The Causes of Epilepsy in Beagles

Epilepsy is common in beagles. You can recognize an episode because the dog will be confused, drool excessively, and may lose consciousness during a seizure.
The Causes of Epilepsy in Beagles

Last update: 22 April, 2021

Epilepsy is a common occurrence in dog breeds like beagles. In fact, up to 1.5% of these dogs may experience this kind of seizure every year according to some sample groups. Furthermore, this breed is more prone to epileptic episodes than others, especially between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.

Epileptic-like seizures are clinical signs, not a disease in themselves, just like vomiting, itching, or the appearance of a lump. They can be due to metabolic problems, tumors, and even genetic predisposition. Read on to learn more about epilepsy in beagles.

What causes epilepsy in beagles?

Epilepsy is the most common neurological disease in dogs. Brain activity becomes abnormal during a seizure and leads to unusual behavior, hard-to-describe feelings, and even loss of consciousness. Humans also experience the effects of this condition.

There are three types of epilepsy in canines.

  • Primary. The cause of this disease is unknown but medical professionals consider it idiopathic. In many cases, this kind of epilepsy has to do with the genetics of the canine breed — as seems to be the case in beagles.
  • Secondary. This is the result of brain tumors, direct cranioencephalic trauma, or cerebrovascular accidents.
  • Reactive. This is due to a metabolic problem. Among the possible triggering events are low blood sugar, organ failure, or intoxication.
A vet testing for epilepsy in beagles.

The importance of heredity in cases of epilepsy in beagles

Studies of more than 400,000 dogs reveal that beagles are the sixth breed that’s most prone to epileptic seizures. This means that approximately 1.5 % of dogs – although it’s probably higher – experience this clinical condition on a yearly basis.

Only two genes that cause epilepsy in dogs have been isolated: LGI2 and ADAM23. This predisposition is probably due to the fact that mutations in these genes pass down from generation to generation in some breeds. The chances of inheriting the disease increase significantly when the animals inbreed.

Epilepsy in dogs is a difficult dilemma to decipher

While other dogs experience secondary epilepsies – due to brain tumors and strokes – the vast majority of beagles show no signs of the underlying disease to explain its onset. There are no dysfunctionalities in the brain tissue, but abnormal, unwarranted brain discharges still occur.

The first epileptic seizure usually appears between one and three years of age. Furthermore, some signs of this event are blank stares, a confused look, spinning around in circles, excessive salivation, muscle cramps, and loss of consciousness.

In any case, the studies cited reveal that advanced age, being male, belonging to a pure breed, and weighing more than 85 pounds are clear risk factors for dogs. As in many other cases, genetically isolated breeds are more prone to having this kind of disease.

The problem of inbreeding

Inbreeding in dogs is a well-documented problem today. In this process, dogs with desired characteristics are selectively bred in order to magnify them over time and create new breeds. In many cases, breeders make the mistake of crossing animals from the same family. They may be distant relatives but they’re still related.

This promotes a process known as inbreeding depression. That is, the loss of genetic variability. In addition, malignant mutations – such as those possibly causing epilepsy – are encouraged to be passed on to the next generations. This further increases the prevalence of certain diseases.

A dog looking at a person's hand.

Unfortunately, there’s no specific solution to this type of occurrence. Many epileptic beagles can lead a relatively normal routine, while the life expectancy of others will be drastically reduced, depending on the severity of their clinical condition.

As a guardian, the only option you have is to be patient, loving and willing, in order to give your dog friend a life that’s as dignified as possible. Humans can have a relatively normal life with epilepsy and so can dogs.

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  • Koskinen, L. L., Seppälä, E. H., Belanger, J. M., Arumilli, M., Hakosalo, O., Jokinen, P., … & Lohi, H. (2015). Identification of a common risk haplotype for canine idiopathic epilepsy in the ADAM23 gene. BMC genomics, 16(1), 1-10.
  • Ekenstedt, K. J., & Oberbauer, A. M. (2013). Inherited epilepsy in dogs. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, 28(2), 51-58.
  • Erlen, A., Potschka, H., Volk, H. A., Sauter‐Louis, C., & O’Neill, D. G. (2018). Seizure occurrence in dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK: prevalence and risk factors. Journal of veterinary internal medicine32(5), 1665-1676.