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Does Your Lab Suffer From Epilepsy?

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The following article was submitted to Labforums by Emma Milne, the T.V Vet. See http://www.emmathevet.co.uk/

Emma writes...

Recently I had an emergency call out to a client whose dog appeared to be having a ‘fit’. ‘Chunk’, as he is affectionately called, is a 1 year old Black Labrador and had never as far as we knew had any kind of episode like this before. Understandably, Chunk’s owner was very upset. Anyone who has witnessed any kind of seizure, whether it be in an animal or a human, will be aware of how frightening and stressful it can be for everyone concerned.

Chunk had had a normal day and had eaten his dinner as ravenously as normal and had been resting quite peacefully. He got up and started to walk around and then collapsed on the floor and started convulsing. This went on for about 2 minutes and he lost control of his bladder. By the time I arrived at the house he was relatively normal again, if a little disorientated. In fact, he was a lot less upset than his owner.
I gave Chunk a thorough check over and found nothing abnormal. We agreed to have him in for the day to do some tests to make sure there was no obvious reason for the attack.

The next day we took some blood and did a full work- up. There was no abnormality. I also did a neurological examination. This is where we check things like the dog’s reflexes and sight and balance. This is a fairly standard set of events after one seizure.

There are many things that can cause seizures. By far the most common thing is ‘idiopathic’ epilepsy. Idiopathic just means that no- one fully understands why it happens and there is no apparent cause. Even though epilepsy is the most likely cause we have to be sure that there is nothing else going on. Other causes can be anything from poisoning to a tumour in the brain. Epilepsy can also be ‘acquired’ and can be triggered by things such as a blow to the head and in this case the seizures can start months or even years after the initial trauma.

Having ruled out any other obvious causes of Chunk’s seizure we made the presumptive diagnosis of epilepsy. This disease is characterized by episodic abnormalities of the electrical impulses in the brain. The brain is basically a massively complex set of electrical connections. The electric signals fire along the neurons at very specific times and through very specific pathways. When this goes wrong you get a focus of electrical activity that builds up in one place and then spreads out in a wave from the focus. This wave of electricity causes the seizure and uncontrollable muscle contractions and often the loss of consciousness seen in an epileptic fit. Another defining characteristic of the disease is that the animal is, to all extents and purposes, completely normal between episodes.

Epilepsy of this kind almost always starts between the ages of 6 months and 3 years and in general, the later it starts, the better the prognosis for controlling it with medication or, in some cases, not needing medication. Besides being a suspected inherited condition in Labradors, it is also inherited in breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog, Beagle and Dachshund, but is also quite commonly seen in breeds such as the Golden Retriever, Border Collie, Saint Bernard, Sheltie and the Springer Spaniel, to name a few.

So what was the next step for Chunk? It may surprise you to hear that the next step was to do absolutely nothing except wait. Most epileptic animals do require medication to control their fits at some stage. However, this can have long- term side- effects such as liver damage and often the dose needs to be increased with time. Therefore if we can avoid the use as long as possible we do. Some animals go months without a seizure and when they do have one it may be very short- lived. In these cases if the dog and the owner can cope with the fits then no medication is necessary. In most cases the seizures do become more violent and prolonged with age and the frequency usually increases. In these cases and in those where the fits are severe from the outset we start anticonvulsant medication. The other aspect that we have to try and balance is that each fit may increase the likelihood of another or cause the severity to worsen. It is a disease that must be truly judged for each individual.

The drug that is most effective in most cases and is most widely- used is phenobarbitone. The drug acts on the brain to prevent the abnormal electrical impulses and is effective in about 80% of cases. The dose needed varies a great deal between dogs and it can be very toxic at high doses so when treatment starts it has to be monitored carefully. It also takes about seven to ten days to reach the right concentration in the blood. For this reason all dogs are started at the same dose and this should not be altered for at least two weeks, even if seizures are still seen. After two weeks a blood test is taken to check the level of the drug in the blood stream. It is then that the dose is altered if this is too high or low. When the level is deemed to be correct the waiting game starts again. We wait and see what happens to the seizure pattern. Ideally they should stop altogether but in some cases it is adequate to reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks.

So what is the future for Chunk? To be honest it is uncertain at the moment. He is at the young end of the range and may be more likely to be a severe sufferer or harder to control because of it but who knows? These are only general guidelines and, as in all things, there are exceptions to every rule. All we can do is wait and see what the future brings.

With Many Thanks To Emma Milne For Writing This Story On Epilepsy
 

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Believe me, living with an epileptic dog is not easy, but it is by no means impossible. Dogs rarely suffer a fit whilst excited, which means when out walking. In fact most fits occur when the dog is quite and resting.

Medication may or may not be necessary. Some dogs can live out a full happy life with no medication. Phenobarb was the drug of choice in the old days, but EEC farming regulations banned it because it had never been tested on animals and the risks of it getting into the food chain!!!!! Common sense finally prevailed and Phenobarb is now back on the list. Apart from this there is also Phenytoin, Primidone and if the worst comes to the worst, Valium (Which, when injected, will normally bring a dog straight out of a fit.)

As to the inheritability, a link has only been found so far in a few breeds, Labradors, Goldens and GSD's to name three.

Apart from Primary (idiopathic) Epilepsy, Epilepsy can have several other causes. Accidental damage to the head (Hydrocephalus), Poisons (specifically Strychnine), Distemper vaccine, Heart Disease and Cerebro-vascular disease. An uncle of mine had a dog start fitting after swallowing a length of string which got obstructed. When it finally passed the fits stopped!

I cannot talk about Epilepsy without a warning about Canine epileptoid cramping syndrome (Otherwise known as Cramping Syndrome). This is an Epileptic like ailment but is NOT epilepsy. I can assure you that had any one described the symptoms to me without me seeing it I would have no hesitation in saying Epilepsy, but I would be wrong! Cramping Syndrome was first found in Border Terriers by the German vet Diana Plange in 1997. Shortly after it was found in Border Terriers and Labradors in America. In 2003 the Border Terrier Club in America held a health seminar with this on the agenda, Brain scans conclusively prove that it is a totally separate condition. It is centered in a completely different part of the brain! Remembering what I said about epileptic fits normally happening while the dog is resting, this means that vets almost never see epilepsy and are forced to go with what the owner says so it is essential that ALL info is noted. Possibly the clincher for Cramping syndrome is that it does NOT respond to epileptic drugs. So far, a friend in BT's assures me she personally knows of 5 cases in the UK and we also know of 2 unconfirmed in Labradors.

Regards, John
 

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When I was younger I 'inherited' a Yorkie from an old relative. He developed epilepsy and was put on phenobarb - like you say John, he usually fitted when he was resting (often at night). He led a perfectly normal life during the day, enjoying his walks and food etc. He was around 9 when he developed it and had a good life with the epilepsy largely under control. Sadly, he had to be put to sleep eventually as the fits suddenly increased one day to the extent that the vet could not control them. :( However, he led a full and active life with us and always kept up with our fitter and bigger dogs.

Jodie
 

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Hi Jodie.
It's interesting that he developed it at 9 years old. This would usually point to an underlying cause. Idiopathic Epilepsy would normally rear it's head at something between 8 to 9 months and 2 years. This one would appear to have possibly a brain degenerative link? Poisons? Heart disease? Something in this line. How long was it between diagnosis and the end? Possibly a brain tumour?

These are things going through my mind.

Obviously the end result is the same but to eliminate Primary Epilepsy would also eliminate any possible hereditary factors, an important point when looking at both the breed and the individual line within the breed.

Regards, John
 

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Hi John,

I was only twelve/thirteen when we took Kim on - his owner passed away, but as she had always brought her dogs with her when visiting, she wanted us to look after him (this also happened three years ago when my hundred year old godmother had a series of strokes and sent her jack russell/beagle cross to live with Mum and Dad - he is doing brilliantly now having transformed from a tick-like yapper to a loving, fantastic dog!). When he got out of the car he glued himself to my ankles and followed me everywhere - slept on my bed etc - this never altered.

However, my Gran (next-door) adopted Luc, a rescue pup, from the RSPCA (Dad went to see them in the litter first and literally begged her not to pick him - he was aggressive and the worst pup in the litter - of course Gran saw them after their meal and insisted on taking him). He was, without doubt, the worst pup we have ever had. He terrorised my Yorkie - constantly nipping/sneaking up on him - even though we kept them separately he always found a way through. Kim, the Yorkie, also had a heart murmur - the vet thought a combination of this and the constant irritation of Luc contributed to the fits - does this sound plausible?

Luc is still with us - in his favour, he is incredibly loyal to the family. However, he did give Gran a heart attack, leave Homer the lab with a 'broken' tail after sneaky playing and still needs to be put on a lead as soon as we see a strange dog (otherwise he runs up to greet them with Homer and puts his hackles up/growls/snaps - before running away and leaving placid Homer in trouble!)

Do you think Luc could have accelerated the fits?

Jodie
 

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The thing is Jodie, we are all epileptic, every single one of us. It is just that for most people/dogs that our threshold is higher than we ever get to. Sometimes a person/dog's threshold is lower, to the point that they are susceptible to fitting. (Flashing lights and the like). Sometimes illness, head injuries or poisons will lower the threshold and bring the animal into the area where fitting occurs.

From that it's easy to see how stress could affect things. I would say that the threshold must have been quite low in the first place. You will never know for sure whether it was the stress or whether it was an age related thing. Bits wearing out.

Life is sometimes not fair but if you did all you could to make him happy then you did all you could do. It's the best we can do but many dogs never get even that!

Regards, John
 

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Thanks John - yes, we did everything we could. Also, if we hadn't picked Luc (Gran's dog) then I dread to think where he would be now ...

Jodie
 

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just found this old article thanks to admins link with interesting site stats on, i have obviously found it interesting due to zak being epileptic, I know there are a few of us on LF now with epileptic labs so i am giving this a bump so that they may see it also,

zak started with his epilepsy just after his 1st birthday, and now at 2 and a half, i think we are just starting to 1. get a bit of control of it and 2. learn to live with it, for us its been a long painful, and very stressful journey, he didn't just have occasional fits he progressed over a period of time to weekly clusters, of grand mal fits, which drained him and us completely, john is right they always happen during a resting period so nine times out of 10 that for us meant during the small hrs of the morning and the worry and lack of sleep took its toll on us all,
He now takes both phenobarbitone and epilease, and we have got the fits to once every 14 to 21 days, which is a massive improvement, in between times he enjoys life like any other lab does, he does not appear to be unduly affected by the drugs in as much he is pretty lively, and recent blood test show that his liver is coping well at the moment, so it seems for now we are having some respite, long may it continue, one thing for sure, I don't know what the future holds for zak, i only know that he is loved and looked after to the very best of our ability and we have a mission to ensure he receives the best care we can afford and he enjoys his life to the hilt.


sheila and zak
 

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Sheila what a lovely testament to the lovely Zak - I am seriously moved by the depth of your commitment....



Eve Neo and Bramble
 

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I would just like to second what John says - that all "seizure" type conditions are not epilepsy.

There are other conditions such as CECS and paroxysmal dyskinesia which can seem very similar to epilepsy - but these conditions will not respond to epilepsy-type drugs. This is because there is a different cause for the "seizure". I would urge anyone with a dog having seizures which are perhaps not quite the norm for epilepsy - to try to video the episode. It can help a vet enormously in arriving at the correct diagnosis. No matter how we try to describe something to a vet - it's not the same as them actually seeing what is happening.

June and Monty
 

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That was such an interesting article, thanks Sheila for pointing it out.

I too have an epileptic lab, Millie, but certainly not to the extent that others have to cope with.

Millie's condition is controlled by Phenobarbitone twice daily and fingers crossed and not wanting to speak too soon, we haven't had a fit since last May when we started the meds.

It is worrying though but as long as she is happy and healthy then we will be happy too.
 

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first seizure

Hi I am new to this I joined because I was reading some of the posts about Labrador's with epilepsy.
My Dog had her first seizure last night and it really scared me.
I have been trying to find out my dogs family history today but have drawn a blank as the place we got her from seems to no longer be there.
Her seizure came totally out of the blue and made me wonder if it is because of epilepsy or if there is another problem that caused the seizure.
She also has problems with her anal glands, could this be anything to do with it?
She is 4 years old now and a very lively, playful dog. Last night she started acting strange when I was in the kitchen with her, she was crouched down walking along, then she started rubbing her face with her paw and then she collapsed to the floor all scrunched up. She was shaking a lot and was not totally with it my partner and I talked to her and comforted her but she didn't respond to us. She was dribbling a lot as well.
I would be grateful for anyone's input on this.
thanks
Claire and Zanthe
 

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Hi and Welcome to LF

Sorry to hear Zante has had a "strange happening". I'm not going to use the word "fit" because, obviously, this must be discussed with your Vet.

Sit down at your computer and do a document. Think long and hard of any recent changes in your routine of day to day life, detail exactly what happened, before, during and after the "episode". This will be help for the Vet and also yourself.

Ideally, a video would be useful, but with something like this, happening suddenly, the last thing on your mind would be grabbing your mobile and making a film!

My Cassie (nearly 13) had a "problem" from the age of two until eight. She would be "out of it" for up to 20 minutes, with staring eyes and uncontrollable legs (like somebody on stilts for the first time!). Our Vet said we would monitor the situation, she never had medication and they didn't happen very often.

Our Vet has always said that the dog knows nothing about it and it is only distressing to the Owner.

Talk to your Vet and keep us posted.

Chel, Cassie and Dilys xxx

P.S. Zante looks BEAUTIFUL :D :D :D :D
 

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Hi Claire ,

I have only just read your post about your Beautiful Zanthe :( .. Firstly and believe me I do know how impossible this feels, but try not to panic if Zanthe has another fit :(

You and your partner did exactly the right thing during the fit as it's all we can do for them at the time :wink:

When Sherpa had his first fit I took him to the vet .. They took bloods to see if there was a biochemical cause for the fit i.e infection , underlying disorder that may have caused the fit etc and checked for any possible neurological factors that may have triggered it.. So this is the most likely starting point for you with Zanthe .. If the bloods come back normal the vet will most probably tell you to wait and see if further fits occur .. So be prepared to keep a diary of dates times and length of fit along with describing as best you can what it looks like .. ( videoing a fit is very useful but not easy to do if caught on the hop so to speak and trying to comfort your dog at the same time ) ..

There are so many reasons why a dog may fit and Epilepsy is often the diagnosis in the absense of any known cause .. All fits are Epileptic in nature but there are other conditions that mirror Epilepsy ..

I don't want to bombard you with to much info just now and I'm hoping JohnW will see this as he puts it so well and helps those of us with Epileptic Labs to cope and understand it better :D .. What I will say is Sherpa will be 12 this year and has lived with Epilepsy since he was 3 and he's a rascal and a rebrobate and just loves life to the full .. I guess what I am trying to say is if it turns out that Zanthe has Epilepsy don't worry she will cope way better than we do so follow her lead and continue to love life with her she'll lead the way through this for you :wink: :)

Thinking of you and please do give her a huge hug from us ( she is a beauty :D )

Trizia and Sherpa x

edited to add have posted just after Casodil so have inadvertantly repeated what has already been added so have doubled up a bit :)
 

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Just thought I would add a little more to this thread, which might be some help to somebody? somewhere?

I also had Sophie (RIP), Cassies little sister (14 months younger, same parents) she was "fit as a fiddle" 8) but had an "agressive cancer" when she was 8 and had to be PTS :cry:

We then adopted Dilys who was a puppy farm ex-breeding bitch, 18 months, two matings (failed), old before her time and "brain dead" - we all know "the story" :cry:

Dilys was a "Project Dog", I didn't feel sorry for her, she had landed in doggy heaven but, as she came out of her "shell" she started to have "greeting wees" :roll: and, eventually "greeting episodes" :roll:

This was totally different to Cassie - Dils front legs would collapse, her back legs would run and she would moan. We discussed this with our Vet and started to monitor the situation.

Then, over a 30 hour period we had 3 "episodes" and at the last one she was slightly injured because I couldn't catch hold of her quick enough, the Vet then gave us tablets (sorry, can't remember what).

I then thought, long and hard, OH, who she was "welded" to, worked from home - it was ME who went in and out!!! - It was down to ME 8O

So I started a new plan, I entered the house and totally ignored the dogs, put the kettle on, took my coat off, lit a *** :roll: , looked at the ceiling :roll: :roll: my Cassie girl was sooo sad - she had always had fuss when I came in, Dilys was confused, but I did not give up even though it was hell for me. Greeting Dilys was just "fueling the fire"!!!

Dilys has never ever had another "episode"!!! :lol: :lol: :lol:

I just hope that this post will help somebody, somewhere ------??


Chel, Cassie and Dilys xxx
 
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