by Anne Jones RN, BSNE
In order to understand about seizures, it is necessary first to understand some medical terminology. There are diseases and there are signs and symptoms of disease. Seizures are a symptom of many different diseases.
Inherited epilepsy is one of those diseases. According to data from the Canine Epilepsy Network and that collected by BFCA, Bichons are not high on the list of breeds that are likely to have inherited epilepsy. This condition usually shows up in the affected animal by age three. At this time, there is not enough data to support the probability that this will occur in a young Bichon. Does that mean that no Bichon has inherited epilepsy? No, it can occur in any breed and probably has - but the odds are against your Bichon’s having inherited epilepsy. However if a seizure occurs in a young Bichon, inherited epilepsy should be considered and, if diagnosed, should be reported to the Canine Epilepsy Network.
Seizures do occur in Bichons and we have numerous reports on record of seizures in older Bichons. This is where it becomes a symptom instead of the disease itself. Seizures can occur in a dog affected by any of the following conditions, according to Tufts University’s publication, Your Dog:
Vascular conditions, causing a lack of blood supply in the brain
Infection or inflammation, from distemper or encephalitis
Trauma from bleeding or hematoma in the brain or from a fractured skull
Anomaly, such as hydrocephalus
Metabolic toxicity, including liver or kidney dysfunction, hypoglycemia, electrolyte abnormalities, hypothyroidism, toxins
Neoplasia to include brain tumors or metastasis to the brain
Degeneration due to storage disease, which is the accumulation of degradation products in the nerve cells
It is impossible to fully treat symptomatic seizures without first diagnosing the underlying disease causing the seizures to happen.
What is a seizure and what should the owner expect to happen when the dog has a seizure?
A seizure is a disorder that occurs in the brain causing the dog to stiffen, lose awareness of his surroundings and to begin rhythmic movements that last about two minutes. Afterward the dog may be unaware of his surroundings for up to an hour. The process begins with the stiffening of his body with legs extended, the head thrown backward with the neck twisted and the mouth stretched in a grimace. The dog may drool, the pupils of the eyes may dilate and the dog will often urinate. Sometimes the dog will vocalize or howl. While the above is going on, the dog begins to paddle his feet and to chew or bite at the air as his body is in continuous tremors. With a small dog such as the Bichon, the easiest way to keep him from harming himself or you is to wrap him in a towel and hold him close to the body or to allow him to lie quietly in a safe place. Be aware that some dogs will bite during this time. After the seizure is over, the dog may be disoriented for a few minutes to several hours and is best crated or kept in safe surroundings until he is fully aware. Even if he is up on his feet, he will lack coordination for a time. People who have had dogs with repetitive seizures often sense when they are about to occur, while the dog himself may have an aura, or a forewarning.
Seizures can be controlled with medication prescribed by the veterinarian. Consider the possibility of seeking advice from a veterinary neurologist. Even with medication, the seizures may recur periodically and often in a pattern. The event described above is a grand mal seizure but there can be milder forms of seizure that consist of a jerky movement of a single limb or a muscular twitch in the face. These are often missed by the owner unless they occur with enough frequency to get the attention. Some breeds of dogs have weird patterns of behavior that may be an inherited disorder. These include “fly-biting”, aggressive behaviors, vocalizing and other odd behaviors that are peculiar to the specific breed. The name for this type of seizure is psychomotor seizure and is different from behavioral disorders. In Bichons, there is a newly reported condition that has been named Bichon Dyskinesia that is not considered at this time to be a seizure disease. Information on this condition can be found on the web at Involuntary Movement. To date, we have only 3 confirmed cases.
Idiopathic epilepsy is the name of epilepsy with no known cause. This is the type that occurs in certain breeds more than in other breeds and starts at a young age, usually 1-5 years of age. Recent research has shown that the earlier the treatment begins for these dogs, the better the results. New medications are available in addition to the older drugs and drugs have been very effective in controlling the seizures. If testing finds an underlying cause, the seizure is then described as secondary epilepsy; i.e. secondary to a specific disease or condition.
Another seizure event has been reported in older dogs that are being groomed. We experienced this type seizure in one of our older Bichons that came back to me for grooming. She would be fine during the bath and the start of the drying process. Once the dryer wand was moved up by her head, she would become restless, usually defecate or urinate or both and, if placed on the floor, would run around for a few minutes until I picked her up and calmed her. I found that I could eliminate this by giving her a low dose of phenobarb about an hour before her bath. Needless to say, the medication was prescribed by a veterinarian, though it was at my request. In talking with groomers, I find this is a fairly common thing to happen with very old Bichons. I suspect it has to do with the noise of the dryer that disturbs the mechanics of the brain in some way, especially since I use a forced air type dryer.
Of the above listed causes of seizures, which are more likely to occur in Bichons?
According to our records, seizures do occur with some frequency in older Bichons. If you have a Bichon that begins to have periodic seizures, you need to have him examined as quickly as possible by your veterinarian so that medication can be started. The next step is to determine the underlying cause because we know that seizure in these dogs is the symptom and not the disease. This may require blood tests, x-rays and an extensive physical examination of the dog. Once the cause is determined, treatment may result in a much longer life for the animal and successful treatment of disease could eliminate the seizures if a metabolic disorder or systemic disease is the underlying problem.
An added note would be to consider toxicity from medications (including flea control products), plant materials or other substance as a factor if liver disease proves to be the cause.
In some instances, if the dog is quite old, it may be more humane to treat the seizures and forego medical testing but that is a decision that must be worked out between owner and veterinarian. If drug treatment keeps the dog free of seizure for a few more weeks or months of life, that may be the chosen route. However, it is possible that testing may find a simple condition that is easily treated.
It goes without saying that the basis for dealing with seizures is to seek veterinary help immediately, to make every effort to determine the cause and to follow through with prescribed medication. Dogs with seizures can have a normal life, provided there is no fatal condition behind the seizures. Breeders should observe any pattern that may indicate an inherited tendency to epilepsy or to metabolic or other causes of the condition. A sound breeding program will not include animals that are producing offspring with genetic diseases.
This article has been prepared from material found in various veterinary texts, the Tufts University newsletter, “YOUR DOG”, and information provided by The Canine Epilepsy Network. The Canine Epilepsy Network can be found at www.canine-epilepsy.net.
Liver Cleansing Diet
For a diet that is useful for dogs with liver disease, those on extended medical treatment and dogs with epilepsy or seizures, the following link will provide a healthy home cooked diet. Please discuss this diet with your veterinarian before using it. It is a balanced meal designed by Dr. Jean Dodds and has been used by committee members for several years as a supplemental diet during illness. It is approved by The Epilepsy Foundation and others.