Seizures have been linked to various conditions including toxins, abnormal electrolyte levels, low blood sugar, high fever, trauma, tumors, or even mechanical pressure exerted on the brain. Other common causes also include Canine Distemper and Eclampsia due to low calcium levels in pregnant or lactating dogs. There are also episodes of epilepsy with no defined causes and is termed idiopathic epilepsy or an undiagnosed seizure disorder.
Epilepsy in labradors can occur at any age but most cases have been observed before the dog reaches the age of 5. The condition is characterized by varying degrees of severity and response to treatment. There are cases of epilepsy that eventually calls for euthanasia while there are mild cases with excellent prognosis.
Clinical studies have shown that predisposition to epilepsy is often inherited.
Epileptic seizures are highly unpredictable. They vary in frequency, length, and manifestation. Some dog owners may observe a pattern in the timing of seizures.
Seizures have been grouped into several types depending on their severity. Partial seizures affect only a certain part of the body and are often linked to a brain lesion. On the other hand, generalized seizures affect the whole body and are further subdivided into two types—grand mal and petit mal. Grand mal seizures are more common compared to petit mal. A dog experiencing a grand mal seizure usually falls on its side and exhibits an uncontrollable muscular activity and appears as if it is kicking, swimming or paddling. The dog may involuntary defecate and urinate with profuse salivation. The dog is not aware of its surroundings, actions, and even the persons around.
The “Status Epilepticus” is the most severe form of seizure wherein the dog undergoes one or more succeeding grand mal episodes even if it has not recovered from the first bout. The dog may actually suffer succeeding bouts of seizures for many hours. Medical attention is urgently needed with this type of epileptic seizure.
Dogs experiencing petit mal seizures do not undergo convulsions but loses consciousness. Most dog owners may say that their dog just collapsed.
Diagnosis is often made by conducting a physical examination and laboratory tests that include urinalysis, complete blood count, and biochemical profile. Other important diagnostic tools include a cerebro-spinal fluid analysis, toxicology studies, and specific tests for infectious diseases. For severe cases, MRI or CT scan are strongly recommended particularly in middle aged to geriatric animals in an effort to establish the presence of brain tumors or lesions of the nervous system.
There is no successful treatment for idiopathic epilepsy but supportive therapy can help control the severity and frequency of seizures. Long term medications also serve to increase the brain’s resistance to abnormal electrical impulses which have been linked to seizures.
In dogs, Phenobarbital is the drug of choice however the side effects may warrant the use of other medications. In cases where drug therapy is given, frequent monitoring and regular labwork is necessary.
Severe cases of epileptic seizures may warrant hospitalization to prevent the occurrence of more severe bouts of epilepsy which can prove to be life-threatening. Most mild cases don’t require any treatment at all.