Are you a German Shepherd owner? If you are, you probably spend a great deal of time and effort learning about how to best care for this breed of dog, from what food is best to how much exercise your German Shepherd needs. But one health concern you may not have realized can be prevalent in this breed is epilepsy.
If you’ve never heard of epilepsy in dogs, you should educate yourself about the condition as it can commonly occur in several dog breeds including German Shepherds. This condition can develop in any German Shepherd, even an otherwise healthy one, and may even develop in a very young dog.
Read on to learn about epilepsy and the symptoms, causes, treatment and prognosis for German Shepherds suffering from this condition.
What Is Epilepsy In German Shepherds?
There are two types of epilepsy found in dogs: Idiopathic and Symptomatic. The more common of the two types is Idiopathic.
Idiopathic epilepsy is a seizure-inducing neurological disorder common among German Shepherds, usually occurring in dogs anywhere from around six months old to six years. This condition is also sometimes referred to by any one of the following terms: primary epilepsy, genetic epilepsy or inherited epilepsy.
This disorder, caused by over-activity of electrons in the brain, may manifest itself in two different types of seizures: generalized and partial. In a generalized seizure, also called a grand mal seizure, the dog will lose consciousness and experience involuntary muscle contractions which result in jerking or twitching movements, usually in all four legs.
Partial seizures, also known as focal seizures, are more localized to one area of the body, often affecting only one limb at a time, or another part of the body. Sometimes partial seizures can further develop into generalized seizures.
These outward physical signs of the disease are an indication of serious distress to the brain. If your dog is experiencing either type of seizure, you should take him to a vet as son as the seizure is over.
However, there may be earlier signs that you can watch for before the epilepsy becomes this severe. Read on to discover earlier symptoms of the condition.
What Are The Symptoms Of Epilepsy?
While seizures are the most obvious symptom of epilepsy in German Shepherds, these generally occur in the second stage of the condition, known as the ictal phase. Several other less severe symptoms that you may notice earlier occur in the first stage of epilepsy, known as aural phase.
In the aural phase, you may notice that your German Shepherd’s behavior becomes abnormal. Slight changes in behavior may include nervousness, hiding, attention seeking or restlessness. While any of these symptoms may also indicate a less serious concern, they are early symptoms of epilepsy and should be treated as such, especially in German Shepherds.
In the ictal phase, the seizures will begin. Seizures may go undetected because they sometimes only last for a few seconds. However, they can also last for several minutes. Because these may occur when you are not with the dog, it is important to pay attention to the symptoms characteristic of the first and third stages of epileptic fits.
If you observe your dog having a seizure, you should allow the seizure to finish before you take your dog to the vet. There is nothing that you can do to stop it from happening, and it is generally best to leave the dog where he is, but you might be able to ease the dog’s comfort by placing something soft around him, such as blankets or pillows, to prevent him from injuring himself. You may need to move him, however, if he is in any danger of falling, for instance down stairs or off of a porch. But in most cases it is best to not touch the dog while he is having a seizure.
In the postictal phase, you will again notice behavioral changes. The dog may seem restless, confused, disoriented or severely exhausted. Sometimes hearing and vision may also be affected. It’s important to pay attention to these symptoms because you may notice them even if you were not there when your German Shepherd was experiencing the seizure.
If you notice any of these symptoms from the aural, ictal or postictal phases of epilepsy, you should take your German Shepherd to a veterinarian for examination and diagnosis.
What Are The Causes Of Epilepsy In German Shepherds?
There are two types of epilepsy that may occur in German Shepherds: Idiopahtic and Symptomatic. Idiopathic is the most commonly occurring of the two.
Idiopathic epilepsy is generally believed to be a hereditary condition as there is usually no specific known cause that can be identified. If a dog has a family history of epilepsy, it is more likely that he will develop the condition. For this reason, German Shepherds known to have this condition in their ancestry are not recommended for breeding.
Another type of epilepsy, symptomatic epilepsy, may occur as a result of another medical condition, such as diabetes, kidney or liver disease, stroke or cancer. This form of epilepsy is less common and is not necessarily any more likely to occur in a German Shepherds than in another breed.
Only a qualified veterinarian can diagnose your German Shepherd and determine which form of epilepsy he may have.
Diagnosis For Epilepsy In German Shepherds
A veterinarian will begin a diagnosis of epilepsy by studying your dog’s complete medical history. There is no one specific test that can offer a positive result for epilepsy, but there are tests that can be done to first rule out other conditions that might cause similar symptoms.
Some of the first tests that may be performed to rule out other conditions include basic blood work and urine testing. Blood tests may reveal conditions such as an underlying infection, inflammation or anemia.
Some other tests that a vet may perform include: cerebrospinal fluid analysis, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRI, EEG and radiography. These various tests are used to check things like kidney and liver function, electrolyte levels and presence of infection. Finally, a PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction, test may be done to check for epilepsy tendencies in the DNA.
If a vet cannot give a definitive diagnosis, he may refer you to a neurologist for more in depth testing, however in most cases your regular veterinarian should be able to make a diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis has been made, your vet will probably recommend a course of treatment which will likely include medication.
Treatment For Epilepsy In German Shepherds
If your German Shepherd is diagnosed with epilepsy, more than likely your vet will want to prescribe a medication. Medications for epilepsy can lessen the frequency and severity of seizures in your pet, though they will not cure the condition.
Some possible medications that your vet may prescribe include: phenobarbital, gabapentin, Pexion or diazepam. The drug that your vet chooses for your German Shepherd may depend on a number of factors.
The most commonly prescribed medication for epilepsy in German shepherds is phenobarbital. This drug is known to suppress the electrical activity in the brain that causes epileptic seizures and has proven effective in most cases. Sometimes your vet may also prescribe potassium bromide in addition to the phenobarbital as it can work with the phenobarbital to improve results.
If your vet doesn’t recommend phenobarbital, he may prescribe your German Shepherd with gabapentin. This is another common drug used to treat epilepsy in both dogs and humans. This drug is used to control seizures and relieve pain. It may be prescribed with other medications or on its own.
Pexicon is another drug that may be considered for your German Shepherd. This is a newer drug for epilepsy that offers a lower risk of damage to the liver.
Diazepam is another option for epilepsy treatment. This medication is often used if your German Shepherd experiences frequent seizures.
Each of these drugs comes with various side effects. Some side effects of epilepsy medications may include: coordination problems, sedation or excessive sleeping, increase in apatite, excessive thirst, liver damage, vomiting, diarrhea and immobility.
You should talk to your vet about how the specific prescribed drug works and any concerns you have about the side effects. Drugs are general administered one to two times a day and are prescribed for the remainder of the dog’s lifetime.
Sometimes your vet may recommend a course of treatment that incorporates a combination of some of these drugs. Each dog may respond differently to a medication, so your vet will want to work with you to determine what treatment is best for your pet.
Prognosis For German Shepherds With Epilepsy
Unfortunately there is not yet a cure for epilepsy in German Shepherds. If your dog is diagnosed with this condition, it will be a lifetime diagnosis.
In many cases, idiopathic epilepsy will increase in severity throughout a dog’s lifespan, and as many as 20% to 60% of German Shepherds diagnosed with epilepsy will eventually die as a result of the damage done by the seizures.
However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, your German Shepherd’s epilepsy may be controlled to an extent. With the right medication, the severity and frequency of epileptic seizures may be reduced, and your dog may live longer than if the condition went untreated.
The most important thing to remember with epilepsy in German Shepherds is that you should watch for early symptoms so that you can get a diagnosis as soon as possible. The sooner your dog is diagnosed, the sooner he can receive proper treatment to improve his health and well being.