Epilepsy is a disturbance of the electrical circuit in the brain. Nerves in the body and the brain act like electrical wires do – they conduct electricity up and down the nerves. This electricity is produced by chemical reactions in the nerves and movement of this electricity is what allows your dog or cat to move their muscles, breathe, digest food, and in fact do everything that is vital to life. Nerves are also similar to wires, in that they have an insulating layer or myelin sheath round them, like the plastic coating round wires. When nerves lie close together, for example, in the brain, this myelin sheath stops electricity jumping from one nerve to the next, when the brain is healthy.
With epilepsy there is a problem with this system and the electricity starts jumping from nerve to nerve in the brain, the brain becomes overloaded and your animal has a fit or seizure. Epilepsy can be as a result of damage to the brain or genetic. With damage to the brain, something has often happened to your pet, for example, they were hit on the head in a car accident, or they got an infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the membranes round the brain (meningitis.) When an injury or infection occurs in the brain, there can be bleeding in the brain. The blood clots to stop the bleeding and save the animal’s life, but the blood clot and the damage round it can leave a scar on the brain where the nerves are damaged or the myelin sheath is missing and this can cause epileptic fits. With genetic epilepsy, which occurs in pure breed dogs, the pup is born with a genetic fault in the nerves in the brain which leads to epilepsy. Most of the dogs I have seen with genetic epilepsy are German Shepherds or Labrador or Golden Retrievers, but it can happen in any pure breed dog. Kittens that seizure may be born with a problem in their brains from the mother having contracted a virus, or having been vaccinated while she was pregnant.
Is my pet having a seizure or fit? What does it look like?
Is my pet having a seizure? A seizure is different from a “heart spell”. A heart spell or a faint from a weak heart causes an animal to collapse suddenly, often with a cry and then lie very still.The heart may pound and the tongue go blue. They may stop breathing for a few seconds. There may be loss of bladder control. A seizure or fit usually involves some sort of twitching/activity of the muscles. The eyelids may flick, and the legs and body twitch. Animals will also collapse into a seizure, but usually not with a cry.They may lose bladder control and sometimes bite their tongues so the mouth has blood in it. The breathing can be rough and intermittent and the tongue may also go blue.
“Grand Mal” – which is a full seizure in which the animal loses consciousness, and often bladder and bowel control, the legs, body and eyes twitch, and there may be interruption or difficulty with breathing, so the tongue may often go blue. This is the dangerous type of seizure, because if it goes on too long, the brain may become deprived of oxygen and the animal can die. In most cases, however, seizures last between thirty seconds and two minutes and the animal comes out of the seizure on their own. Before the seizure happens, animals can be in a pre-ictal or prodromal state which you may see as confused, disorientated or abnormal behavior until the seizure starts. With people that have epilepsy and own a seizure dog, this stage is often picked up by the dogs, who push the owners to the ground because they can sense the person is about to have a seizure. When a seizure is over, animals are often exhausted and very disorientated. As a teenager, I owned an epileptic dog, who would try and climb behind, or even into the dishwasher after a seizure.
Partial or “Petit Mal” seizures are mini seizures which may or may not progress into full seizures. Animals are fully aware of what is happening, but their legs, faces and bodies may twitch and they may lose the ability to walk properly. They will usually try to crawl to their owners for comfort during the seizure, which again, usually lasts for a short time only.
If my pet has a seizure, is it epilepsy?It can be, but it can also be a totally different problem. A purely epileptic animal will be totally normal between seizures and will show no signs of being sick at all and not have any changes in their behavior. If your dog shows changes in his behavior such as lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting...
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