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A Cocker Spaniel standing in the park

Epilepsy common in many dog breeds

Q: Our 3-year-old cocker, Ellie, was recently diagnosed with epilepsy, for which the veterinarian prescribed phenobarbital. We don’t know much about epilepsy in dogs. What can we expect in the future?

A: Epilepsy, or recurrent seizure activity, is common in dogs. The disease can be: 1) primary or idiopathic, meaning there are no structural abnormalities in the dog’s brain, or 2) secondary to infection, trauma, brain malformation, or a toxin such as lead. Primary epilepsy is the more usual type.

Epilepsy is inherited in many breeds, including Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and others. Seizures generally begin when the dog is one to five years old.

The goal of treatment is to decrease the frequency and severity of seizures. Eliminating them altogether is unlikely. Your veterinarian may supplement Ellie’s phenobarbital with another medication, acupuncture or gold bead implants.

If she isn’t already spayed, have your veterinarian do that. Seizures occur more often during a female dog’s heat period, so spaying Ellie should reduce seizures.

You should keep a seizure diary, noting for each seizure the date, time since last meal, duration and other observations, such as loss of urinary or bowel control. Share the diary with your veterinarian regularly.

Your vet will adjust Ellie’s medications and dosages using the seizure diary and the results of periodic blood work to monitor her drug levels and organ function. With treatment, it’s reasonable to expect Ellie to experience shorter, milder, less frequent seizures.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com.

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