Epilepsy in beagles


Epilepsy is a widely used term describing the uncontrolled movements of muscles known as fits and seizures. There are lots of different things that can cause seizures, and they can be one-off or repetitive in different situations. Beagles have been recorded as having epileptic seizures for many years. The reports in the UK stay at the same level year after year, and it is thought to be hereditary, although there is no test for this yet.

Most epileptic seizures start during sleep, and the onset is aged from 2 to 5 years generally. They can involve just a part of the body, the so-called petit mal seizures, or all the body, the grand mal. The dog may also lose bladder and or anal function, and some owners only know they have had a seizure by the presence of urine or faeces unexpectedly when the animal has been left. Most seizures only last a minute or so, but they can sometimes be repeated over and over – cluster seizures or be prolonged- status epilepticus. Both cluster seizures and status epilepticus can be dangerous and sometimes even life-threatening.

Most veterinarians will recommend therapy to help control epilepsy if the number of seizures exceeds one a month, if clusters occur, if the status has occurred or if there are behavioural changes such as aggression. Therapy usually involves phenobarbitone as the primary drug with additions such as potassium bromide. The aim is to reduce or remove the seizures significantly.

There is a lot of work being carried out to see if diet changes can improve the seizure level in some dogs. The Royal Veterinary School in London is researching this subject, and contacting them is well worth trying.

Anyone who browses the Internet will find many references to other supplements and remedies. Please make sure you only use these in conjunction with Veterinary Advice as they may have an adverse effect when used unwisely.

There is a condition known as Lafora’s disease, which beagles also suffer from. This is unlike idiopathic epilepsy and doesn’t respond well to standard therapy—the disease results from a fault in a carbohydrate pathway. The mark results in some carbohydrates being deposited in nervous tissue and stops them from functioning normally. See the Genetics page for more information as we now have a DNA test for this.

The Kennel Club Genetics Team in the UK is pleased to collect DNA samples from epileptic beagles. They would need to be diagnosed carefully to screen out dogs with seizures for other reasons. Copies of diagnostic tests and a clinical history would be required as well. Contact bryan.mclaughlin@aht.org.uk and ask for a swab kit or email the Health Coordinator for beagles samgoldberg@btinternet.com and ask for a DNA kit. It involves a simple cheek swab, and instructions are given for taking it. Genetic studies are progressing well, and a gene has been isolated in the Belgian Shepherd breeds. Beagles might carry the same gene or another one, so screening affected dogs would be very helpful as it would be good to avoid breeding from dogs who may develop seizures.