not considered an effective method in controlling chronic cases of epilepsy.
Preventing epilepsy before it strikes, unfortunately, is not an available option, unless the condition stems from head or brain injuries, contact with poisons such as lead, or nutritional deficiencies In the case of genetics, there is no guarantee the dog will ever develop the disorder if a parent is a carrier, but it is highly recommended that dogs diagnosed with epilepsy get fixed so they do not pass on the defective gene to future generations of Beagles.
The most important safeguard for living with an epileptic pet is to be well informed by your veterinarian and to know how to manage the disease.
Do not ever abruptly discontinue Phenobarbital treatment as this may cause a severe seizure. Decrease dose only on advice of veterinarians.