Treatment and Management of Epilepsy and Seizures in Cats, Dogs and Other Small Furries.

The team at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre specialise in small animal care, which means we treat pretty much anything excepting horses and livestock. Although there are common ailments and surgical procedures that make up the bulk of our day-to-day work, we do occasionally see non-routine cases. A strong love of animals and their health and welfare is one of the things that drove me to become a Veterinarian, that and a natural thirst to learn – which is perhaps as well given the constant advancement of veterinary treatments and knowledge!

One area that is still very much researched is Epilepsy; we have gained more insight into its causes but there is also a lot still unknown about this condition. Epilepsy, and seizures, can both have a massive impact on the quality (and length) of an animals’ life and can be distressing for pet owners to witness. The word Epilepsy is an umbrella that covers several Neurological disorders, with characteristic seizures, whose cause is atypical surges of electrical impulses within the brain.

Any animal can have Epilepsy, but we most commonly see Dogs and Cats for this condition across our two practices. It also affects other small furries such as Rabbits, Ferrets and even Hamsters; Ferrets and Hamsters are slightly different, which I’ll explain later.

When we hear the word ‘Epilepsy’ our minds immediately conjure up those images of fierce, uncontrollable bouts of flailing about (thanks, Hollywood!), but it isn’t always like that. Epileptic fits can range from mild ‘absences’ where your pet has that ‘lights on but no-one at home’ look on their face (there actually is a cause this time, they’re not just trying to pull a fast one and ignore you), to full body twitching and jerking. Your fur baby may drool or dribble during a fit, they might urinate or defaecate, their jaws may clamp shut (don’t panic, they can’t swallow their tongues – unlike humans) and they may become unresponsive to your touch and/or voice. During the fit, reduce any source of external stimulation: things like closing windows and curtains, switching off TVs and radios, and not stroking or touching your fur-baby (as much as your instinct will be to do so). The fits may last a few seconds to several minutes, just as they may be recurring or happen once only.

Although it may be upsetting for you to see, your pet will be unaware of what’s happening whilst having the fit. You can always call the SLVC team for advice, and depending what you tell us we may or may not tell you to come straight in. We will ask you how long your pet has been fitting for, what is happening, and if they have had fits before; it greatly helps us if you can give this information to us, but don’t worry if you can’t. If the seizure lasts for longer than 5 minutes, or has happened more than once per day, then we will ask you to come to one of our surgeries as soon as possible.

Post-Ictally (after the fit has stopped) Kitty, Fido or Furry will more than likely be confused and dazed by what’s just happened, so let them recover at their own pace and make them as comfy as possible. Keep your speech quiet, calm and gentle as you help them re-orientate to their surroundings and resist the urge to ‘crowd’ them.

There are two types of Epilepsy: Idiopathic and Structural.

Structural, as its name suggests, has an underlying cause within the brain which may include obstructions to the blood supply, tumours (both benign and malignant types), trauma (caused by falls or object strikes) or infection. Other causes of structural Epilepsy are degenerative brain conditions and metabolic disorders such as Lafora’s Disease in which toxins accumulate in brain cells and change the structure, leading to fits. Idiopathic Epilepsy doesn’t have an underlying cause, so is often attributed to genetic and environmental factors. Diagnosis for Idiopathic Epilepsy can take longer to make as other causes and diseases have to be eliminated first, whereas X-Rays/CT/MRI can spot the structural abnormalities quickly.

Although there is no cure for Epilepsy, it can be managed well with medication and regular Veterinary check-ups and blood tests. It’s really important that your pet has their Anti-Epileptic Drugs (AED) at the same time every day, has the correct prescribed dosage, and that the drugs aren’t stopped without consultation with your vet (me!). When AED starts it isn’t unusual for your fur-baby to experience side-effects; these usually subside or disappear in the following weeks of treatment beginning. In this time period the SLVC team will monitor your pet closely to ensure their quality of life remains high and that their body is coping with the medication. Typical side-effects are sleepiness, wobbliness/weakness in hind limbs, increased appetite (and weight gain!), drinking more, diarrhoea and/or vomiting, drooling, excitability or restlessness, and behavioural changes.

Epilepsy and seizures can be down to tumours and neurological disorders but Hamsters can also inherit clonic seizures from affected parents, so keep an eye on your litters and avoid breeding from individuals that pass the condition onto their off-spring. Ferrets are prone to seizures (non-epileptic) caused by Insulinoma’s (Pancreatic tumour) and surgery to remove the tumour may resolves this. As strict carnivores, Ferrets’ bodies aren’t made to metabolise carbohydrates and the commonest cause of Insulinoma’s is them being given sweet treats by unwitting owners. Education is something we strongly believe in at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre, which is why we’re always happy to answer our client’s questions. With Ferrets affected by Insulinoma’s we would do regular blood tests, as well as performing surgery.

Non-Epileptic fits can occur once, or happen more often, and can be indicative of more serious underlying conditions, e.g. Kidney disease or Diabetes; they can also be caused by head trauma (a fall or knock to the head) and Heat Stroke. Another cause of this type of seizure are poisons, as some can affect the brain and trigger fits. So please, if you see your fur-baby either drinking or eating something they shouldn’t be, get the packet (if possible) and give us a ring immediately. I do say that prevention is better than cure, but sometimes (despite your best efforts to keep household products out of their grasp) our pets do get their paws on things they shouldn’t! The SLVC team are always here when you need us, you can depend on that!

Until next time; stay safe (still socially distant!), stay well, and be happy 🙂