Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dog seizures: Getting help is the owner's responsibility

Maxine has seizures.

The 2-year-old old King Charles spaniel was diagnosed with epilepsy early on and has been taking medication ever since. Unfortunately, Maxine's seizures are progressing in duration and frequency and her owners, Tanya and Caleb, are worried.

Seizure disorders are some of the more common neurological diseases in canines, and the list of possible causes is quite long. In a young dog such as Maxine, however, epilepsy is by far the most common cause.

A seizure is defined broadly as an uncontrolled discharge of cells within the brain called neurons. The area from which the seizure emanates is called a seizure focus. In some cases, there can be multiple foci.

As veterinarians, we focus on stopping the seizures, as they can be extremely dangerous, and determining their underlying cause.

It is very important for pet owners to keep a detailed history describing the seizures and possible ingestion of abnormal "food" items. Certain foods can trigger seizures -- dark chocolate, snail bait and moldy walnuts being among the more common.

As far as pinpointing a cause, a blood panel can determine if a metabolic disease, especially one that affects the liver, is at play.

Sampling the fluid around the brain and spinal cord, called cerebral spinal fluid, can tell if abnormalities within this fluid are causing seizures. Sometimes an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computer tomography) scan of the brain can show abnormal areas that might be causing seizures. Tumors within the brain can be demonstrated this way.

Even with all these tests, we do not find a distinct underlying cause. These patients are usually diagnosed with epilepsy, which is arrived at by excluding other causes of seizures.

Epilepsy also is more common in breeds, among them spaniels like Maxine. Patients with epilepsy are commonly treated with Phenobarbital to prevent seizures. It is usually quite effective and well-tolerated by the dogs. In Maxine's case, however, even with her treatment, her seizures are occurring and worsening.

Maxine needs to have her blood checked to measure her Phenobarbital levels. It may be that she simply is not taking an adequate amount. If that is not the case, she may need to have another anti-seizure medication added to her Phenobarbital regimen. This is not uncommon and will likely take care of the seizures. There is, however, a chance that her seizures are not the result of epilepsy and that there is as yet a cause which will require more diagnostics.

A key point to remember is that the seizures need to be controlled. The more they occur, the harder it is to stop them.

I hope for Maxine's case, it will be a simple case of adjusting her medication.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.


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