We have seen unusually high numbers of dogs presenting to us at both clinics in recent weeks either during or after seizure episodes. Full-blown seizures are dramatic and sudden in onset. This lack of warning and the violence of the convulsions mean that pet owners are often as distressed by the time they have reached Kildare Vet Surgery as the dogs themselves.
Epilepsy,a word we are all familiar with, is used to describe the syndrome of repeated seizures. It is often genetically inherited in dogs and can occur at almost any age but usually manifests between one and three years old. Secondary epilepsy is the term used to describe seizures triggered by any underlying cause such as liver disease, cardiac disease, metabolic disorder or other neurological disease such as meningitis or meningoencephalitis. Not all seizure cases will be epileptic. Nor indeed will all primary epileptic dogs develop full blown seizures especially if diagnosed early.
As I write this I am conscious that these paragraphs diverge from my usual style of(hopefully) accessible and not too reverent commentary and stray into the jargon of the science journal. This tends to happen when so-called experts are discussing topics of which quite a lot remains unknown.A great word we love to use is idiopathic which literally means "we dont know". In fact the next time you hear a scientist,politician,banker or economist baffling your eardrums with corporate esperanzo you can be sure they either dont know what they're talking about or dont want you to know.
So why would cases of seizure be any more common now than usual? One reason is certainly that we know seizures are triggered. Stress of any sort and changes in weather have both been identified as trigger factors. It's not too fanciful to think that animals in the current zeitgeist have picked up on some of their owners stress. During the recent good weather I have seen cases of latent primary epilepsy triggered by this heat wave and have also found that heat stroke can present to us as a kind of pseudo-seizure.
Precise data on the incidence of epilepsy is not available. But best estimates cite figures of between 1 percent and up to 5 percent of dogs suffer from epilepsy. Figures at the higher end definitely apply to some breeds. As much as 5 percent of Boxers are believed to suffer seizures. While the unfortunate Cavalier King Charles breed which has been the subject of controversy over selective breeding for it's unnatural head shape also have an above average incidence of seizures, epileptic or otherwise.
Treatment protocols for true epilepsy in animals are more limited than the human equivalents. But are relatively simple and successful. Once a diagnosis is confirmed we can often reassure pet owners by giving a quite favouable prognosis. The work will be ongoing. Treatment is continuous and dosages of medication will be modified regularly in the first year after diagnosis. We will be guided by both quarterly blood tests and the feedback we get from owners on how their pet has responded to the meds.
The tests we need to undertake to rule out a whole range of possibles before diagnosing primary idiopathic epilepsy are in themselves the best advert for Pet Insurance. At the end of all that ruling out our drug options generally narrow down to three namely valium, potassium bromide and phenobarbital. The trick however is often in the dosage and in the mix of all three. After that it's down to you the owners to live with your epileptic dog. Become good at giving pills!