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Epilepsy is a recurrent seizure disorder of cerebral origin. When it is due to a blow to the head, or the encephalitis of distemper, or bacterial infections of the brain, it is said to be acquired. When it is due to birth trauma, or malformation of the brain, or when the cause is unknown, then it is said to be congenital. Congenital epilepsy can be an inherited trait. Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, Weimaraners, Giant Schnauzers, Poodles and Beagles have hereditary predisposition for seizures of unknown cause.
When seizures being three to four months after a dog receives a blow to the head, it will usually be found the dog was knocked unconscious.
Post-encephalitic seizures appear three to four weeks after the onset of disease. Distemper, in particular, is characterized by typical attacks which begin with champing, tongue-chewing, foaming at the mouth, shaking of the head and blinking of the eyes. This is followed by a dazed look, and then a return to normal.
To establish a diagnosis of Epilepsy, the attacks must be recurrentandsimilar. A typical seizure has three phases. The first is caused the aura. It is recognized by the onset of sudden apprehension and restlessness. There may be bizarre behavior, such as sniffing in the corner or snapping in the air.
Most seizures start with champing, chewing, foaming at the mouth, head-shaking and eye-flickering. During the rigid phase the dog collapses, throws back his head, slobbers, and twitches at the face. His pupils dilate. As the rigid phase begins to pass, he makes running movements with his legs (paddling). He may also loose control of his bladder and/or bowels.
During the post-seizure phase the dog recovers but remains confused and wobbly. If overstimulated by a loud noise or rough handling, a second seizure may occur.
The first two phases pass quickly (in about three minutes). The post-seizure state can persist for several hours. This might give the impression that the seizure was of long duration. However a true epileptic seizure is over in less than five minutes.
Stimuli that can trigger a seizure are fatigue, excitement, anxiety, bright lights, loud noises, fever, over-breathing and estrus.
If your dog starts to have a seizure, stand aside until he quiets down or cover him with a blanket. Do not put your fingers in the mouth or try to wedge something between the teeth. Call your veterinarian. As the seizure will be over within a few minutes, it is unlikely that your veterinarian will need to stop it with medications. He may want to examine the dog to exclude other conditions.
Seizures lasting over five minutes are dangerous. They must be stopped in order to prevent brain damage.
A number of drugs are used to control or prevent epileptic seizures. Some drugs take several days to build up in the system, during which your dog could have another attack. This doesn't mean that the medicines don't work.
The main drug used to treat epilepsy is Phenobarbital.