Fits (also called seizures) are the result of uncontrolled neurological activity in the cerebral cortex area of the forebrain. There are numerous different causes including kidney disease, liver disease and idiopathic epilepsy.
It is quite a shock to witness a person or an animal having a fit. The individual loses consciousness and collapses. There are uncontrolled sometimes violent muscle movements, limb movements and twitching. Often this is accompanied by urinary and faecal incontinence. Animals frequently vocalise during the fit - manifest as howling or barking in dogs, and meiowing in cats.
There are many causes of fits:
- Within the skull (intracranial)
- Structural lesions (eg encephalitis, traumatic injury, tumours)
- No structural lesion (primary or idiopathic epilepsy)
Diseases localised outside the skull (extracranial or reactive seizures) ie the animal has a normal brain which is reacting to disease in other parts of the body. There are many potential causes including:
- Liver disease - liver failure or portocaval shunts (due to high blood ammonia concentrations)
- End-stage kidney failure - due to toxins in the bloodstream
- Poisoning - various toxins
- Low blood sugar concentrations (hypoglycaemia) - eg following insulin overdosage, or insulin secretion by a pancreatic tumour
- Low blood calcium concentrations - as with eclampsia (lactation tetany, or milk fever) in lactating bitches.
Isolated fits usually only last 1-3 minutes and, although patients are somewhat dazed and show abnormal behaviour for a few hours after the fit, there are usually no long term adverse effects. However, sometimes a series of seizures occurs together - a state called called "status epilepticus" - which is potentially life-threatening.
Veterinary attention should be sought as soon as possible - particularly for animals in "status epilepticus". If you see the seizures it is important to note down everything that you see before, during and after the fit occurs. Note the order in which events occur - because this record will help your veterinarian to make an accurate diagnosis. If your pet has idiopathic epilepsy the fits may only occur once every 6-12 months, so it is unlikely that your veterinarian will be able to witness them at first hand.
If there is an underlying cause for the seizures - as with reactive (extracranial) forms, an accurate diagnosis must be made and appropriate treatment must be given. If the diagnosis is idiopathic epilepsy long term treatment may be needed to control the seizures - but a permanent cure is not possible. Because idiopathic epilepsy may have a genetic cause affected animals should not be used fro breeding.