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For the love of you pet: Idiopathic epilepsy

By By John Beck
Feb. 14, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 13, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.


My dog just had his first seizure or what we thought was a seizure. I took him to our vet, and he said he couldn't find any reason for my dog to have a seizure and said it was probably "a seizure of unknown cause." What is a seizure of unknown cause, and why did my dog have one? Where do we go from here?

Seizures of unknown cause are referred to as idiopathic epilepsy. Idiopathic is the medical term for a disease or disorder of unknown cause. Epilepsy is a brain disorder where an animal has sudden, recurring attacks, with or without loss of consciousness.

So, idiopathic epilepsy is defined as a brain disorder characterized by recurrent seizures in the absence of structural brain lesion. For your veterinarian to come to this conclusion, they usually run a basic blood panel to check major organ function and take x-rays to rule out brain lesions or tumors.

Idiopathic epilepsy is thought to be age-related and assumed to have a genetic basis. Usually, seizures are not predominant in males or females, but some breeds seem to be at a higher disposition than others. Beagles, shepherds, boxers, cocker spaniels, collies, border collies, dachshunds, golden retrievers, Irish setters, Irish wolfhound, keeshonden, Labrador retrievers, poodles (all sizes), St. Bernards, Shetland sheepdogs, Siberian huskies, English springer spaniels, Welsh corgis and wire fox terriers are listed as some breeds that seem to at a greater genetic risk of idiopathic seizures.

If your pet appears dazed, seeks attention, hides or appears frightened suddenly, this may be an indication of the onset of a seizure. The actual seizure can cause your pet to fall to its side, become stiff, chomp its jaws, salivate profusely, urinate, defecate, vocalize or paddle with its feet.

It can be just one of these symptoms or a combination of many of these symptoms. In most cases, the seizures tend to last between 30 seconds and two minutes. After the seizure, your pet will probably seem confused or lost. Offering a familiar place to recover can be very helpful.

If your pet has a seizure that lasts longer or has several seizures in a row, immediate medical treatment may be necessary to stop the seizure and prevent internal injury to your pet. If your pet has only had one seizure and everything checked out OK at the veterinarian, you might be in the clear.

One or two episodes does not usually require that your pet be on a regular anticonvulsive medication. Charting your pet's seizure activity can be very useful. Record everything that happened the day your pet had a seizure. If you had guests, a full moon, it rained, it was very hot outside, etc.

You might notice a pattern when you look back at your notes and find a trigger that might elicit the onset of the seizures. If you do find a trigger, your veterinarian can advise you in ways to help prevent or lessen the intensity of the seizure. If the seizures become pretty consistent, your veterinarian might put your dog on an anticonvulsive medication to help control them.

If you still have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.

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