Brain Disease in Dogs: Epilepsy

Epilepsy is defined as a brain disease in dogs that causes recurrent seizures with no underlyingBrain Disease in Dogs: Epilepsy disease process as the cause.  Thus, seizures are a sign of epilepsy.  It is important to differentiate epilepsy from the other causes of seizures because the prognosis for the dog may be better if it has epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a brain disease in dogs that can be classified as true, idiopathic and inherited or as acquired and non-inherited.

The treatment of true and acquired epilepsy is often the same.  The differentiation of these two forms of brain disease in dogs becomes important when determining the desirability of breeding a purebred animal that has seizures.   Dogs with true, inherited epilepsy can pass the trait to their offspring.

Prognosis can vary with these two forms of epilepsy.  True epilepsy of German Shepherds, Saint Bernards and Irish Setters tends to have a poor prognosis for control of seizures.  In these breeds, the seizures tend to occur in multiples and increase in frequency regardless of the anticonvulsant therapy.  The animals are often euthanized or die within 1-3 years of developing the seizure disorder.  However, these same breeds of dogs can also develop acquired epilepsy in which the prognosis can be good for control of the seizures.  So, differentiating between these two forms of brain disease in dogs is important for prognostic purposes.

True or inherited epilepsy as a brain disease in dogs

True or inherited epilepsy is a brain disease of dogs that are purebred, and rarely occurs in dogs of mixed breeds.  Seizures in true epilepsy are suspected of being due to a biochemical defect in the cortical neurons or groups of subcortical neurons of the cerebrum that periodically spontaneously discharge.  The first seizures of true epilepsy most commonly start between 6 months and 3 years of age.  The seizures are usually the severe generalized type, lasting 30-90 seconds.

Inherited epilepsy is a brain disease in dogs that can only be confirmed by studying breeding histories and performing breeding trials showing that it is carried from generation to generation of offspring.  Breeds found to have inherited epilepsy include Beagles, German Shepherds, Keeshonds, Irish Setters and Tervueren Shepherds.   Other breeds suspected to have this form of epilepsy include Miniature Poodles, Golden Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Cocker spaniels and Saint Bernards.

Acquired or non-inherited epilepsy as a brain disease in dogs.

Epilepsy can develop as a result of some cerebral insult to the brain that produces permanent damaged.  The damage is often mild and produces no neurological defects other than the seizures.  A previous inflammatory, traumatic, toxic or metabolic insult may produce this form of brain disease in dogs.  Although the active disease process that caused the brain insult may be resolved, the animal continues to have periodic seizures.  As in the case of true epilepsy, a focus of neurons in the cerebrum has been altered biochemically that causes them to discharge spontaneously.

Acquired epilepsy is a brain disease in dogs that may occur in any dog, pure or mixed breed. Brain Disease: Epilepsy and Dogs  There is usually a delay between the original insult and the first seizure.  As a result, most seizures begin after 6 months of age.  Unlike true epilepsy, the seizure type in this form of epilepsy is either partial or partial with secondary generalization. This type of seizure can be differentiated from a generalized seizure if some degree of asymmetry can be detected.

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Dr Stephen Atwater

Stephen W. Atwater, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (oncology) is a board-certified veterinary oncology specialist. His professional interests include utilizing emerging therapies for difficult to treat cancers.

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