Epilepsy in Pets

Recently I treated a Coonhound with epileptic seizures that had been going on for approximately a year and were happening every week. This can be very alarming and disheartening for the guardian of such a pet. Fortunately for this dog, we were able to stop his seizures completely after a dose of a homeopathic remedy and a change to a raw natural diet. He has been seizure-free for nearly three months now.

It is not always this straightforward to help an epileptic pet. Some may require lifelong medication to control the seizures. Others have seizures so infrequently that it is simply better advice to let these few “fits” happen rather than using anticonvulsant drugs. I have found that homeopathy and diet can help some of the epileptics I see.

Epilepsy simply refers to repeated seizures. Seizures may occur as a one time event in an animal from a variety of different causes. Only if the seizures become repetitive over a period of time do we call it epilepsy.

If we can identify the cause of the seizures, then we say the pet has symptomatic (or secondary) epilepsy. That is, the seizures are a symptom of a disease process we’ve been able to identify. If we’ve looked and can’t find the cause, then we call it idiopathic (or primary) epilepsy. The term idiopathic simply means that we don’t know the cause. A number of these idiopathic cases may have inherited epilepsy, a mutation of a gene they inherited from their parents.

Some of the known causes for seizures include toxins, infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria, tumors, organ disease such as liver failure, thyroid gland disorders, and others, including vaccines.

Seizures occur when all the neurons within a section of the brain are stimulated to fire at once, causing multiple, conflicting stimuli to be sent to the rest of the body. This could also be referred to as an “electrical storm” in the brain. All animals will seizure if the brain is stimulated strongly, for example if an animal is struck by lightning or electrocuted by chewing on an electrical cord. Clinical seizures develop when the brain is stimulated at a lower threshold.

Seizures vary in intensity and duration. Some seizures involve abnormal stereotypical behavior, such as biting at invisible flies. Petit mal seizures are defined as those causing little to no loss of consciousness or involuntary motion on the part of the animal. Cats are most likely to exhibit abnormal behavior or petit mal type seizures.

Grand mal seizures are the typical seizure, with loss of consciousness, inability to stand and paddling of the limbs, and perhaps involuntary urination and defection. Status epilepticus is defined as continuous seizing or intermittent seizing without regaining consciousness between; this condition is life threatening.

For purposes of homeopathic treatment, the minute details of what your pet does just before, during and after the seizure are very important. For example, some may fall always on to their right side, others flip over backwards, some are very hungry or thirsty right after, and others may be withdrawn. Each of these pets is reacting to his problem in a different way and may receive a different remedy.

Epilepsy is one of the most common diseases of the nervous system in dogs, but no one knows for sure just how common it is. Some studies estimate up to 4% of all dogs are affected. In some breeds, the incidence may be higher and some families may have up to 14% epileptics. Epilepsy occurs less frequently in cats and other pets, possibly because it has less of a hereditary basis in these species.

Epilepsy most often is an unpredictable disease. Some pets appear to have seizures very regularly, while in others, seizures may be brought on by certain conditions such as stress or weather changes. For many epileptics, there is no pattern to their seizures.

Idiopathic epilepsy is a diagnosis by elimination. If no other causes for the seizures can be found, we make the diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy. A minimum work-up for any pet having seizures would be blood tests to rule out organ dysfunction. Any other tests performed beyond this is a matter of clinical judgement.

Should your pet have a fit DON’T PANIC. It is usual for a fit to last several seconds only. Approach the animal with care. Roll him/her onto a blanket away from furniture and drag clear from harm e.g. an open fire. Do not handle your pet. It is important to remove all stimuli e.g. dim the lights, switch off the TV/radio and keep quiet.

Observe the patient well, as your observations can be of great assistance and help your vet to make a diagnosis. It is usual for the convulsions to settle after 1-3 minutes and recovery is usually complete within minutes to hours. During this time, there is little that you, the owner, can do to help. Telephone your vet at a suitable time for an appointment to have your pet examined.

Living with an animal that has epilepsy can be trying, but with the appropriate education about the disease and armed with the right treatments, your life can be as close to normal as it can get.

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