Epilepsy In Pets

Epilepsy is the general term for a disorder of the neurological system (which involves the brain, spinal cord and/or nerves) that may cause an animal to have sudden, uncontrolled and often recurring seizures (fits), with or without loss of consciousness; they may also show abnormal behaviours such as air-snapping/fly-biting, excessive vocalisation, aggression without provocation, restlessness or fixed staring. In most cases epilepsy is a lifelong condition and an animal that has more than one seizure is expected to have more frequent or severe seizures in the future. Sometimes however, seizures can be temporary problem caused by illness or toxicity that is affecting the neurological system.

The seizure itself is caused by an ‘electrical storm’ in the brain. The brain has millions of nerve cells called neurones, which control the way animals (and humans) think, move and feel. The nerve cells pass electrical signals to each other and if these signals are disrupted, or if too many signals are sent at once, this causes a seizure, also known as a ‘fit’.

A Seizure or fit is a symptom of a disorder that is affecting the brain and is not a disease in itself. The cause may be

  • Genetic: This is most common in pedigree dogs and goldieaffected breeds include Beagles, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Vizslas, Springer Spaniels, Border Collies and Poodles. It usually becomes apparent from 10 months to 5 years of age. It is thought to be less common in cats due to their genetic diversity.
  • Structural or Metabolic: The seizures can be caused by an underlying brain problem (e.g. anatomical malformation, a tumour or lesions, infection, inflammation and injury), a metabolic disease or problem ( diabetes, chemical imbalances etc.), toxins/poisons (e.g. permethrin, allergic reaction) or heatstroke for example.
  • Unknown (Idiopathic): The cause of the seizures has yet to be or cannot be found.

Types Of Seizure

The two most common types of seizure in dogs and cats are

  1. Generalised seizures (Grand Mal):  There will be collapse, loss of awareness, shaking of limbs, chewing and/or facial twitching, as well as salivation, urination and defecation.
  2. Partial seizures (Petit Mal): These are more common in cats than dogs and, because they only affect part of the body, they can be more difficult to identify. Symptoms can include salivation, staring, facial twitching, eyelid twitching, rapid contraction and dilation of the pupils, vocalisation and aggression. Partial seizures sometimes turn into generalised seizures occurring several times during the day.

Stages Of A Seizure

In some animals these stages can be quite extreme, while others may show only a few, mild signs.
Seizures often occur while the pet is relaxed and resting quietly in the evening or overnight, or they can be triggered by particular events or stress.

Owners of pets with long-term epilepsy can sometimes predict when a seizure is coming based on their pet’s behaviour and often witness increased anxiety related behaviours (whining, clingy), a reluctance to perform normal activities and increased hiding behaviours. The prelude to an actual seizure can last from minutes to hours and animals tend to pace, lick, salivate and sometimes urinate or vomit.
During actual seizure (The Ictal Phase), which may last from a few seconds to a few minutes, you may see involuntary muscle tone and movement (twitching, spasms). The animal will often fall over, become stiff and/or paddle with all four limbs; it may also chomp its jaw, salivate, urinate, defecate and vocalize.
After the seizure (The Postictal Phase), the dog or cat may show signs such as disorientation, restlessness, pacing, increased thirst and appetite, weakness and sometimes temporary blindness. This phase can last minutes, hours or days in more extreme cases

Frequency Of Seizures

  • Self-Limiting: One seizure within a 24 hour or longer period
  • Clustered: Two or more seizures in a 24 hour period, lasting less than 5 minutes each, with the pet displaying normal behaviour in between the seizures
  • Status Epilepticus: Continuous seizures that last for 5 minutes or longer or without a return to normal behaviour between the seizures. Immediate veterinary treatment is necessary for these seizures because they can lead to permanent neurological damage or death


What To Do If Your Pet Has A Seizure

Seizures can be very alarming but try to stay calm, most are very quick, only lasting 30 – 60 seconds (although it may feel like much longer while you are watching).

1. Seizures can be made worse by stimulation such as touch, sound and light, so darken the room if possible and turn off the tv/radio.

2. Don’t touch your pet unless he is in immediate danger of injury. If your pet is in a relatively safe place, leave him alone. He won’t swallow his tongue so don’t try and pull it forward or you may end up getting bitten (or worse cause him to bite his own tongue). If your pet is in a place where he might injure himself you can place a buffer such as a rolled blanket or cushion between him and the object.

3. Owners of epileptic pets are encourage to keep ‘seizure diaries’ as they can be very useful for the vet in determining medication dosage, patterns ,triggers.

  • Note the time of day and if anything unusual happened, or if your dog was acting out of character.
  • Record the length of time of the seizure
  • Note what happened before and during the seizure; pacing, salivating, collapse, jaw chomping, just twitching/spasming or paddling feet etc.
  • It can be useful to film the seizure to show to your vet if you have your mobile phone to hand.

4. Give your pet time to quietly recover from the seizure and then contact your veterinary practice to let them know about the seizure.

5. After the seizure itself (postictal phase) your pet may appear to be very disorientated. In some cases talking calmly and stroking can help, but do not try this if your pet appears to be irritable or agitated; they are still not in complete control of themselves and may scratch, snap and/or bite without realising what they are doing. The best advice is usually to make sure he or she cannot get injured and leave them alone to let them recover.

If the seizure lasts longer than 4 minutes, your pet is having repeated seizures, or your pet is showing twitches and/or tremors that are not settling after an hour or so contact your vet for advice.

Diagnosing Epilepsy

Unfortunately there is no one test available to give us a diagnosis of epilepsy, so your vet may need to perform several investigations in order to exclude other causes of the seizures such as metabolic disturbances (diabetes), toxins, cardiac and/or pulmonary disease and myasthenia gravis which all have symptoms that can mimic seizures.

The first thing will be to give the pet a thorough examination and get a detailed description from you about the seizure(s) including their frequency, duration, and severity, as well as any signs of abnormal behaviour before and after. Following this, tests may include

  • Blood and urine samples may be taken for analysis at the practice or by an external laboratory
  • X-rays, CT or MRI Scans may be performed to try to pinpoint the cause of the seizures
  • Cerebrospinal fluid may also be analysed by a laboratory as this can help identify problems such as Disease, infection, inflammatory conditions and cancers

Credit to University Of Liverpool

Treatment And Management Of Epilepsy

The good news is that the majority of  epileptic pets have a good prognosis and can lead happy lives as long as the condition is controlled and they are monitored closely. 

After a full health check by the vet, pets that have only had one isolated seizure (or have very infrequent seizures) may not need medical treatment and further investigation unless the frequency of seizures increases.

There are several drugs available to help pets with epilepsy, but it is important to know that these will not cure the epilepsy, they will just help alleviate the seizures. Your vet will decide which drugs are best for your pet, based on the number, type and frequency of seizures he or she is having. Some epileptic pets may require more than one type of medication in order to control their seizures. Side effects can occur with treatment, but they are usually worse in the initial stages of treatment and the severity normally decreases over time. Common side effects can include lethargy, increased thirst and hunger (leading to increased urination and weight gain), panting, hyper excitability and restlessness.

While successful treatment will hopefully reduce the frequency of the seizures, intermittent seizures may still occur so owners need to be prepared for this to happen.

It is very important for the vet to monitor an epileptic pet closely, he or she may also need to test the therapeutic levels of drugs in the pet’s blood, so that the drug dosage can be adjusted if necessary. Initially the vet may recommend check-ups and tests every 2-4 weeks and then every 3-6 months.

Antiepileptic drugs should never be stopped suddenly as this may cause ‘withdrawal seizures’. If you have an epileptic pet, make sure that you always have enough medication at home for them.

Epileptic dogs have a tendency to become overweight because of the medication and increased hunger after a seizure, so care must be taken to ensure that they remain at their ideal bodyweight.

Epilepsy can be a very frustrating condition for pets, owners and vets, especially in the beginning stages when treatment is started as it may take a little while to get the drugs and dosages right for the pet. We sometimes see pets who may have responded really well to treatment for a while and then they may have a particularly bad week or month of seizures. However, in most cases, once treatment is started by the vet and the seizures are under control, the epileptic pet can lead a happy and fairly normal life.

Useful Links

Canine Epilepsy UK 

Canine Epilepsy Network

Caring For your Pet’s Ears

Caring For your Pet’s Ears

Ears are very sensitive organs that are not only necessary for hearing, but are also responsible for maintaining balance.

In some animals they also play a very important part in communication, with them using their ears to express what they are feeling, for example pricked up ears are usually seen in alert animals and ears laid flat against the head can be a sign of fear. Continue reading

Guinea Pig Care & Health

Guinea pigs, or Cavies, are small, sociable, friendly, chatty, adorable and inquisitive. There are over 40 different breeds of guinea pig recognised by the British Cavy Council and these include many different colours, coat types and coat lengths so there is definitely a guinea pig to suit everyone.

With their gentle natures they make great pets and, if given a lot of love and attention, can make wonderful companions for both adults and children (an adult should always supervise the care and any interactions between children and their pets). Guinea pigs live on average for 4-8 years and owning them is very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility and commitment in terms of care and finances, so please think about this before you buy your guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs

Guinea Pig History 

Guinea pigs have certainly been around people for a very long time and have played an important role in the culture of many indigenous groups in South America, not only as a food source but also in medicine and in religious ceremonies; statues of guinea pigs that date from around 500 BC to 500 AD have been found in Peru and it is believed some of the ancient Peruvian tribes depicted the guinea pig in their art.

The guinea pigs that we now keep as pets are descendants of wild guinea pigs found in the Andes that were introduced to Europe in the 16th century. No one knows exactly where the name Guinea Pig came from, but in the 16th century traders brought guinea pigs over from South America to Europe and it is possible that they stopped at Guiana on their journey, which may have led to people thinking this is where they came from. It may also be a reference to coin known as a Guinea, which could have been the price of the “friendly rodent that squeaks like a pig”.

Guinea pigs were kept as pets by the aristocracy and became even more popular when it was discovered that Queen Elizabeth I kept one as a pet too.

Guinea Pigs Need Company (but not from rabbits!)

In South America, wild cavies live in burrows in rocky areas, savanna, forest edges, and swamps, they are very social and live in groups of up to 10. Pet guinea pigs do best when housed in groups of 2-3 or more of the same sex or neutered. They also love plenty of human company and gentle handling, chatting and stroking.

Best friends Colin & Doug

Best friends Colin & Doug

Guinea pigs and rabbits should NOT be kept together in the same hutch/enclosure or run
  1. They have different dietary needs and guinea pigs cannot synthesise vitamin C which must be provided adequately within their diet.
  2. Rabbits may injure guinea pigs by kicking them with their powerful back legs, by jumping on them, or by trying to mate with them.
  3. Rabbits may bully guinea pigs, which can make them distressed if they cannot get away.
  4. Rabbits carry a bacteria called Bordetella Bronchiseptica and while this does not harm the rabbit it is the most common cause of respiratory disease in guinea pigs and can make them very poorly (cats and dogs can also carry this bacteria).
  5. Rabbits behave and communicate in very different ways to guinea pigs, so they don’t understand each other’s behaviour and therefore do not make ideal companions.
No bunnies

Rabbits Guinea Pigs do not make good companions for each other


Guinea pigs have evolved to be able to extract all their nourishment from the poor quality vegetation that is often the only source of food available to them in the wild. This means that they require a diet that is low in calories but high in fibre.

Dietary problems are one of the main causes of most illnesses and problems that we see in guinea pigs at Castle Vets and a poor diet can lead to obesity (and its related complications), soft stools, diarrhoea, fly strike, scurvy and bone and teeth problems.

The following feeds are listed in order of importance
  1. Water – fresh water should be provided daily and bowls and bottles cleaned regularly.
  2. Hay – fed Ad Lib. the fibre contained in hay is extremely important to the guinea pigs diet. Dried grass can also be fed in unlimited quantities.
  3. Fresh vegetables – a minimum of 3 different types daily, veg is an important source of vitamins. Variety will be appreciated by your guinea pigs, but remember to introduce any new veggies one at a time and in small amounts.
  4. Fresh fruit – Don’t over do the fruit as although your guinea pigs will love it, it contains lots of sugars and can lead to obesity and dental problems.
  5. Dried food – guinea pig pellets are better than the muesli versions of dried food as they prevent selective eating. Dry food should only make up a small percentage of your guinea pigs daily diet.

Your guinea pigs will also love to graze on fresh grass when they are out and about. They will also enjoy dandelions, dandelion leaves (care should be taken to ensure they don’t eat too many though) and clover.

Suitable Vegetables

Veggies should generally be given in quite small amounts and for leafy veg 1 or 2 (if small) leaves is plenty. Rotate food types so your guinea pigs are not getting the same things all of the time.

  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chicory
  • Corn on the cob (very small amount)
  • Cress
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Pak Choi
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Pepper (bell) not seeds/stalks
  • Radishes
  • Rocket
  • Runner beans
  • Spinach
  • Spring Greens
  • Swede
  • Sweet potato (peeled)
  • Tomatoes Cherry/Vine not leaves
Suitable Fruit

Fruit can contain lots of calories, so only small amounts should be given at a time i.e. 1 or 2 small slices or berries. As a general rule the leaves, stalks and seeds/pips/stones should also be removed. Some fruits such as grapefruit, orange and kiwi have high acidity so should only be given in very small amounts.

  • Apple (not stalk/pips)
  • Banana (peeled)
  • Grapes (1 or 2)
  • Grapefruit (peeled)
  • Kiwi fruit (peeled)
  • Mango (peeled)
  • Melon (not skin)
  • Pear (not stalk/pips)
  • Orange segment (peeled)
  • Strawberry (not leaves)
  • Raspberry



Colin likes a wide variety of fruit and veg, but strawberries are his favourite

Vitamin C

Guinea pigs require a diet that is rich in vitamin C because, unlike most other mammals, they cannot synthesise this themselves (we humans can’t either!). A nutritious diet of good quality hay, dry pellet food (not mix) that is specially designed for guinea pigs and a varied supply of fresh veggies and fruit should be enough to maintain a healthy intake of Vitamin C.

Good sources of vitamin C are red and green bell peppers, Parsley, Broccoli and Curly Kale. Although there are foods that have higher Vitamin C content than these, such as cabbage, spinach, beetroot greens, oranges, kiwis & grapefruit, these need to be fed sparingly due to high calcium content or acidity.

Remember that vegetables and fruit should be as fresh as possible, since the vitamin C levels in food will decrease by up to half every 10 days after it has been harvested.

You should not need to add vitamin C supplements to your guinea pig’s food or water (unless they are poorly and a vet recommends you do so) Too much vitamin C in the diet has been linked to kidney stones, bladder stones and painful joints.


Guinea pigs are ‘prey’ animals and are genetically programmed to always be on the lookout for and run away from danger, which can mean that it may take a little while for your guinea pig to learn to trust you.

Approach them by letting them know you are there and by moving your hand towards them from the side, rather than from above. Hold out your hand and keep it still so that your guinea pig can choose whether or not to approach you or stay away – don’t force them to be stroked. Offer really tasty, small pieces of veg or fruit and hand feed your guinea pig so that he or she learns that your presence is a positive thing.

Don’t pick your guinea pig up if you don’t have too, they are so much happier with all four paws on the ground! Instead sit on the floor and encourage your guinea pig onto your lap for strokes and cuddles using food.

If you do need to pick up your guinea pig, always do it by placing one hand under the chest and use the other to support their hind quarters – always make sure you have a firm hold of your guinea pig while you are holding them, as falling from a height can injure them.

Often if you sit on the floor quietly, your guinea pigs will come to you when they want some attention (or treats!).



Traditionally Guinea pigs have always been kept in hutches in the garden, however guinea pigs are just as happy (if not happier) when kept indoors. Wherever you decide to house your pets, there are a few things that need to be considered

1. Hay and straw are generally good materials for bedding, and the bottom of the hutch or enclosure can be lined with newspaper. Wood shavings as sawdust are not recommended as they have been linked to causing respiratory problems in small mammals. Other popular bedding materials include

  • Fitch – recycled perforated paper, it is very absorbent and is actually marketed for horses.
  • Finacard – dust free cardboard bedding.
  • Megazorb – made from wood pulp, highly absorbent and safe for use with small animals.
  • Fleece/Vetbed/Towels – commonly used for indoor guinea pigs This keeps guinea pigs dry and is soft on their feet also. You do need to supply an area for foraging in (i.e., hay)  if using these materials.

2. Enclosures/hutches should have a minimum floor area of 2ft x 4ft with a height of at least 40cm (the bigger the better) There are a wide range of hutches and indoor accommodation available for Guinea pigs but please remember that most of the cages available from pet shops are far too small for  them.

There are many different types of cage for your guinea pig3. The cage and exercise areas, including the wire mesh, feeding bowls, bottles and toys should be thoroughly cleaned once a week using a pet safe disinfectant. Rinse the cage and allow it to dry properly before putting your guinea pigs back inside.


Guinea pigs are surprisingly active and can happily mooch around for up to 20 hours per day, so they will need plenty of space for exercise and toys for stimulation.

      • The exercise area should be at least 2 metres long, 1.25m wide and 0.6m high to give your Guinea pig plenty of space.
      • They should have an outside space for when the weather is nice and an inside space so that they can get exercise in cold or wet weather.
      • The exercise space will need to be secure to protect your piggies from getting into trouble, escaping or being attacked by predators. People may tell you that guinea pigs don’t jump, but they definitely can.
      • You will need to provide toys and hiding places such as tunnels or pipes to crawl through and cardboard boxes to hide in or chew. A link to a supplier of guinea pig toys can be found at the bottom of the page.
      • The exercise area should include some shade from the sun and shelter if the weather is windy or wet.
Colin & Doug are happy exploring indoors and outdoors

Colin & Doug are happy exploring indoors and outdoors


Guinea pigs can be trained to do tricks with a little patience and some tasty food rewards. Training is great mental stimulation for your pets and will really improve your bond.

Daily Health Care

  • Bottom – Guinea pigs normally pass faecal pellets as well as the softer caecotrophs which they eat.Guinea pigs with consistently dirty bottoms may be suffering from an illness that causes loose faeces or diarrhoea, or they may be overweight and cannot groom themselves properly. Your pet’s bottom should be clean and dry with no mats or faecal matter stuck around it which could attract flies to lay their eggs leading to fly-strike. Dirty bottoms can be cleaned using cotton wool soaked in warm water and then thoroughly towel drying the area afterwards (do not use a hair dryer on your guinea pig).
  • Breathing – Guinea pigs breathe a lot faster than we humans do (50-150 breaths per minute!). Check for any signs that your pet may be having difficulty, such as wheezing noises or panting which may indicate a respiratory problem or infection.
  • Coat – Guinea pigs should be groomed daily (go on they enjoy it!) and their coat should look and feel clean and healthy. Most guinea pigs groom themselves really well so if you notice that your pet is not looking after him or herself this may indicate a health problem. Any mats that you find in the coat should be carefully groomed out because they will only become worse and very uncomfortable if they are left. Any signs of excessive moulting/shedding or any bald patches may indicate a parasite or health problem.
  • Ears – The ears should be clean and dry with no waxy or mucky discharge or crusting.
  • Eating and Drinking – Make sure your guinea pig is eating and drinking well every day.
  • Eyes – The eyes should be clean, clear and bright. Any discharge could indicate an infection such as conjunctivitis or a blocked tear duct.
  • Feet – The feet should be clean and dry. Sore patches or faecal matter on them may indicate a health problem (or that you need to clean out your pet’s toilet area more often!). Make sure that your pet’s nails are not too long – nail clipping can be done at home if you have someone to help hold your guinea pig for you. Your veterinary nurse can show you what to use and how to do it properly.
  • Mouth – Check that the upper and lower front teeth (incisors) meet properly in the middle and that they are not overgrown as this may prevent your guinea pig from eating properly and could cause infections if the teeth are rubbing other areas of the mouth. Make sure there is no excess salivation or dribbling which may indicate that there is a problem with your guinea pig’s teeth or gums.
  • Movement – Look for any signs that your pet might be lame (limping) when moving about his or her hutch or exercise area, or that your pet is reluctant to exercise.
  • Nose –The nose should be clean and dry with no discharge. Any snuffling, discharge or crustiness may indicate a problem.
  • Skin – The skin should look clean and healthy. Stroking your guinea pig will help you feel for any lumps, bumps or wounds on the skin; if you find anything out of the ordinary make a note of exactly where it is before contacting your vet as small lumps can be difficult to find again! Flaky or dry skin could also indicate poor diet or a parasite problem.

GP groom

Common illnesses and problems

 On the whole guinea pigs are usually relatively healthy pets and the problems or illnesses that they suffer from are often as a result or poor husbandry or nutrition.

  • Abscesses (an infected swelling within a body tissue, containing pus)  – these can affect the skin, teeth, muscles and lymph nodes. They are usually caused by infected wounds and bites or as a result of a dental problem.
  • Dental problems – overgrown or sharp teeth can be very painful and may need to be filed down by a vet. This is often a result of not eating enough hay and dried grass.
  • Gut/intestinal problems – these are usually caused by poor diet or too many watery vegetables or sweet treats, but they can be caused by bacterial infections and imbalances. Symptoms can include inappetance, diarrhoea, soft stools, constipation, hunched posture (pain).
  • Mouth sores – this is usually as a result of a dental problem or from eating too many watery or sugary foods.
  • Obesity – this is a common problem in all pet animals and can lead to heart and respiratory problems, flystrike (because they can’t clean themselves properly), sore joints and skin sores and bumble foot.
  • Parasites – Guinea pigs can be infested by mites and fleas and get fungal infections such as ringworm. Symptoms include hair loss, scratching, crusty/scabby skin and open sores or wounds caused by scratching.
  • Respiratory problems – these can be caused by a number of bacteria, including Bordetella, which is carried by rabbits. If your guinea pig is wheezing or has noisy breathing he needs to be seen by a vet.
  • Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency)  – Guinea pigs cannot make vitamin C themselves, so it needs to be provided in the form of a healthy diet. Symptoms include poor coat, inappetance, diarrhoea, reluctance to walk, painful, swollen feet or joints and hemorrhages and ulcers on the gums or skin.
  • Urinary Problems – guinea pigs can develop cystitis which may be caused by a urinary infection and/or urinary calculi (stones), which normally form in the bladder but can form in the kidneys too. Symptoms include inappetance, blood in the urine, straining to pass urine, a hunched posture or a complete lack of urine production.

If you suspect that your guinea pig is unwell or may have any of the problems listed above, please don’t delay and get him or her to the vet as soon as possible for a check over.

Colin & Doug (5)

Guinea pigs are generally very healthy pets

Neutering guinea pigs

Neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies and also means that males and females can live together. Neutering also helps control the number of unwanted pets in this country, reducing the numbers being abandoned, neglected and put to sleep. It is very uncommon to neuter a Sow (female) and is usually only necessary for medical reasons. More commonly the Boars (male guinea pigs) are neutered so that they can live with females – this group dynamic works really well.

If you are going to have your guinea pig neutered then be aware that every anaesthetic carries a risk of complications and death (this is the same with any species). It is worth checking that your vet has equipment and facilities for the anaesthesia and recovery of small animals and that they are experienced in the anaesthesia and neutering of guinea pigs.

Useful links

Rodents with attitude – a very informative guinea pig site and forum

Little Adventures – Informative Vlogs on Youtube

British Cavy Council – information on the various breeds and showing guinea pigs

Colin (the ginger guinea pig) & Doug (the brown and white guinea pig) appear courtesy of Amy Huggins RVN