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01 Introduction


This article is from the Canine Epilepsy FAQ, by Alicia Wiersma-Aylward with numerous contributions by others.

01 Introduction

It happened without warning. One moment my young male Belgian
Tervueren was snuggling against me as I sat on the couch; the next
moment he lost control of his hindquarters and fell onto his side,
unconscious. His lips writhed back over his teeth; his legs stretched
out, then became rigid; and his head twisted up and back as if an
unseen hand was trying to raise his chin to an impossible height. It
seemed like an eternity, but actually only two minutes passed before
his body relaxed and consciousness slowly ebbed back. For an hour
afterward he seemed exhausted and disoriented. I was shaken too, never
having witnessed such a seizure before. Yet later that day the dog was
romping about as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

My dog is lucky. His seizures have been few and far between. We now
believe they are caused by hypothyroidism. Other dogs are not so
lucky. Seizures can be severe and frequent. They may occur in
"clusters" (several in one day), or progress to the life-threatening
state of status epilepticus. In extreme cases where seizures cannot be
controlled, a veterinarian may advise euthanasia.

Epilepsy is found in all breeds and mixed breeds of dogs. Belgian
Tervueren are listed among the breeds for which a genetic factor is
either proved or highly suspected. Other breeds so listed include the
Beagle, Dachshund, German Shepherd Dog, (Alsatian), and Keeshond. A
high incidence of seizure disorders is also found in Boxers, Cocker
Spaniels, Collies, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Labrador
Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, Saint Bernards, Siberian
Huskies, and Wire-Haired Terriers. (Oliver, Seizures). The prevalence
of epilepsy in the general dog population has been estimated at .5 to
5.7%. (Koestner, Cunningham).

A progress report on the epilepsy survey conducted by the American
Belgian Tervuren Club in cooperation with John Oliver, Jr., DVM in
1983 found that 57 (21%) of the 268 Tervueren studied had suffered
more than one seizure. The authors of that report concluded, "At this
time, we believe there is sufficient evidence for the probable genetic
basis of seizures in Tervuren to warrant concern on the part of
breeders". (Mahaffey). Unfortunately, this survey was discontinued.

The term "epilepsy" can be confusing because some authors use it to
describe recurrent seizures of any etiology (cause), while others use
it to specify recurrent seizures unrelated to brain disorders or
underlying disease processes. (Shell, Understanding). The definitions
below are helpful in distinguishing types of epilepsy.


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