For the love of you pet: Understanding idiopathic seizures

By Shana Bohac
Feb. 13, 2014 at midnight
Updated Feb. 12, 2014 at 8:13 p.m.

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 in which the 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 the conclusion of true idiopathic epilepsy, he or she usually runs a basic blood panel to check major organ functions.

There are also infectious causes of seizures that may be indicated in the blood work. If the white blood cell count is extremely high or very low, then your veterinarian may recommend an infectious disease titer.

In order to rule out brain lesions or tumors, a MRI or computerized tomography scan is necessary.

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 risk. 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 be 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 and/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 and may have some fine muscle tremors. Offering a familiar place to recover can be very helpful.

If your pet has a seizure that lasts longer than the "regular" duration or has multiple seizures in a row, immediate medical treatment may be necessary to stop the seizure and prevent internal injury.

One or two episodes do not usually require that your pet be on a daily anti-convulsive medication. Charting your pet's seizure activity can be very useful.

If your pet begins to have more than one seizure a month or prolonged seizure activity, then medication may be warranted.

It is best to record everything that happened the day your pet had a seizure. For example, if you had guests, there was a thunderstorm, 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 you would like to submit any questions, please feel free to do so.

Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to



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