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Ask the Vet: Epilepsy is a common condition in dogs

Ask the Vet: Epilepsy is a common condition in dogs

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Q: My dog was just diagnosed with epilepsy, and I am unsure about what to expect with this disease?

A: Epilepsy is the most common seizure disorder in dogs and usually exhibits itself in younger dogs between the ages of six months to six years of age.

The main clinical signs of epilepsy in dogs are seizures. These can range from partial seizures that cause facial twitching or fly biting behavior to full-blown grand mal seizures that cause the dog to lose consciousness.

Seizures can be terrifying to watch, but it is critical not to put your hand anywhere near the dog’s mouth. They are not in control of themselves during a seizure, and you can get hurt if you are not careful. The most important thing to do when your dog is having an attack is to make sure it is somewhere safe and cannot fall down the stairs or off the couch.

In general, if a dog has a seizure, it is essential to take it to a veterinarian as there are many causes of seizures. We must first rule out all the other possible causes before we diagnose epilepsy.

Now that your dog has been diagnosed with epilepsy, your veterinarian will talk to you about seizure frequency. That is how we determine the need for seizure medication. Typically, if a dog has more than one seizure every three months or so, we will consider starting the anti-seizure medication. There are many anti-seizure medications, and all of them have side effects, so it is essential to understand what the drugs do and what to expect long-term.

We are very conservative when starting a dog on anti-seizure medication because once you start an epileptic dog on anti-seizure medication, it is lifelong. Some dogs are so significantly affected by epilepsy that they must be on multiple anti-seizure medicines simultaneously.

Current research is being done to investigate the use of THC to treat seizures in dogs, but, as of now, that is not a recommended treatment.

Q: I have heard that dogs do not sweat. How do they cool off when they are hot?

A: Indeed, dogs do not sweat like humans, so it is essential to keep this in mind when the weather warms up. The only place on a dog's body that can sweat is their paws, so you might see sweaty paw prints on the sidewalk on hot days.

Obviously, this is not enough to cool them off when they get hot, so they must expel the heat in other ways. The primary method is by panting as they will blow off hot air as they puff. Unfortunately, panting is not the most efficient way to cool off, so dogs are much more susceptible to heatstroke.

Their inability to cool off efficiently means that dogs can suffer from heatstroke even at very mild temperatures. This means that you should avoid exercising them when it's hot and never leave them in a hot car even with the windows down as they can still suffer from heatstroke.

Heatstroke can be fatal if not treated quickly and aggressively by a veterinarian. It is also crucial to know that you do not want to cool a dog down too rapidly if it is in heatstroke. Suppose your dog is exhibiting signs of heatstroke such as excessive panting, lethargy, pale mucous membranes. In that case, you can pour cool water on the dog but do not dunk it in ice water. Cooling them too quickly can be as dangerous as the heatstroke.

Typically, with medical treatment, most dogs that suffer from mild heatstroke will get better. Still, it is better to try and avoid getting them too hot in the first place.

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at


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