Don't be fooled by the name—the Australian shepherd is a breed originating in the Western United States. During the Gold Rush era, these working dogs were used to herd livestock. The breed does have a slightly higher susceptibility to seizures than the average dog.
Seizures in Australian shepherds are broadly similar to those experienced by people. A seizure occurs when the brain undergoes a kind of electrical storm, causing symptoms ranging from loss of consciousness to sensory hallucinations. In a grand mal seizure, also referred to as a tonic-clonic seizure, a dog will become rigid, lose consciousness and shake or convulse uncontrollably. Urinary or bowel incontinence commonly occurs during this type of seizure. Petit mal or partial seizures can include some of the symptoms of a tonic-clonic seizure, but the dog will not necessarily fall down or lose consciousness.
It can be scary to see your Australian shepherd having a seizure; you can help your pet by staying calm. Call for veterinary assistance if your dog has never had a seizure before, or for any subsequent seizure lasting more than about five minutes without consciousness being regained. Don't try to move your dog unless she's in a dangerous area—next to a swimming pool or open fire, for example. Place blankets or cushions against your dog's back and under or near her head. Do not put anything in or near a dog's mouth during a seizure. Remove other pets from the area, and turn off loud music, television or bright lights. Give your Aussie a quiet, safe space to recover for a few hours after the seizure, as she will likely be very tired.
Australian Shepherds and Epilepsy
As a breed, Australian shepherds have some tendency towards seizures and epilepsy. Seizures can be caused by several medical or external factors, such as a brain tumor, hypoglycemia, poorly controlled canine diabetes, severe dehydration, overheating or stress. If your dog has recurring seizures with none of these apparent causes, it is likely your veterinarian will diagnose epilepsy. Australian shepherds can experience hereditary epilepsy, which runs in families. If either parent of your dog was epileptic, your dog's chance of having epilepsy is greater.
Seizure Prevention and Treatment
If your Aussie is diagnosed with epilepsy, she will likely be prescribed medication to control or reduce her seizures. Make sure your dog takes prescribed medication regularly and in the correct dosages. Low blood sugar can precipitate seizures, so feed your dog regularly, perhaps splitting up the day's food into multiple small meals and snacks. Allow your dog to get plenty of sleep, and try to avoid situations that will overstimulate or overstress your Aussie.
- Tri-color Australian Shepherd Standing. image by Valentine from Fotolia.com