We are afraid our four-year-old Cocker Spaniel has epilepsy. Sassie has had a number of seizures over the past three months. Our veterinarian wants to perform some tests on her. Can you tell us a little about epilepsy?
Epilepsy is defined as a disease characterized by recurrent seizures. Most of the time, we can't find the exact cause of those seizures. This means that we base our diagnosis on clinical findings (that is, recurring seizures) and by ruling out other known causes of seizures.
The tests your veterinarian wants to perform will include blood tests and radiographs (x-rays). Your veterinarian will want to rule out potential causes such as low calcium levels, lead poisoning, liver or kidney disease, bone marrow problems, or signs of a previous head trauma (that is, skull fracture). If the seizures are secondary to one of these problems, they often can be stopped by treating the underlying condition. In some cases, a CAT scan and spinal tap are indicated to identify the underlying causes of seizures.
Epilepsy shows up with seizures when animals are between two and six years old. Affected dogs are normal between seizures. They experience a seizure when their brain, for some reason, releases nerve impulses in a sudden, excessive, disorderly fashion.
Sassie probably will be on an anti-convulsant drug for the rest of her life. While these drugs do not cure epilepsy, they do reduce the severity of the brain's sudden, disorderly nerve discharges. The best you can expect is that the drug will prevent all seizures. With severe epilepsy, the best we can hope for is an increase in the number of days between seizures.
Phenobarbital and potassium bromide are the most commonly used drugs for dogs with epilepsy. These are pills that are given every 12 hours. We can monitor the level of the drug in the blood stream so you can expect your veterinarian to periodically send blood samples to the laboratory to make sure Sassie is taking the right dosage of the drug.