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Epilepsy

Epilepsy simply refers to repeated seizures. Seizures may occur as a one time event in an animal from a variety of causes, but only if the seizures repeat again and again over a period of time do we call it epilepsy.

Seizures are a sign of brain disease the same way a cough is a sign of lung disease. Saying an animal has epilepsy is like saying it has a chronic cough; it is a sign of a problem which isn't going away. Anything which damages the brain in the right area can cause epilepsy. If we can identify the cause of the seizures, say a brain tumor or a stroke, then we say the pet has symptomatic (or secondary) epilepsy. That is, the seizures are a symptom of a disease process we've been able to identify. If we've looked and can't find the cause, then we call it idiopathic (or primary) epilepsy. The term idiopathicsimply means that we don't know the cause. It may be that the cause has escaped our attention; for example, a stroke that is too small to detect with routine brain scans or damage that occurred during whelping.

Many of the idiopathic epileptics have inherited epilepsy: epilepsy caused by a mutation in a specific gene which they inherited from their parents. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy frequently begin seizing at between one and three years of age, and certain breeds are predisposed to develop epilepsy. A few breeds have proven hereditary epilepsy, while in most it is just a strong suspicion. One of the goals of the Canine Epilepsy Project is to identify genes responsible for epilepsy in dogs. This will allow us to positively diagnose the hereditary form and take steps to decrease the incidence of epilepsy in dogs.

How common is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurologic diseases in dogs, but no one knows for sure just how common it is. Some studies estimate up to 4% of all dogs are affected. In some breeds, the incidence may be higher and some families may have up to 14% epileptics. Epilepsy occurs less frequently in cats and other pets, presumably because they do not have a hereditary form of the disease.

In order to rule out some diseases, we would need further tests. If the animal is outside the 1-3 year old range when idiopathic epilepsy typically starts, or has any abnormalities on examination that hint of a cause, we strongly recommend such testing. Your veterinarian may refer you to a neurologist for some of these tests. Even if an animal is within the "idiopathic epilepsy" age range, we can't be sure it's idiopathic unless we perform the full compliment of tests.

Some of the recommended tests for Epilepsy:
  1. Glucose tolerance test - to check for hypoglycemia.
  2. Thyroid panel - 6 tests to check for low thyroid function/hypothyroidism.
  3. EEG - to see if there are findings suggestive of a lesion (an abnormal EEG is standard with epilepsy, but a vet or a physician will also be able to ell if there is a lesion.
  4. Cerebrospinal fluid analysis - to look for encephalitis, distemper and other infection.
  5. Blood test to check for lead poisoning or any other abnormality in the blood
  6. CT scan or MRI - to look at the condition of the brain
Infection of the brain (encephalitis) can cause seizures. Canine distemper is the most common cause of encephalitis in dogs and one of the reasons to keep your pets current on their vaccinations.

Idiopathic Epilepsy, or IE for short, is used to describe repeated seizures of undetermined origin over time. Some think that IE is strictly an inherited condition, but nobody really knows why it happens to some dogs and not others.

With the increased research into environment, dog food ingredients and sources, and genetics we are hoping to stop all types of epilepsy that can be stopped.

Gene found for  Neonatal Encephalopathy of Standard Poodles

Source: Canine Epilepsy Network

Rev. 25 May 09



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