Discovering that your dog has epilepsy can provoke many questions. Will everything have to change? Will you and your dog be able to live a full life despite the condition? It is natural to wonder how the condition may affect both your own life and that of your pet.

With effective treatment an epileptic dog should lead a long and happy life. Completely stopping epileptic seizures occurring is unfortunately a rare achievement. Instead, the aim of therapy is to reduce seizure occurrence as much as possible whilst ensuring your pet has a good quality of life.
Here are some top tips to help you to help your epileptic canine companion.

Ensure you have regular check-ups with the vet

Epilepsy is a chronic condition and it is important to ensure regular check-ups (in a stable patient, these are typically every 3-6 months) with the vet to review the medication and monitor your dog’s health. This allows treatments to be optimised and tailored to your pet.

What to do if you need to change to a new vet

You may need to change to a new vet/veterinary practice during the lifetime of your pet (e.g., if moving home). It is useful to plan ahead and make sure your current vet is aware of the change so that they can provide your new vet with all the medical history for your pet. This avoids being in an emergency situation (e.g., your pet having a severe seizure) with a new vet who is unfamiliar with your pet’s history.

Provide a suitable diet

Some epileptic medications can increase appetite, particularly during the first few weeks of treatment, which can lead to weight gain. It is therefore important to monitor your pet’s weight and feed accordingly to ensure they don’t become overweight.

Depending on the treatment your pet has been prescribed, they may need to stay on a consistent diet with a consistent salt intake. One of the epilepsy medications is directly influenced by the salt in your pet’s diet. If this suddenly changes (e.g., by giving high salt treats, human food, or a change in their overall diet) then it can affect how well the medication works, or it can result in your pet experiencing side effects from the medication. Therefore, it is important to avoid making changes to your pet’s diet, or to do so very slowly and, if you are unsure regarding the best diet to feed your epileptic pet, please seek advice from your vet.

Observation and Monitoring of Seizures

It is useful to monitor your epileptic pet and keep a record of any seizures that do occur so that treatment can be adapted to your pet for optimal seizure control.

Minimising seizure trigger factors

In animals with idiopathic epilepsy, the reasons for the abnormal electrical discharges in the brain are unknown or cannot be identified. Even though a genetic basis for epilepsy has been found in some breeds of dog, it is hard to explain why seizures just spontaneously appear. In a large number of cases, the seizures happen when the animal is asleep or at rest.

For some dogs, they may appear to be triggered by certain factors. These could include; being overly tired, following prolonged physical activity, emotional stress (e.g., caused by fireworks or a storm), being in season etc. Recognising if your pet has a trigger and taking measures to limit or mitigate this may help.

For dogs that experience ‘reactive seizures’ (i.e. a normal brain that is responding to something outside the brain, e.g., liver disease, low blood sugar levels), it is important to closely follow the treatment protocol and management strategies your vet has advised for that condition, to minimise the likelihood of seizures. To remind yourself of the different causes of seizures, see Causes of Canine Epilepsy.

Monitoring seizures and the response to treatment

It is very important that your pet receives their epilepsy medication as prescribed by your vet. Missed doses can result in poor seizure control and result in your pet having a seizure.

Keeping an accurate record of your pet’s seizures can help you to detect any changes in the control of their epilepsy promptly. You can download an Epilepsy Diary here.

What should you record?

First, describe any seizures that your dog may have. Remember to include:

  • Type of seizure: generalised seizure or focal seizure (see What does an epileptic seizure look like in dogs?)
  • Duration
  • Frequency
  • Whether there were any warning signs (the pre-ictal phase)
  • Behaviour after the seizure (the postictal phase)

A good tip is to video your dog before, during and after the seizure. You can share this recording with your vet so that they can evaluate the seizure. It can also be reassuring to time each seizure, because they often seem to last much longer than they actually do. All entries should be dated to help the vet understand your pet’s seizure frequency.

If your dog experiences any other signs as well as the epilepsy, record these too. For example:

  • Gastrointestinal upset (e.g., vomiting, diarrhoea)
  • Abnormal movement (e.g., wobbly gait, off balance)
  • Neurological (e.g., vision problems such as blindness)
  • Behavioural (e.g., disorientation, aggression)
  • Any other signs you identify

Describe each problem in as much detail as possible: appearance, duration, start date, frequency etc.

Managing seizures

During a seizure, there are two aims; make sure the dog and anyone else present is safe, and provide the best possible environment for helping the seizure to pass and not return. Remember the ‘3 C‘s; stay calm, cushion the surroundings and control the situation.
Epileptic seizures are typically short, lasting from a few seconds to 2–3 minutes. If this is the first time your pet has ever had a seizure, you should make an appointment with your vet to investigate the cause.

If the seizure is lasting longer than this (5 minutes or more), or there are several seizures in quick succession, then seek urgent veterinary attention. Seizures like this are known as ‘status epilepticus’ and if they are not treated can cause severe brain damage and be fatal.
Always call your vet prior to setting off. This gives them time to prepare for your pet and get any necessary medication and equipment ready for your arrival. If your vet has already prescribed you a medication to use at home for emergencies then this can be administered following your vet’s directions.

During the journey, is it important to place your dog in a stable position, keeping them propped up if necessary (using blankets or cushions). If possible, it is useful to have someone else in the car to keep an eye on your dog, so that the you or whomever is driving is not distracted.

Recovery phase in dogs: what to do after a seizure

Once a seizure has ended, the dog goes into a recovery period known as the postictal phase.
Every dog experiences this recovery period, but it can vary in duration (from a few minutes to a few hours, or even several days) and the signs can also differ between animals. For some dogs the postictal phase is virtually unnoticeable, whereas in others it is much more evident.

During recovery/the postictal phase, your dog may be:

  • Disoriented
  • Wobbly or clumsy in their movements (they may stumble and fall over)
  • Tired or drowsy
  • Excited and agitated
  • Blind (temporary loss of sight)
  • Anxious
  • Aggressive
  • Hungry

Keep your dog safe during the recovery phase

The first thing to do to help your dog recover after a seizure is make sure they are safe from injury. Ensure they are in a calm and safe environment where they are not likely to injure themself or anyone else. An appropriate environment should be quiet, a darker room is helpful (dim lighting) and without sharp objects/obstacles or steps that your pet may bump into or fall down. Ensure the ambient temperature is cool as seizures can cause an increase in body temperature, provide cooling aids if necessary (cool matt, fan, air conditioning etc.).