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Boxer Dog Seizures
Overview


A seizures is not a disease itself, it is a symptom of health condition or disease. It is the word used for when a surge of electrical activity in the brain affects how a person or animal behaves.

There are different types of seizures that a Boxer dog can suffer from.   With any type, in some cases it will only occur one time and with other Boxers, it may be a continuing issue.

Even with extensive testing, there are times when the cause of this is not always known (called idiopathic), however we will discuss the most common reasons, diagnosis and treatments.

Causes

Epilepsy - This is the most common reason that a Boxer puppy or dog will suffer from seizures.  Dogs that are identified as having seizures due to epilepsy can do quite well and live fairly typical and happy lives with appropriate medication.  The Boxer breed does have a predisposition to a type of epilepsy called Primary Epilepsy.  The condition often appears between the young ages of 1 and 3 years old.

Brain tumors - The Boxer dog is prone to brain tumors and this is due to the skull structure of this breed. The most frequently seen type of brain tumor with this breed develops in the pituitary gland of the brain. Seizures are the main symptom. Other symptom are: behavioral changes, continual tilting of the head, continual circling and unsteady walking. This is diagnosed via x-ray  and/or biopsy.  If this is the cause of a Boxer dog having seizures,  it is often treated aggressively via radiation, chemotherapy and sometimes surgery, although these types of tumors can be difficult to remove.

Degenerative myelopathy - While rare, this is one possible cause, although technically it causes tremors that are mistaken for seizures. This is a  progressive disease that attacks the dog's central nervous system.

Other possible reasons for a dog having one or multiple seizures are:
  • Head Injury
  • Hypoglycemia (a rapid drop in blood sugar levels)
  • The end stage of an extreme heart worm infestation
  • Severe ear infection
  • Severe reaction to a vaccination
  • Liver disease


Signs of  a Seizure


Depending on the type of seizure that is occurring,  a Boxer dog will have a combination of some of the following symptoms:
  • Drooling
  • Staring out into space
  • Walking in place
  • Making strange movements
  • Not responding to you
  • Signs of confusion
  • Rigid limbs
  • Passing out (unconscious)
  • Breathing can stop
Types of Dog Seizures

Tonic Clonic


The most common type of dog seizure is the Tonic-clonic.  This has 2 phases to it.

The first part, called "tonic" can be very extreme or mild.  In serious cases, the dog will enter a Grand Mal phase in which they drop to the ground unconscious and the dog’s legs will be stretched and stiff.  This is very dangerous, as  a  puppy or dog may  stop breathing.  If breathing does not start again within 30 seconds, canine CPR must be performed while assistance is being called.

In milder phases, the dog may drop down, but will not be unconscious and will breathe as usual.

The "clonic" and 2nd part will be one in which the dog show very unusual behavior.  This can include all or some of the following:
  • Walking in place
  • Drooling
  • Abnormal movements of the mouth
  • Impassiveness
  • Enlarged pupils.
Petit Mal

This is a short event canine seizure lasting, in general, 15 to 20 seconds. During this time  the dog will lose muscle control and they will enter a "blank" stage of staring.

Partial seizures may take place with dogs.  They may show signs comparable to the 2nd phase of the tonic-clonic type.  This will consist of the walking in place and the dog may also have muscle spasms: in the legs, head or back.   During this type, a dog may keep doing the same actions over and over, for example biting into the air or barking as if they were filmed and the “movie” is playing over and over again.

Status Epilepticus

The most severe and also most uncommon type is Status Epilepticus.  This is typically fatal.  A dog will go into a severe seizure that lasts for approximately a 1/2 hour. A number of dogs will never recuperate. This type can be avoided as it most often happens when a dog is given great amounts of chocolate.  This can also happen if a dog unintentionally eats a poison  such as a cleaning compound.   For this reason, "child" proofing a home for a Boxer is highly recommended.

What to Do

What do should you do if you think your Boxer is having a seizure?

It is a common misconception that one should hold the tongue.  However,  there are some things that an owner (or witness) should do. If there are any objects near the dog, move them away, such as chairs, coffee tables, etc.
 
Immediately shut off any noises such as the TV, radio, etc.   Turn off any bright lights.  Speak in a reassuring voice.  Carefully put a slim pillow under your Boxer dog’s head.  Jot down information that the vet will need to know:
  • When this happened
  • How long it lasted for
  • All signs that your dog showed
  • What your Boxer was doing right before the seizure
Once it appears that your dog is out of the seizure, bring him or her to the vet or nearest animal hospital.  Testing will begin to determine the cause.

Treatment

The #1 cause of seizures in Boxer dogs is epilepsy, and therefore we will discuss treatment for this disease.

Medications-  Anti-epileptic medications do not always prevent all seizures from occurring, but can greatly reduce both the number of attacks and the severity of them.   The most widely used and effective treatment is a combination of phenobarbital and potassium bromide.  Phenobarbital frequently causes marked drowsiness with many Boxer dogs, however the body normally adjusts within a couple of weeks as it builds up a tolerance to this side effect. There are some other side effects, however benefits generally outweigh risks. Any dog on a regimen of this medicine must be tested on a regular basis for any possible damage to the liver.  Rarely, it can cause the hind legs to become stiff, but if this does occur, it goes away once the dosing stops.

In cases where this combination does not effectively help a Boxer dog in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures, other medications may be tried. This includes:  Clonazepam, Clorazepate and Valproic acid.

It should be noted that in most cases of the phenobarbital/potassium bromide combo not working, it is a matter of too low of a dose and/or owners not giving the medication as directed.  For this reason, owners are strongly encouraged to stick to a strict dosing schedule.

Alternative Treatments

Acupuncture- In cases of idiopathic seizures (the cause cannot be determined), acupuncture is a holistic treatment that may help.   Sessions usually last 20 to 30 minutes once per week and 4 to 6 weeks are usually given to see if it is effective. If so, sessions may be stretched out to only once every 6 weeks.  Some canine acupuncturists also recommend herbs in addition to this, and it is highly recommended to check with your Boxer's veterinarian first.

Dietary Changes - With some dogs, a change to the diet can be very helpful in cases of idiopathic seizures (cause unknown) as the cause may be an allergic reaction to a particular food element.  The 2 options are to switch to a hypo-allergenic commerical brand or to home cook - which is the recommended choice since an owner can have full control over all ingredients and foods that the Boxer ingests.

With home cooking, one would begin with a very plain, simple diet of white, de-boned chicken breast and plain, unseasoned rice.  Every 2 weeks, a new ingredient is introduced. Some of the elements that are slowly incorporated into the meals are: carrots, green beans and potato.

Supplements -  Omega 3 and Omega 6 are types of fatty acids that have many benefits.  These supplements are frequently used to keep a Boxer dog's skin and coat healthy.  It is thought that these fatty acids decrease neuron activity in the brain (for both dogs and humans) and therefore works to decrease the severity and frequency of seizures that are classified as "cause unknown".

Continuing Research

Research is under way to identify the defective gene or genes responsible for epilepsy so that canines can be identified as carriers before being bred. This is an important step since affected dogs may not have their first seizure until 3 years old,  by which time they may have already been used in a breeding program.  A dog that suffers from epilepsy should be retired from any breeding program.



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