Epilepsy is a genetic disease that affects more than 20 breeds of dogs today. As the incidence of inherited epilepsy increases, more and more dogs with seizures are found homeless, in shelters and rescue organizations.  As with all special needs dogs, finding a home for these special dogs is often difficult.  The goal of this article is to provide information on canine epilepsy and what to expect if you can open your heart to one of these wonderful puppies. 

What is Canine Epilepsy?
Canine Epilepsy is a genetic disorder of the brain where abnormal electrical activity triggers further uncoordinated nerve transmissions.  This uncoordinated and haphazard nerve tissue activity scrambles messages to the muscles of your dog's body and the coordinated use of the muscles is then inhibited.
Because there are many causes of chronic recurrent seizures in dogs, canine epilepsy is not a specific disease or even a single syndrome, but rather a diverse category of disorders.  Canine epilepsy is broadly divided into idiopathic and symptomatic disorders.  Idiopathic Epilepsy means that there is no identifiable brain abnormality other than seizures.  Symptomatic epilepsy is seizures that are the consequence of an identifiable lesion or other specific cause.  One of the causes of symptomatic epilepsy is Autoimmune Thyroiditis, which causes low thyroid function.  All dogs with seizures should receive a six-panel thyroid test to be sure they are not Hypothyroid.  For more information on hypothyroidism and its connection to seizures, please visit our section on thyroid disease.

What can I expect if I adopt an epileptic dog?
First and foremost one should be prepared for a very special bonding with their epileptic dog.  No one can explain it but most owners of epileptic dogs agree that the bond is stronger than they have ever experienced before.  Maybe it is because they need us so much more than other dogs do, but they have a way of wiggling into the depths of your heart like no other dog can.
The second thing is that epileptic dogs live normal lives every day of the year with the exception of the days they have seizures.  These special dogs can compete in obedience, field, agility and other activities as long as the stress of competition does not cause them to have seizures.  In fact, Kim Simons, the Agility Commentator on Animal Planet works with her epileptic dog Roxanne on a regular basis.  To read about Kim and Roxanne please go to our article on Competing in Ability with an Epileptic dog.

What are the medical expenses associated with caring for an epileptic dog?
The medical expenses associated with epilepsy will vary according to the dog and the anti-convulsant medication that works for him but we will try to outline some general guidelines here.


The two most common medications used to treat seizures in dogs are Phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide.  Either of these drugs can be used as mono-therapy or they can be used together.  Both of these drugs are inexpensive and easy to administer.   Phenobarbital will average between $4.00 and $10.00 per month. Potassium Bromide will average between $7.00 and $17.00 per month.  The costs will depend on the amount of the drugs needed to maintain control. 

Laboratory tests:

If your dog is on medication for seizures the blood serum levels of the medication should be tested every 6 to 12 months.  The costs of the lab work will vary from veterinary clinic to veterinary clinic but will average about $35.00 for Phenobarbital and $50.00 for Potassium Bromide levels. 

For dogs taking Phenobarbital to control seizures a chemistry panel should be done every 4 months to be sure that the liver is functioning properly.  The cost will average about $40.00. 

If you are adopting a dog who does not have control of the seizures blood serum levels of the medication may need to be done more frequently as you work to find the right medications to control seizures. 

All in all the cost of caring for an epileptic dog is not as high as you might expect and the rewards are so great.  If you find that you can open your heart to one of these special dogs, one of the following rescue organizations can help you find the perfect match for you and your family:

Dog Breed Info Center

Tennessee Valley Golden Retriever Rescue