What is Idiopathic Epilepsy?

Pet owners witnessing their dog experience a seizure can be a traumatic event, leaving them feeling overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and fear. A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy can feel like a dark cloud always hanging around; a persistent, lingering anxiety while they wait for the next seizure episode to roll in.

Epileptic seizures are transient signs caused by abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain.1,2 Idiopathic epilepsy, recurrent seizures with no identifiable structural or biochemical cause, is the most common chronic neurologic disorder in dogs.3,4 The frequency, type and severity of seizures can vary tremendously, ranging from several a day (status epilepticus) to less than one a year.

Facts & Figures

  • Risk Factors: Poorly defined, but literature supports an underlying genetic component with a higher prevalence in purebred dogs compared to mixed breed dogs.1
  • Prevalence: Estimated to be between 0.5% and 6% of the canine population.1 Taking the midrange of this estimate into account, that means there are approximately 2.1 million epileptic dogs in the United States.2
  • Age predilection: Most dogs with idiopathic epilepsy experience their first seizure between 6 months and 6 years of age.5

Precipitating Factors

In an observational study, the owners of 50 dogs diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy were interviewed using a predefined questionnaire about possible seizure-precipitating factors6. Of the 50 dogs, 74% (37) had at least one seizure-precipitating factor.
Hormonal-FactorsVisitors-at-homechange-in-lifeunfamiliar-placessleep-depchange-routineweatherstress-relatedexcitement

*Of intact males exposed to a female in estrus.

1. Chandler K. Treatment and monitoring of epilepsy in dogs. In Pract. 2011;33:98-104.
2. Charalambous M, Brodbelt D, Volk HA. Treatment in canine epilepsy – a systemic review. BMC Vet Res. 2014;10:257.
3. De Risio L, Platt S. Canine and Feline Epilepsy: Diagnosis and Management. 1st ed. CABI; 2014.
4. Patterson EE. Canine epilepsy: An underutilized model. ILAR Journal. 2014;55(1):1-3.
5. Podell M, Fenner WR, Powers JD. Seizure classification in dogs from a nonreferral-based population. JAVMA. 1995;206(11):1721-8.
6. Forsgard JA, Metsahonkala L, Kiviranta AM, et al. Seizure-precipitating factors in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. J Vet Intern Med. 2019;33:701-7.