Primary Epilepsy in pets
Published on 17 Jun 2021
Epilepsy in dogs and cats refers to repeated episodes of seizures. It is regarded as primary epilepsy when there are no other brain diseases that could be the cause of the seizures.
Epilepsy may also be acquired or secondary, meaning that the seizures are caused by an inciting factor, such as toxicity. This means that to get a diagnosis of primary epilepsy other causes of seizures need to be ruled out, including toxicity, low or high blood sugar, kidney disease, electrolyte imbalances, brain tumours and so on.
Once other causes are ruled out, primary epilepsy can be diagnosed. Primary epilepsy may be genetic, where a known gene is responsible, presumed genetic (where there is a familial history of seizures), or idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.
For the rest of this article, when referencing epilepsy, we are referring to primary epilepsy.
Who is affected?
Pets with epilepsy will often experience their first seizure between 1 and 6 years of age (PetSure Data) however it can also occur outside of this range, and any breed can be affected.
According to PetSure data in the 2020 calendar year, epilepsy was most prevalent in the following breeds:
|Dogue De Bordeaux||0.33%|
|German Short Haired Pointer||0.28%|
|Fox Terrier Smooth||0.27%|
*Prevalence = Total number of unique claiming pets / total number of insured pets across 12-month period. Excludes breeds with less than 500 active pet insurance policies.
Signs of epilepsy
Epilepsy manifests as seizures. Seizures may be characterised as either generalised or partial/focal. Generalised seizures are typically more dramatic, and pets may lose consciousness, paddle the legs, urinate, and defecate involuntarily, drool or vocalise.
Partial/focal seizures may be more subtle and may involve twitching or unusual limb movements on one side of the body. Sometimes these may escalate into a generalised seizure. Seizures may last for a few seconds or minutes.
Immediately after the seizure pets may seem confused or disoriented, however with epilepsy, they generally return to normal quite quickly after a seizure. This means often by the time they are at the vet; they look fine!
Diagnosing epilepsy often means ruling out other causes of seizures, such as toxicities or brain tumours. As pets with epilepsy are normal when they are not having seizures, when a pet shows signs of being unwell or neurological disturbances in between seizures, this is a good indication that the pet may not have epilepsy.
The Vet will do a neurological examination, to look for signs of ongoing neurological abnormalities. A full blood profile is usually recommended to check for signs of toxicity or abnormalities with the organs, such as the liver which could be a cause of seizure activity.
Other tests may include checking for certain viruses and parasites including toxoplasmosis or neosporosis. Imaging of the brain may be recommended by MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography). A sample of cerebrospinal fluid may be collected for analysis.
The treatment of choice for primary epilepsy is usually anticonvulsant medications. This is often a lifelong treatment that requires regular monitoring through blood tests and check-ups with the Vet. It is often recommended to keep a diary of the pet's seizures to help keep a track of the effectiveness of the medications prescribed.
How much does it cost to treat?
According to PetSure claims data from 2020 (calendar year), the average, single treatment cost relating to seizures was $242, with the highest, single treatment cost being $43,924. It is important to highlight that epilepsy requires ongoing management. The overall treatment cost of managing epilepsy will vary depending on the treatments that have been recommended and your pet’s response to those treatments.
Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider.
- Heske L, Nodvedt A, Jaderlund KH, Berendt M, Egenvall A. A cohort study of epilepsy among 665,000 insured dogs: incidence, mortality and survival. 2014. Veterinary Journal; 202:471-6.
- Canine Health Foundation, “Understanding Canine Epilepsy”, accessed on 14/04/21
- University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center, “Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy”, accessed on 14/04/21
- VCA Hospitals, “Seizures in Dogs”, accessed on 14/04/21
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