What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a syndrome where there are recurrent seizures. It can be caused by an inherited functional problem of the brain (idiopathic epilepsy) or can be the result of trauma to the brain that causes residual brain damage (acquired epilepsy).

Most seizure disorders on cats have an underlying cause, such as tumours, inflammation or metabolic disease.

What is the most common form of Epilepsy?

Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common form for dogs. Affected dogs will have repeated episodes of seizures with no demonstrable cause. In between seizures, the dogs are normal or may go through a phase where they are a little quiet or vague. This vagueness usually does not last long, but can be different for each individual. With idiopathic epilepsy the onset of seizures usually starts between 6 and 3 years of age. In most breeds, the younger the age of onset, the more difficult the seizures are to control. For acquired epilepsy, the time of onset is usually between 6 months and 3 years after the causing event. Sometimes is it is impossible to determine the cause.

The seizures generally seen with idiopathic epilepsy are usually about 1-2 minutes duration and are called tonic-clonic, where muscles contract and relax. Some dogs may have a more generalised type of seizure where they have uncontrollable trembling or muscle rigidity. Seizures due to idiopathic epilepsy recur at regular intervals, with weeks or months in-between. As the dogs age, seizures can occur more frequently or can occur in groups or clusters.

How is Epilepsy diagnosed and treated?

A physical and neurological examination, along with the results of a complete blood count and general health screen blood results are normal in animals with idiopathic epilepsy. Further testing, such as cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) analysis or radiographs may be indicated if there are any abnormalities detected on routine tests or if the disorder seems to be progressing.

Anticonvulsant therapy is the only treatment for idiopathic or acquired epilepsy. Sometimes treatment does not eliminate the seizures altogether, but decreases their severity, duration and increases the time in between seizures. Prior to anticonvulsant therapy, other causes of seizures do need to be ruled out, these can include meningitis, metabolic diseases such as hyper- and hypo-adrenocorticism, diabetes and even heart disease can cause fainting episodes similar to mild seizures.