How to Diagnose Epilepsy in German Shepherds
The German shepherd breed has an increased risk of suffering from epilepsy. It is thought a genetic link coding for epilepsy is passed down from parent to pup. If you have a German shepherd, watch for the signs of epilepsy so you can properly treat your dog’s condition if he suffers from it.
Recognizing The Symptoms Of Canine Epilepsy
1. Be aware that epilepsy often presents in young dogs.
Epilepsy often occurs in young age. In German shepherds, typically the first seizure happens and the signs of epilepsy show from under one year of age to four years old. However, in some cases, the dog may be as old as six before presenting.
2. Watch for distress.
Either before or after the seizures, your dog might show signs of distress. This might cause him to be vocal or whine. Your dog might also show signs of fear before or after a seizure.
3. Look for sudden aggressive behavior.
You should be aware that the abnormal electrical behavior in the brain can cause your German shepherd to behave strangely before, during, and after a seizure. This behavior can include being aggressive and attempting to bite in a dog that is otherwise sweet-tempered.
4. Monitor for seizures.
The main symptom for canine epilepsy is seizures. German shepherds can have different types of seizures associated with their epilepsy. If you think your dog is having a seizure, try to take a video of it on your phone and show it to the vet to help them make an accurate diagnosis. Different kinds of seizures include:
- Focal seizures: Typified by highly localised bizarre behavior, such as repeatedly irrational rubbing of one part of the body in a compulsive way, or 'fly-catching' behavior where the dog snaps at invisible objects in the air. This are also known as partial seizures.
- Generalized seizures: These affect the whole body. The dog is unconscious and unaware of what's happening to him or around him. The dog is unable to stand and collapses to one side. The body goes rigid, the limbs often paddle, and the mouth may chomp. Typically this lasts for 30 seconds to three minutes, after which the dog recovers and regains consciousness.
- Status epilepticus: This is where the dog enters a seizure but does not wake up, and the seizure continues indefinitely. It is essential to seek veterinary attention as brain damage can occur during status epilepticus.
5. Look for other odd behavior.
If you are unfamiliar with seizures, you might not realize that your dog is having a seizure. If you notice abnormal behavior, take a video of it on your phone and show it to the vet to help them make an accurate diagnosis. Take note of the following behavior in your dog:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Aimless walking
- Increased thirst or appetite
- Falling down onto his side
- Becoming stiff
- Salivating profusely
- Urinating and defecating randomly
6. Watch for clusters of seizures.
Seizures often occur in cluster or groups, within a 24 hours period. German shepherds with epilepsy are prone to groups of seizures spaced apart. How frequent these groups are depends on the individual. For example, a dog with mild epilepsy may have one seizure every six months, whilst a severely affected individual may have groups of seizures every couple of weeks.
- After the first seizure contact your vet, who can medicate your pet to make another seizure the same day less likely.
Diagnosing Canine Epilepsy
1. Provide your vet with a seizure log.
It is important to keep a diary of how many seizures your dog has, and how often it has them. This guides the vet as to how strong the medication needs to be and if the dose is adequate.
- If at all possible, provide a video of the seizure for your vet to see.
2. Give a history.
The vet starts by taking a history in order to rule out possible exposure to toxins which could cause seizures. Your vet will ask you various questions about your dog’s activities, places you two have gone walking, any places he may have gone alone, or materials he may have gotten into and ingested.
3. Perform blood tests.
Unfortunately, there is no single test that gives an answer as to whether the dog's seizures are epileptic. To diagnose epilepsy, the vet starts along a logical path to rule out all conditions that can cause seizure. After a history, the vet may perform screening blood tests.
- These trouble shoot organ function, so as to gain an idea of whether the liver, kidneys, and other organs are functioning normally or if there could be a problem which causes natural toxins to build up and trigger seizures.
4. Rule out other conditions.
Based on the results of the blood tests, the vet may pursue clues. For example, if the blood creatinine levels are low, the vet may want to run additional liver function tests to rule out a portosystemic shunt. The vet may want to check blood thyroid levels since low thyroid hormone can trigger seizures.
- He may also look at blood electrolyte levels to check for abnormalities due to disease which could cause seizures.
- If the vet is worried about infection, such as meningitis, causing seizures, he may collect a sample of the fluid which bathes the spine and brain and analyze that.
5. Run a neuroscan.
If all the tests come back normal or negative, the final test is to run either an MRI or a CT scan. This provides a picture of the structure of the brain, and can rule out conditions such as a brain tumor or cysts on the brain.
6. Eliminate all other conditions.
Since epilepsy is a diagnosis of exclusion condition, your vet will only diagnose epilepsy after ruling out everything else. Once all the other tests have come back normal, the vet can then definitively diagnose epilepsy.
7. Treat the condition.
The treatment depends on the severity and frequency of the seizures. Anticonvulsant drugs are the mainstay of treatment. The aim of medication is to reduce the frequency and severity of the fits while maintaining the dog's quality of life.
- Anticonvulsant medications have side effects, which includes sedation, so the vet may suggest a compromise whereby the dog's fits are controlled but not totally eliminated, but he is not so sedated that his regular day to day life is not impeded.
- The vet may also prescribe suppositories of diazepam to give your German shepherd during a seizure, to calm the brain waves and reduce the risk of another seizure breaking through in the footsteps of the first one.
1. Know how common epilepsy is.
Figures suggest that epilepsy is relatively common. Out of every 200 dogs, one is likely to have epilepsy, which is the equivalent of a 0.5% incidence. German shepherds are at increased risk, which means that in a group of 200 German shepherds, more than the expected one dog could have epilepsy.
2. Understand the difference between epilepsy and seizures.
It is important to understand that epilepsy is a condition, whereas the terms seizures or fits are symptoms. Seizures or fits are also not a diagnosis in their own right. Many people inaccurately use the words epilepsy and seizures interchangeably, but this in incorrect.
- A dog with epilepsy has seizures, but a dog who has seizures does not necessarily have epilepsy. Seizures can be triggered by a variety of different reasons. This is an important distinction to grasp, when wondering if your German shepherd has epilepsy or not.
- In order to reach a diagnosis and start the dog on appropriate treatment, your vet will want to rule out all causes of seizures or fits.
3. Be aware of epilepsy requires a diagnosis of exclusion.
Epilepsy is described as uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain for which no explanation is found. This makes epilepsy a "diagnosis of exclusion," which means that all other possible triggers for seizure activity have to be eliminated before a diagnosis of epilepsy can be made. This is only possible with exhaustive medical testing, including blood tests and an MRI scan to look at the structure of the dog's brain.
- As an owner, your first step is to recognize your dog is having seizures and take the dog to the vet.
- You may have seen idiopathic epilepsy used when referring to the German shepherd. The word idiopathic means unknown cause, which is what epilepsy is, so strictly speaking, the word idiopathic is superfluous and not needed.