Dogs and cats with epilepsy

There are many possible causes of seizure disorders in pets

Epilepsy in our pets is defined as the repetitive seizures of unknown origin occurring more commonly in dogs and, to a lesser extent, cats. Seizures can appear as focal muscle twitching and spasms of certain areas of the body, to more generalized seizures consisting of various levels of loss of consciousness, whole body spasms/trembling, and sometimes loss of bladder or bowel control. Behavioral changes can sometimes be seen including aggression, so animal guardians must be very careful when trying to help or transport their pets to a veterinarian shortly around the time of seizure activity.

There are many possible causes of seizure disorders in our pets ranging from simple trauma or toxin exposure or drug/pesticide/vaccine reaction, to more complex metabolic disorders of the liver, circulatory system, heart and brain. In young toy breeds, many of these pets have very low sugar storage capabilities and these puppies are prone to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, which can also lead to seizures. Some of these breeds may have a circulatory problem where the circulation is shunted around the liver, preventing the liver from doing its job of filtering poisons and toxins from the blood stream leading to seizures.  This condition called a portosystemic shunt of the liver can be genetic in origin or acquired as an older pet.

Various infectious diseases can sometimes cause seizures from viruses like FelV/FIV and FIP in cats, as well as toxoplasmosis, whereas in dogs various tick-borne infections also can be involved. And of course primary brain disease including various inflammatory disorders of the brain, meningitis and in some pets brain tumors can occur.  In order to diagnose these brain conditions it’s often necessary to do more technologically advanced tests at a veterinary neurologist or veterinary teaching or university setting, including a CSF tap of the fluid that circulates around the spine and brain as well as an MRI.

All seizuring pets should have at least a complete baseline of blood work and urine to include a CBC/blood chemistry profile, Felv/FIV testing in cats, bile acid liver function testing, thyroid profile, and urine analysis.  The additional neurological tests can be done as a second tier of tests in those clients intent on finding out if there is an underlying treatable cause, but these tests are definitely more expensive at a veterinary neurologist. And while in dogs the vast majority of repetitive seizures has no detectable underlying cause (thus the term epilepsy), in cats a thorough diagnostic search, as described above, is more likely to identify a potentially treatable underlying condition.

It is important to note that some pets will have one seizure or very rare or mild seizures, that don’t need extensive workups or medical treatment.  My own rule of thumb is that if seizures are not too intense, and not occurring in clusters in a short period of time, and/or occurring at less than once every 4-6 weeks, I will often do the baseline blood work. But I will often choose to monitor the pets to see if the frequency occurs rather than jumping right on anti-epileptic drugs. Once the decision to use anti epileptic drugs is made, it is important for animal guardians to understand that therapy is typically life long, and that periodic monitoring of blood drug levels and organ function testing is necessary to avoid (occasionally) toxic side effects especially on the liver. These are also pets that I watch very closely if animal guardians decide on using oral or topical pesticides ,and I always try and not challenge their immune systems with too many or unnecessary vaccinations.

The two most common drugs used by veterinarians in controlling chronic epilepsy include prescription Phenobarbitol and Potassium Bromide.  Most of the time these drugs either alone or in combination can control seizures in the majority of dogs and cats, but it is important for animal guardians to realize that even with these drug therapies, most of the time we are looking at seizure control and not cure.

In recent years veterinary neurologists have been starting to use newer drugs that in prior times were used only in human medicine, such as a drug called Keppra, Zonisamide, and Gabapentin. These drugs rarely by themselves can control seizures adequately and are often used as what are known as “add on drugs” to either of the first two mentioned above, when Bromide or Phenobarbital alone are not effective in controlling seizure activity.

In all of my seizure patients I always try and support the body with nutritional supplements to help reduce the toxic stress on various organ systems, and in some cases allow us to use lower dosages of the prescription medicines. One of my favorite supplements called Vetri-DMG can not only help lower dosages of seizure medications in some animals, but also helps as an antioxidant, immune system booster, and helps with drug processing and oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, thus making it an essential supplement in my opinion in all epileptic pets. I also try and support the liver, especially those dogs on long term Phenobarbital, with supplements like DenosylProanthozone is also an excellent antioxidant useful in all sorts of inflammatory conditions, including epilepsy in my opinion.

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and Chinese herbs also offer animal guardians nondrug alternatives to help with seizure control.  With our increasing arsenal of medications, supplements, and alternative therapies, most dogs and cats with seizure disorders can live normal and healthy lives.


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  1. Thanks for the summary on epilepsy. FYI, Keppra is now available in generic form in the US. It’s called levetiracetam.

    Two great resources for those with epileptic dogs:

    Lisa and (refractory epileptic) Pepper

  2. great post as usual!

  3. good information

  4. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJune 6, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    You are welcome

  5. The seizure threshold is apparently exceptionally low in animals that suffer from idiopathic (primary) epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy can occur in all pedigree breeds as well as mixed-breed dogs. I am just grateful my dog is not one of those who have this kind of condition.

  6. We have been feeding our three year old Labradoodle
    IAMS dogs food for three years. We did not even think his food was the problem when he started having seizures (2x month) and vomiting (daily) this past summer. After searching on line for a cure (two vets could not find a solution or cause), I found someone online who had the same problem with their dog… the common link was IAMS dog food. Our particular dog food was NOT on the recall list. We changed it anyway to a natural dog food. Result: no seizures and no vomiting in TWO full months.

  7. My dog had two seizures in two days. Casey is only 9 months old! The source was she was chewing golf balls, which are coated with lead-based paint. My vet never asked me about what she chewed. He never did a heavy metal toxins test. He refused to listen when I paid $800 for her overnight stay, which did not include a lead blood test. He simply said, “Labs get epilepsy. Put her on phenobarbital.” Well, a day and a half on that poison, and she was crazy, hyperactive, up all night, didn’t recognize me, back legs immobile. It’s poison. Like all doctors, the vet only has two options—surgery or pills. IF YOUR DOG HAS SEIZURES, MOST TIMES IT HAS BEEN INGESTING METAL—aluminum, lead, mercury, cadmium, from commercial dog food, our environmental toxins, lawn fertilizer. I would urge you to DETOX your dog, no matter the age. Phenobarbital and potassium bromide treat the SYMPTOMS, not the cause.

  8. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Heavy metals can certainly cause neurologic symptoms in pets and are often overlooked as a cause of seizures in dogs.

  9. MY dog won’t eat anything harder than a boiled chicken breast so don’t assume that ALL dogs who have seizures have ingested something metallic! You should have told your vet to shut up and let you finish a sentence! That’s what I would’ve done. My dog HAS epilelepsy and MY vet asked a ton of questions and put her through the gammit of tests, including x-ray to make sure she hadn’t eaten anything strange. You had a bad vet. Plain and simple. Get tough, if only for your dog’s sake!

  10. What type of dog is on your commercial? I think of a \fat\ fox.

  11. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 18, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    A pomeranian

  12. Do you sell phenobarbital meds for pets with perscription?

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Check with 1800petmeds pharmacist Eddie.

  14. do u sell phenobarbital with a perscription and if so how much?

  15. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 29, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    check with 1800petmeds pharmacist Eddie about this.

  16. When I was a child I had a dog with epilepsy. It took a little while for the vet to get the meds right but once we did he was back to his normal self!

  17. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 9, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Patience is important in these cases.

  18. Thanks for the article. It’s very informative. And thanks to Lisa in the comments for her links too!

    I used to own a dog with epilepsy (sadly no longer with us), and I found nutritional supplements were very effective.

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