Epilepsy in Pets

A ginger cat and a brown and white Corgi lie next to each other

Before we take a deep dive into how epilepsy can affect pets, here are some common terms you will come across in this article and when reading about epilepsy and seizures in pets, and their definitions.

Picture with common terms and their meanings

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder found in cats and dogs and can affect around 1-3% of cats and between 0.5-6% of dogs. Seizures are a symptom of epilepsy, but not all types of seizures are caused by epilepsy. A dysfunction of the brain's electrical activity causes seizures in both pets and humans, although the specific mechanisms that cause seizures are not fully understood. There are many different types of seizures, and the type of treatment that is recommended by your pet's veterinarian will depend on the type of seizures that affect your pet.

A brown and white dog standing on pavers

I Think My Pet Is Having Seizures

If you think your pet is having seizures, there are a number of things you should attempt to observe that will help your pet's vet with a diagnosis. Record the date and time of day the seizure occurred. You should also attempt to time the seizure to see how long it lasts. If you can recall, try to remember what your pet was doing just before having the seizure. Were they acting restless or agitated, or were there any other changes in their behaviour in the days, hours or minutes before the seizure? After the seizure, you should also take note of any behavioural changes. All of this information in crucial in assisting your vet in accurately diagnosing and treating your pet's seizures.

A Labrador is giving a ginger cat a lick. The cat seems unimpressed.

Different Types Of Seizures In Pets

There are two main types of seizures in pets - focal and generalised. A focal or partial seizure only affects one part of the brain, meaning that only one side or part of the body is affected by the seizure. Whereas a generalised seizure affects both sides or hemispheres of the brain and both sides of the body can be affected.

Remember that not all seizures are caused by epilepsy. Seizures that are triggered by the presence of a toxin or by metabolic imbalances are called reactive seizures and are not considered to be a form of epilepsy.

A cat is lying on it's back on timber floors

The Four Stages Of A Seizure

Picture explaining the 4 stages of a seizure

Different Types Of Seizures Caused By Epilepsy

Seizures caused by epilepsy can generally be classified into one of three categories - idiopathic epilepsy, structural epilepsy and epilepsy of unknown cause.

Idiopathic simply means "cause unknown", so idiopathic epilepsy means that there is no obvious structural cause, no abnormal neurological symptoms and no known exposure to toxins that could explain the epilepsy. It is usually assumed that this type of epilepsy is inherited as certain breeds can carry genetic defects that cause seizures.

Structural epilepsy is the diagnosis for seizures that occur after an animal has suffered trauma to their head, a stroke, had an inflammatory disease of the brain or a brain tumour is found. The brain abnormalities can often be seen on an MRI or detected in an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid.

Where a structural cause is suspected, but cannot be identified, it is referred to as epilepsy of unknown cause.

A Golden Retriever looks through a door at a cat sitting inside

What To Do If Your Pet Is Having A Seizure

If your pet is having a seizure, you should not attempt to restrain them. Instead, remove any items around them that they may injure themselves on such as tables, chairs, etc. Turn off the lights, television and any music or radio that are playing to reduce environmental stimulation. You should also try to record what happens during the seizure and time how long it lasts so that you can pass that information along to your pet's vet. Never put your hands in or near your pets' mouth, even after they have stopped moving as they may not be able to control their movements and may bite. Wait until they have recovered and are seeking your reassurance before touching your pet.

You should immediately contact your pet's veterinarian if the seizure lasts for more than two minutes, if your pet has more than two seizures in a 24 hour period, or if your pet is still twitching or suffering from tremors after their seizure has finished.

A close up photo of half of a Corgi's face

Medications to Treat Epilepsy

The information provided below is general advice provided for information purposes only and does not replace the advice of your pet's veterinarian. Never give your pet any medications without a prescription from a veterinarian.

There are some medications available that can help manage your pet's epilepsy. Treatment for epilepsy is not usually recommended in pets that have had a single, isolated seizure. Often treatment with medication is considered when your pet suffers multiple seizures within a 24-hour period, more than two seizures in six months, or your pet exhibits severe or unusual signs during the postictal period.

A close up photo of a tabby cat by a window

Some of the medications used to treat epilepsy and seizures can have significant side effects. Therefore, it is important to closely follow the instructions of your veterinarian. It can take time to find the right medication for your pet, and in some cases, management of your pets' epilepsy or seizures with medication may not be possible.

PetScripts is an online service that allows you to purchase your pets prescriptions online via an Australian pharmacy.

Toxins That Can Cause Seizures in Cats

Picture listing toxins that can cause seizures in cats

Toxins That Can Cause Seizures in Dogs

Picture listing toxins that can cause seizures in dogs

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