Some of our furry friends are more prone to certain conditions than others. Unfortunately for Australian Shepherds, their heightened susceptibility is in the seizure and neurological disorder category.
With having a higher chance of developing seizures than the average pup, there is some information that all Australian Shepherd parents should be aware of.
What Is a Canine Seizure?
Before we discuss the details of seizures in Australian Shepherds, it’s important to understand what a canine seizure is in the first place. There is much more to a seizure than the outward appearance and involves complex activity within the brain.
When your furry friend has a seizure, they are experiencing an influx of uncontrolled electrical activity occurring within the brain. The bursts of electrical activity occur between neurons in certain parts of the brain, leading to an array of abnormal neurological symptoms.
Based on which part of the brain this activity takes place, a dog will experience abnormalities in their movement, as well as in their behavior. The severity of a seizure will vary based on the level of abnormal activity occurring within the brain, and the cause of the seizure in the first place.
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Are Seizures Common In Australian Shepherds?
Seizures are not necessarily common in Australian Shepherds, but as breed, they are certainly more prone to developing seizure conditions than others.
Hereditary epilepsy is more common among the Australian Shepherd community, which makes this a significant issue due to the prevalence of high volume breeding.
This is especially troublesome due to the fact that some dogs do not develop symptoms of epilepsy until they are 2-3 years of age. If a dog is bred before the onset of their seizure condition, there may be a number of impacted pups with this inherited condition down the line.
There is also no definitive test for epilepsy in Australian Shepherds, making it even more challenging to breed away from. This is why it is so important to wait until at least 3 years of age until you breed an Australian Shepherd, as this will help prevent the prevalence of epilepsy in this breed.
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4 Types Of Seizures In Australian Shepherds
We tend to think of seizures as the standard shaking and thrashing that we see in the movies. While this is the case for some, seizures can also look quite different in dogs. The wide variety in seizure appearance is why epilepsy can be so challenging to diagnose in some Australian Shepherds, and may also be why some cases of epilepsy go undiagnosed for so long.
To help you better understand what a seizure can look like, let’s discuss the types of seizures you may see in Australian Shepherds.
1. Focal motor or partial seizures:
This type of seizure originates on one side of the canine brain. Due to the electrical activity only occurring in one brain hemisphere, this leads to spasms or twitching on one side of the body. This could lead to one localized part of the body experiencing paddling, shaking, facial twitching, chewing behavior, and more. Some pet owners even describe a moment that doesn’t involve twitching at all, but rather a sudden change in their dog’s behavior. A dog may appear dazed, disoriented, or even stumble around as if they are dizzy.
2. Psychomotor seizures:
This type of seizure is technically a focal seizure but involves changes in behavior rather than abnormal body movements. Dogs experiencing a psychomotor seizure may experience confusion, stare blankly in one direction, and may even hallucinate. Some Australian Shepherd owners state that their dogs will snap at objects that aren’t there as if they are chasing a swarm of invisible bees.
3. Generalized or grand mal seizures:
Generalized or grand mal seizures are the most well-known type of seizure in dogs and humans. Both sides of the brain are involved in these types of seizures, leading to full-body movements that will range in severity. This type of seizure may cause a dog to tremor, paddle their legs, fall over, shake violently, lose consciousness, hyper salivate, and more.
4. Cluster seizures:
Cluster seizures are not necessarily a type of seizure, but rather a description for multiple seizures over a 24 hour period. These seizures can involve any of the seizure types we mentioned above but will involve a dog experiencing multiple seizures throughout the day.
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Signs & Symptoms Of Seizures In Australian Shepherds
To help you better spot a seizure in your canine friend, let’s discuss the many symptoms of seizure activities in Austral Shepherd. Ranging from chewing fits to changes in behavior, seizures can take on many forms!
Signs of a seizure in Australian Shepherds include:
- Ear twitching
- Chewing fits
- Facial twitching
- Leg twitching
- Leg paddling
- Unsteady gait
- Falling over
- Staring into the distance
- Hallucinations or biting/chasing at things that are not there
- Violent shaking
- Loss of consciousness
- Urinating and defecating
- Sudden aggression
- Changes in normal behavior
If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, we highly suggest contacting your veterinarian for further advice. These symptoms can be a sign of other conditions as well, and so should always be taken seriously.
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Causes of Seizures in Australian Shepherds
The most likely cause of seizures in Australian Shepherds is canine epilepsy. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions in dogs and is the most common cause of seizures in Australian Shepherds. Epilepsy is a condition that causes abnormal activity within the brain, leading to seizures and other strange neurological behavior.
Epilepsy is typically diagnosed between the ages of 1 to 3, and will often range in severity from dog to dog. Some dogs will experience mild focal seizures from time to time, while others will have frequent grand mal seizures. The exact cause of epilepsy is still unknown in dogs, but is mainly believed to be a hereditary condition in Australian Shepherds.
Epilepsy may be the main culprit behind seizures in our canine friends, but there are other possible causes as well. These other factors include hypoglycemia, head trauma, toxicity, brain tumors, kidney disease, and liver disease. These avenues are often explored if your dog has any abnormalities in their medical history, or if they are not of the normal age to be diagnosed with canine epilepsy.
For example, if your 10-year-old Australian Shepherd suddenly develops seizures, it would be extremely rare for the cause to be epilepsy. Your veterinarian would likely explore the other potential causes, and determine the best plan of action based on their medical history. This is why it is so important to contact your veterinarian the first time your dog has a seizure, as your vet can begin to paint a picture of what may be going on.
Managing Seizures In Australian Shepherds
If your Australian Shepherd has been diagnosed with epilepsy, there are a few ways to manage the condition going forward. First, your veterinarian will often perform some baseline blood work before starting your dog on any new medications. Some medications can be hard on their kidneys and liver, so they will want to make sure that your pup is healthy before starting a new treatment plan.
Once your vet determines that your Australian Shepherd is healthy and free of any medical conditions, they will likely suggest a daily medication that prevents seizures. Some of the most common medications include Phenobarbital, Keppra, Potassium Bromide, and Zonisamide. These meds will be determined based on your dog’s health, frequency of seizures, and any other contributing factors.
The best way to adequately manage your dog’s seizures going forward is to make sure that you are diligent about giving their medications. It’s important to never suddenly stop these medications, as this will often result in increased seizures. Some pet owners stop giving the meds when a dog’s seizures have resolved, but this is extremely dangerous, and is just evidence that the meds are doing their job!
Maintaining a close relationship with your veterinarian will also be an important part of managing their condition going forward. Epilepsy is a long-term condition that will always require care, along with frequent checkups with your vet. You should always inform your vet of any changes in your dog’s routine, as well as any changes in their overall health.
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What To Do If Your Australian Shepherd Has A Seizure
If your Australian Shepherd begins to have a seizure, you may be wondering what you can do to help. There are many misconceptions out there on proper seizure care, so let’s discuss our favorite tips on keeping you and your dog safe.
- While this may be challenging, you should try your best to stay as calm as possible. Your pup will likely be confused when their seizure ends, and they will need someone that is calm and ready to help them.
- Take a quick look at the area around your dog and check for any potential safety hazards. This means clearing the area of any sharp objects, blocking off any stairs they could fall down, and any other risks that you see.
- We know you want to comfort your Aussie, but it’s important to refrain from holding them during their seizure. A dog is not aware of their surroundings when they seize, causing them to bite and thrash. Holding them will only lead to potential injury for you.
- Never attempt to stick your hand in your dog’s mouth to stop them from swallowing their tongue. This is a false rumor that has circulated for quite some time, and is impossible for a dog to swallow their tongue. Reaching in their mouth will only result in a severe bite wound for you.
- If you can, you should try to capture a video of your dog’s seizure on your phone. This can help your vet determine the type of seizure your dog had, as well as how severe it was.
- Once they are no longer seizing, we suggest contacting your vet for further advice on what to do next.
Seizures may be more common in Australian Shepherds than other breeds, but there are many ways that you can help them thrive! Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can stay on top of your Aussies health going forward!
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