Epilepsy in Border Collies

A diagnosis of epilepsy in your Border collies is one no-one wants to hear. It means facing years of helping your Border Collie manage and live with its condition so it has the best quality of life. But it is not the end of the world, and you and your Border Collie can live relatively normal lives once the condition is under control.
There are two types of epilepsy; primary (also known as idiopathic or generalised epilepsy and is so named when no underlying cause is found) and secondary epilepsy (caused by a disease such as a brain tumour).

If your Border Collie has primary epilepsy, then you face a lifetime of treatment together. With secondary epilepsy, it is likely that when the underlying cause is treated the seizures will cease if there is no permanent brain damage.

Epilepsy treatment has a high incidence of success minimising how often and the severity of seizures in Border Collies. Although epilepsy is notoriously a tricky disease to treat, as it manifests differently in individual animals; some patience and adjusting medications will produce good results over time. Though, in severe cases, there may be times where you have to choose quality of life over treatment.
Just like humans, Border collies can suffer with neurological disorders such as epilepsy. Epilepsy is either genetic or is a symptom of other illnesses, trauma or can occur for unknown reasons (also known idiopathic or generalised epilepsy).

Epilepsy is simply another name for recurring seizures when the vet can find no cause for recurring seizures. A seizure may happen only once for any reason, or repeatedly. Only if it happens again repeatedly over time are seizures referred to as epilepsy.

Border Collies with recurring, uncontrolled, sudden seizures may have epilepsy, but what you may think is a seizure may be caused by something else altogether. Diseases like brain tumours can cause seizure episodes, so seizures are an alert that something else may be wrong with your border collie and is not going away. Take your Border Collie to the vet if it experiences repeated seizures.

If the vet can identify the cause of the seizures, such as a stroke or a brain tumour, then it is referred to as symptomatic (secondary) epilepsy. This simply means that the seizures are a symptom of another identifiable disease; like a chronic cough can be a symptom of something more serious than a cold in us.
Border collies can manifest epilepsy symptoms between the age of 6 months and 6 years old, depending on the underlying cause or if it is genetic.

There are several known breeds epilepsy has been proven in as genetic and there are others that it is suspected in.

Any animal that has too much brain excitation will have a seizure. While there are external metabolic influences, internal aspects of a neuron control the excitability of a cell. Genetics of an animal determines the internal workings and how it interacts with the world. Mutations in genes can cause some cells to be more excitable than others, and this causes seizures.

There is still much research into the genes that cause seizures and, although there is progress, there is a lot still unknown in this field. It is still not certain how Border Collies inherit epilepsy and there is currently no testing for breeding stock.

Canine Epilepsy Research has published details of their findings in the public domain. Idiopathic or Generalised (primary) epilepsy

When there are no problems found with the brain function and no other cause for seizures, it is referred to as idiopathic or primary/generalised epilepsy. This means the vet can find nothing wrong within a Border Collie’s normal brain functions and their nervous system works properly except for when they have convulsions. Because of this, it is thought the epilepsy is within the Border Collie’s DNA and inherited.

Some border collies may have inherited idiopathic epilepsy from their parents (or there is a history in their lines) through a mutation in a specific gene. This is the most common form of epilepsy and is usually developed between the age of 1 and 5 years old. Currently there is research into hereditary epilepsy with nothing conclusive as yet. Border Collies with generalised epilepsy usually convulse while either at rest or in their sleep.

Secondary epilepsy

Secondary epilepsy occurs when there is a chemical or structural problem within the brain and can be caused by a stroke, cancer, brain infections or inflammation, or toxins, for example. If your Border Collie is affected with secondary epilepsy, there should be other symptoms even when your Border Collie is not having a seizure. Secondary epilepsy usually occurs in Border Collies under 12 months and older than 5.

Reactive Epilepsy

Reactive epilepsy occurs in Border Collies with healthy brain functions when there are issues such as heart problems, infections or low blood sugar. If a young Border Collie has reactive epilepsy, it could have an infection or it is a sign of cancer or a brain tumour in an older Border Collie.

What causes Epilepsy in Border Collies?

Epilepsy may be genetic and run in certain breeding lines; or, seizures may be caused by a brain trauma or other illnesses. Other times there may be no apparent cause for the seizures.

Some causes of seizures may include:

Different types of Epileptic seizures

There are several types of seizures and it is helpful to be able identify them.

The following are the different types of seizures your border collie may experience:

Generalised Seizures (grand and petit mal)

Generalised seizures have two types: grand and petit mal.

Grand mal seizures

Grand mal seizures are the classic seizures and usually have three phases; the aura (before the seizure), the seizure itself (ictus) and after the seizure (post-ictus). Keep in mind that not all seizures follow this pattern, but they generally do.

As some Border Collies can detect epilepsy in their human, humans can detect an approaching epileptic episode by their Border Collie’s behaviour during the aura stage.

If your Border Collie is prone to seizures, you will learn to identify the signs of an impending attack.

The seizure itself (called the tonic-clonic seizure) starts with the muscles stiffening. This is the tonic part of the seizure. Your Border Collie will probably lose consciousness and has no control over what happens. Your border collie will fall to the ground with its head thrown back and limbs outstretched. It may make involuntary sounds and you will see facial twitching. Sometimes your Border Collie will lose control of their bodily functions, drool excessively or empty their anal glands causing a foul smell.

The tonic part of the seizure usually lasts barely 30 seconds before turning into the clonic part which involves uncontrolled movement. This could be uncontrollable jerking movements and gnawing of the jaws with difficulty breathing, and the tongue may turn blue.

Although a seizure may seem to last forever, they usually last no more than 2 minutes. Any longer than this, then you face an emergency situation.

Petit Mal

Petit mal (also known as partial or absence) seizures occur when there is abnormal electrical activity in one part of the brain; for example, affecting only one side of the Border Collie’s face or the legs on just one side. Partial seizures may progress into a general seizure.

Signs of a partial seizure approaching may include your Border Collie staring off into space. The animal does not have convulsions, pass out, fall to the floor or lose consciousness but there may be behavioural changes.

Border Collie owners often do not recognise these as a problem (and sometimes think of this behaviour as cute or quirky simply because they know no better). Left untreated they can become generalised seizures.

Partial seizures are also different in that they show an overload of inhibition rather than over excitement of the brain.

When an EEG is taken, there are two distinctly different patterns between a grand and a petit mal seizure. The different types of seizures are treated with different drugs as well.

Focal seizures

Focal seizures start at a localised part of the brain and only affect the part of the body controlled by that part of the brain. Because a focal seizure starts in an isolated part of the brain, this indicates there is localised damage caused by something like an infection or another illness.

Focal seizures can stay isolated or spread to affect the whole brain and cause a generalised seizure.

There are two types of focal seizures: simple and complex.

Simple focal seizures

Seizures in the brain that control movement are called simple focal (or minor motor or focal motor) seizures. These seizures affect only the part of the body controlled by that part of the brain. They are characterised by facial twitching on one side of the face and your Border Collie will remain aware. It may spread a bit from the focal area and you may see other parts of the body on the same side start twitching too.

You Border collie may be confused and seek you out for comfort. The seizure can stop at this point or may progress into a generalised seizure.

Complex focal seizures

Seizures in the areas of the brain that control behaviour and emotions are called complex focal seizures (psychomotor seizures).

Complex focal seizures are characterised by your border collie chewing or snapping at imaginary things, and chewing at the skin on their flanks. Border Collie owners often do not see this behaviour as abnormal so do not seek veterinary advice.

Complex focal seizures affect behaviour and emotions. You may see your Border Collie lose control of its bodily functions or see them engage in bizarre behaviour such as snapping at invisible flies.

If left untreated, these types of seizures can progress into general seizures, which is sometimes the only way to confirm the Border Collie has epilepsy. Complex focal seizures are difficult to diagnose as they often mimic the symptoms of behavioural issues.

How do I know if my Border Collie has epilepsy? What are the signs and symptoms?

When your Border collie has its first seizure you may notice odd behaviour which can be a sign of a generalised seizure approaching. There are three distinct stages to generalised epilepsy, as follows:

  1. aura (focus) phase
  2. ictal phase
  3. post-ictal phase

Be aware though, not all seizures follow these stages. Some seizures appear out of nowhere without the waring of the aura stage, and some Border Collies will only display parts of a seizure such as paddling and jerking during the clonic stage, or simply the rigidness of the tonic stage. While your Border collie may take time to recover from a seizure, other Border Collies may recover straight away with no signs it recently had a seizure. Some Border Collies may simply drop to the ground, motionless when a seizure attacks. This is a rare and is more likely a fainting spell.

Aura Phase

The aura phase indicates the onset of a seizure. During this phase, your border collie may become uncharacteristically:

The aura phase can last anything from a brief few seconds to several hours.

Ictal Phase

During the ictal phase, your Border Collie will collapse onto its side and become stiff and salivate, paddle its legs, make sounds, and or lose control of its bowels. The ictal phase lasts for 30 to up to 90 seconds. Other things that can characterise this phase include:

Post-Ictal Phase

The post-ictal stage follows the actual (ictal phase) seizure and your Border Collie may lie still for some time. Once it gets up, it may either bounce back behaving normally or, more likely, your Border Collie will follow the post-ictal phase of epilepsy. During this stage your border collie may be restless, confused, disoriented, be temporarily blind, bump into things, drink and eat more, and wander aimlessly. This can last for any length of time up to 24 to 48 hours.

The most likely times seizures occur is while the Border Collie is resting or asleep, early morning or at night. Epilepsy can be more severe in young border collies but, if diagnosed early, medication can have positive effects and help delay permanent brain damage.

Seizures can happen anytime, but if your border collie only has seizures when exercising or is excited it could be a symptom of low blood sugar or heart problems.

Prolonged seizures lasting more than 5 minutes, or more than two consecutive seizures without fully recovering after the last one, are known as status epilepticus or more commonly as cluster seizures. This is an emergency situation and you need the urgent assistance of a vet.

Cluster seizures

Most seizures occur irregularly and give your Border collie time to recover fully before it suffers another one. Cluster seizures are where your Border Collie has two or more seizures within 24 to 48 hours. They are caused by either toxins or other issues within the brain. When seizures attack close together, your Border Collie is already exhausted. Seizures striking in this way, strike when your Border Collie would normally be recovering from the last seizure. This puts extra strain on the brain cells (and other organs) and your border collie will need emergency care to help it recover. Cluster seizures can cause damage that deteriorates the brain function permanently if left untreated.

Effects of seizures on your Border Collie

No matter how brief the seizures, they are serious and can leave your border collie with brain damage. Get your Border Collie proper treatment and it will lead a relatively normal life, but it is thought that the damage from seizures cumulates over the years. So if your Border Collie starts with short seizures, there is a good chance they will increase and worsen over time if left untreated. It is important to get treatment to give your Border Collie the best quality of life possible.

There is a risk of serious brain damage to your Border Collie if a seizure lasts more than 30 minutes and can manifest in personality changes such unexplained aggression. Seizures put a lot of strain on other body parts such as the heart; body temperature may rise from the elevated muscle activity and your border collie may not be able to breathe properly.

It is important to seek an early diagnosis and intervention, no matter how young or old the Border Collie is. The more seizures an animal suffers, the more it can lower the threshold for the brain to ward off seizures; meaning the more likely they are to have another seizure (Dr Michael Poddell, Animal Emergency and Critical veterinary neurologist, Northbrook, Illinois). This can make the seizures more difficult to manage.

Dr Poddell says, “If a Border Collie has had two seizure clusters [two or more seizures occurring over a short period of time, with the Border Collie regaining consciousness in between] in a year, or two or more regular seizures within a six-month period,”

In extreme cases, an animal can have a heart attack and die. So, it is important to get treatment for your Border Collie at the first signs of a seizure.

Which Border Collie are most at risk of developing Epilepsy?

Any cross or pure breed can have epilepsy occur, and it may be that some breeds have inherited epilepsy (generalised epilepsy) but there is no genetic testing for seizures at this time. This is a dilemma for responsible breeders as they have to rely on Border Collies developing the disease and breeders honestly sharing their experiences about epilepsy in their own Border Collies. The only way they can work out if epilepsy is inherited through their breeding lines is to keep a history of health issues as part of their breeding program.

Breeding Border Collies diagnosed with generalised epilepsy should be desexed, not to be bred with when it is suspected to be genetic.

Border Collie types epilepsy can affect include:

Bull Terriers

Epilepsy in bull terriers is thought to be inherited and seizures can manifest as needless, sudden aggression, unexplainable fear and manic tail chasing. Brachycephalic Breeds Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with short, flat noses) can have trouble breathing, especially if saliva gets caught in the airway or throat and stops the oxygen flow to the brain. These breeds also have trouble breathing when at rest or recovering from surgery, and this is why many have sleep apnoea and snore while asleep. The other problem for these breed types is their nostrils are often small which limits their air intake. Put all these anatomical features together and they can cause these breeds to suffer from seizures caused by a lack of oxygen. Some breeds include:

Outside Border Collies

Any Border Collie that lives outdoors can develop seizures from eating poisonous plants, toxins and chemicals from items left around the yard or in the garage, even a feast of rotting rubbish can hide nasties. These can all cause vomiting and diarrhoea, and depletes the stores of potassium and sodium, which can cause seizures.

Herding Border Collies carrying the MDR1 gene

Some herding Border Collies carry the multi-drug resistant 1 (MDR1) gene and can have seizures if given drugs like Ivermectin. There is a test for the MDR1 gene and responsible breeders test their breeding Border Collies and put responsible breeding plans in place to breed MDR1 out of their lines.

Some breeds include:

Large breeds carrying retriever or shepherd genes

Large Border Collie breeds that carry retriever or shepherd genes can carry the genes that cause epilepsy.

Some breeds include:

Small breeds with low blood sugar or malformed skulls

Hypoglycaemia (caused by low blood sugar) can cause seizures in small Border Collies and in their young. They have small stomachs with no storage space for extra carbohydrates so carry little fat, so they have nothing to metabolise when their blood sugar drops. These breeds are so small that a single meal will not sustain their metabolism for long. It is better to feed small Border Collies two or three small meals a day if you can. These breeds include:

How can epilepsy in Border Collies be prevented? What can I do to keep my Border Collie from developing epilepsy?

There is no sure way to prevent your border collie from developing seizures. When buying a puppy do your research and ensure your breeder has carried out all health tests and is not knowingly breeding from Border Collies affected by epilepsy. You can ask to see a copy of all health tests, and any good breeder will be happy to show you and will tell you the truth about any history of epilepsy. If your puppy is genetically clear you have a good chance of preventing epilepsy in your border collie. By that, I mean, if the history behind your puppy is clear of epilepsy for at least three generations there is a good chance it is genetically clear. Keep your yard clear of poisonous and toxic substances, and keep all household poisons locked up out of your Border Collie’s reach. Also ensure there are no toxic plants in the garden or rotting rubbish lying around. When out and about teach your Border Collie to not pick up bits of rubbish, Border Collies faeces and other things. You never know what they contain and it is an easy way for a Border Collie to pick up a bait. Avoid running your Border Collie off leash in places where rubbish such as old cars and household items are dumped. These things can leak toxins; a ticking time bomb for a Border Collie to explore. Take commonsense precautions and you will minimise the risk of these types of things causing epilepsy in your Border Collie. Good health goes a long way towards preventing other illnesses. But there are no guarantees. Life can just happen and seizures brought on by trauma and illnesses and, sometimes, epilepsy is just unavoidable.

What do I do if my Border Collie has a seizure?

Having seizures is scary for your border collie. They will be scared, confused and disoriented before, during and after the attack. And you will be scared and emotional too. Try and stay calm because your Border Collie needs your support. During the aura phase (this is the first warning sign of the onset of a seizure) when your Border Collie is whiney and clingy, clear the space around your Border Collie so there is nothing to cause injury when the attack starts. If your Border Collie has frequent episodes, you will learn how to recognise this phase. Once the seizure starts, hold your border collie’s head to prevent it injuring itself while experiencing spasms. Talk to your Border Collie in a calm, soothing tone, gently stroking the fur to help calm them down. Be careful to keep your hands away from the Border Collie’s mouth for it may inadvertently bite you if it is chewing or chomping its jaw throughout the seizure. Stroke the side of the face to help soothe your border collie. Calm your Border Collie and ensure it is settled before taking further action. Seizures can start again in nervous Border Collies or in Border Collies that get up before the seizure totally passes. Stay close and time the seizure. If it continues for more than 5 minutes this could be an emergency so get your Border Collie to the vet immediately. The longer a seizure lasts, the more disruption there is to the respiratory muscles causing difficulties breathing.

Tips to help if your Border Collie has a seizure

Once your border collie is diagnosed with epilepsy, there are some things to keep in mind when it has its next episode:

What kind of vet do I see if I suspect I have epilepsy in my Border Collie?

Take your Border Collie to your normal vet if your border collie experiences seizures. Your vet will conduct a variety of tests to determine the cause. Depending on the test outcomes, you may be referred to a neurologist for further assistance and treatment.

How is it diagnosed?

If your border collie starts having seizures, keep a record of them with details such as how long each one lasted, time, date, situation and you Border Collie’s reactions, behaviour, behavioural changes as well as how often. Give this to your vet to help diagnose any underlying problems behind the seizures. For Border Collies that experience an isolated seizure, your vet will probably do a complete neurological and physical examination. If nothing is found, you will be advised to keep an eye on your Border Collie. No medications will be given until further seizures manifest. Many people think that diagnosing epilepsy is simple and straightforward, and that it is just a matter of medication and everything will be fine. This is not the case. Often diagnostic tests show nothing, and seizures can be intermittent and irregular so the vet may just have to wait and see what happens next for further diagnosis. This is also difficult as this can lead to problems later. When Border Collies experience more than one seizure, the vet will take your records into account along with a history of vaccinations, exposure to poisons, behavioural changes, diet, age, injuries or illness into account. Keeping records of the seizures is helpful as epilepsy can mimic other diseases.

Initial Evaluation

The hardest part of diagnosing epilepsy is not the seizures, but why the seizures occur. When you present your Border collie to the vet they will ask a lot of questions to try and narrow down the causes, and to ascertain whether what you describe is a seizure or not. The types of things your vet will want to know include:

If your vet does not ask these sorts of questions, be prepared to offer the information. Your vet will do a complete physical and neurological examination paying close attention to the eyes. They will also take urine and blood samples. The results may reveal an underlying cause for the seizures such as liver disease or poisoning, for example.

Diagnostic Procedures

Depending on the results of the initial examination, your vet will recommend some or all of the following more advanced tests, often as a process of elimination:

Once all the tests are concluded there will be one of three outcomes:

  1. a clear-cut diagnosis
  2. a potential diagnosis that requires further testing
  3. no reason for the seizures

How is epilepsy treated?

There is no easy solution for treating your border collie when diagnosed with epilepsy. Sometimes it takes time or a Border Collie to get positive outcomes from treatment. Your vet will monitor its responses and adjust the medications accordingly for the best outcomes. Every Border Collie is different, and can respond or react differently. Treatment depends on the type of seizures your Border Collie suffers and the cause. If the seizures are a symptom of an underlying disease or problem, then treating the problem will most likely solve your Border Collie’s seizures. But it is more common that your Border Collie’s seizures may not have an obvious cause so your vet will put your Border Collie on medications to help control them.

What are the goals of epilepsy treatment?

Drugs for epilepsy control the condition rather than cure it. There is no cure for generalised epilepsy. If your Border collie has epilepsy, plan on having to treat your Border Collie for the rest of its life. The purpose of medication is to decrease the incidence and severity of seizures, increase the time between episodes, and either control or eliminate the underlying causes without producing negative side effects in the Border Collie. Treatment can also be trial and error as all Border Collies are individuals and controlling seizures is different for each individual animal. It can take time using different medications and doses to get the right combination for your Border Collie. Just like in humans. So you will need patience to find the right treatment regime to help your Border Collie. The drugs used for epilepsy control in Border Collies include diazepam, potassium bromide and phenobarbital. Your vet may prescribe these separately or in combinations with each other as your Border Collie requires. Antiepileptic drugs can have side effects such as increased hunger and sleepiness, but are generally mild.

When does treatment begin?

There is much to consider when deciding when to treat your Border collie. It is necessary to weigh up the possible side effects of medications against the risks of not treating the seizures. For example, if your Border Collie has a few seizures a year, there is the risk of brain damage and the epilepsy getting progressively worse. Treatment would be appropriate for this Border Collie.

If your Border Collie has prolonged seizures or clusters of seizures there is the risk of these becoming or being life threatening. Other considerations before starting treatment are economic factors, the overall health of the animal, and home situation and environment. Once your Border collie begins treatment for generalised epilepsy it is likely to be a lifelong commitment. If the medication works and reduces the seizures to only rare occasions, your vet would monitor this for consistency over several months (or even years) before considering weaning them off antiepileptic drugs. Your Border Collie becomes dependent on the drugs so it is important you do not suddenly stop giving the medication.

To avoid any major issues, medications must be withdrawn slowly. Be prepared to put your Border Collie back on the medication if problems develop. Idiopathic epilepsy can be controlled. Depending on what works for your Border Collie, drugs may be used separately or in combination with others.

There is some thought that once an anticonvulsant medication is given to a patient its withdrawal may induce seizures. Always be sure to follow your vet’s instructions. And if you are not sure about anything, ask questions.

Antiepileptic Drugs

The common drugs used for epilepsy work to balance the brain excitation. Your vet will monitor your Border Collie for any side effects from the anti-convulsive drugs, especially if the patient is long-term. Your Border Collie may suffer some, all or no side effects, but if side effects in your Border Collie concerns you, then talk to your vet. Sometimes the benefits of ongoing medication needs to be weighed up against the level of seizure control to make the best decisions for your Border collie and family situation. The most common dugs are diazepam (Valium), potassium bromide and phenobarbital.


Diazepam is commonly known as Valium used as a sleeping aid in people, but it is also useful for treating seizures. It is a sedative with hypnotic, muscle relaxing and anti-anxiety properties. When taken daily, over time it loses its effectiveness so it is usually used to stop a seizure rather than as a preventive, daily drug.

It calms the Border Collie by stimulating the gamma- aminobutyric acid in the brain to restrict the excitatory neutrotransmitters in the brain’s cells. Sometimes diazepam is given daily, but only when other drugs have failed to work. The best way to administer it is intravenously or as a suppository in the Border Collie’s rectum. While it may be uncomfortable, it is a good method for treating cluster seizures especially when you are at home with your Border Collie. Just give one when your Border Collie begins a seizure and it can prevent an urgent trip to your vet.

Diazepam side effects

Side effects of diazepam include:

Potassium Bromide

Potassium bromide was one of the first antiepileptic drugs, but it caused psychological problems in people so it was not used much after phenobarbital came onto the market. Vets rediscovered potassium bromide as an antiepileptic for Border Collies. Animals do not seem to be affected by the same psychological side effects as humans experienced. Potassium bromide has never received FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval. Vets get special FDA approval to use it as it has proven a reliable method for treating epilepsy in Border Collies.

Though, if you are using it at home, handle it carefully as it can affect people quite severely. Potassium bromide takes a long time to eliminate from the body so it is necessary to only administer it once a day. The downside of this is that it can take some time to see the benefits of the drug. It is also important to continually monitor the Border Collie’s blood levels, when using this drug for any length of time, to ensure the Border Collie is receiving the right dosage. Avoid salt in your Border Collie’s diet as it causes potassium bromide to eliminate from the body quicker. It is important to feed a high quality diet and no salty treats.

Potassium Bromide side effects

Side effects of potassium bromide include:


The most popular drug used to control seizures in border collies is phenobarbital because it is easy to use. It prevents idiopathic epilepsy in up to 80 percent of the Border Collies using the drug and also stops seizures while in progress. Phenobarbital is not FDA approved either, but is a first choice for treating seizures in Border Collies with unknown causes. This is an effective, reliable, inexpensive and convenient drug available from the vet or a chemist (with a prescription). It comes in a liquid and in pills of all sizes to make it convenient to administer and for correct dosage for all breed sizes. Its effectiveness means it is only given twice a day. It can take up to 2 weeks to see the full effects of the drug in your border collie so patience is a must.

Phenobarbital side effects

Phenobarbital side effects include:


Another drug used for epilepsy is primidone. The Border Collie’s system converts the drug primidone into phenobarbital and it performs the same function as phenobarbital in the system.

Newer antiepileptic drugs

You may have wondered why antiepileptic drugs for people cannot be given to Border Collies. A Border Collie’s metabolism is different to ours and Border Collies eliminate drugs much quicker than us. This means Border Collies need more frequent doses to benefit from the drug. This makes using human drugs dangerous to their health, impractical and expensive. Drugs such as lamotrigine are toxic to Border Collies.

There are newer drugs such as gabapentine, topiramate and felbamate under investigation for their suitability when conventional medications do not work for some Border Collies.

Other treatments

There are other treatments for epilepsy such as vagal nerve stimulation and surgery. Vagus nerve stimulation is still experimental. This nerve runs along your border collie’s neck carrying sensory information from throughout the body to the brain. Electrical nerve stimulation works the same way as a pacemaker for a heart works in stimulating the organ to function properly. Surgery benefits Border Collies with secondary epilepsy; for example, where the seizures are caused by a brain tumour and removing it should stop the seizures. While there has been success with this in people, it is still experimental in Border Collies.

What are the side effects of drug treatment?

Although there is always the possibility of side effects with any drug, very few Border Collies experience side effects when taking antiepileptic drugs. Usually they are mild if they do occur. The benefits of treating the seizures outweighs minor side effects that will settle once the Border Collie’s system adjusts.

The most likely time your border collie will experience side effects is when they first start a new medication or when doses are changed or increased. Your Border Collie may be uncoordinated and sleepy at first, but should develop a tolerance to the effect of the drugs within a week. If the side effects are mild, your vet will wait them out for a couple of days, but if they continue or become more severe contact your vet immediately.

Never change your Border Collie’s dose or cease giving it as this can cause serious seizures due the sudden chemical imbalance in the system. Border Collies must be weaned off the drug gradually once the decision to cease medication is made.

Sometimes a Border Collie may have an unusual reaction where it becomes agitated and restless. The Border Collie may demonstrate this by constant wandering its environment and being unable to settle down for long. Adjusting doses can alleviate this reaction.

Increased appetite is another common side effect, which, of course, comes with more trips outside to eliminate the excess waste. If this occurs, your Border Collie is at high risk of becoming overweight. It is vital we do not let them become obese as this can bring a whole new set of problems for your beloved Border Collie. Carrying too much weight puts extra strain on the body and organs, and can also cause complications to your Border Collie’s epilepsy.

While the side effects in the short-term can be mild or non-existent, over the long term it can be a different outcome. A Border Collie with generalised epilepsy can expect to be treated for life. There is no cure. But your vet knows there is the potential for bone marrow or liver damage from long-term use of the drugs. Your vet will recommend your Border Collie has liver function tests at least once a year to monitor the drug effects.

Optimising epilepsy treatment

Finding the right balance of medication is different for each animal and needs to be tailored to individual needs. The best way to get an accurate picture of what is going on internally is to take a blood sample to measure drug levels in the system. This will be important when your Border Collie first starts treatment.

It is likely that when you first start treating your Border Collie there will be issues with doses and side effects that will need adjusting. Once the seizures are controlled, regular blood tests are advised to keep an eye on any adverse effects the drugs may have on your Border Collie’s internal system. This is to ensure there are no new or potential problems starting to manifest.

Although a drug is given regularly, there will still be fluctuations on the levels of the drug in the blood system. Straight after administering the medication, drug levels rise in the blood while it is absorbed. The levels naturally fall once the Border Collie’s system absorbs the total dose and starts to eliminate it from their system. The timing of the dose is important as it ensures there is always a balance of the drug in the system to control the incidence of seizures. So being consistent about giving your Border Collie its medication helps to control its seizures.

Can my Border Collie die from epilepsy?

Your border collie can die from epilepsy if left untreated or it is seriously injured during an unmonitored seizure. It is a complex subject. If a Border Collie starts with partial seizures that go unnoticed by the owner, the seizures can progress in severity and length making treatment more complex.

Keeping your Border Collie safe while it is convulsing is important to avoid injury. When it is unconscious and convulsing it can bite its tongue or hit itself on nearby objects which can cause complications to your Border Collie’s condition and injury. Simply clear the area your Border Collie is in, and stay with it to keep it as calm and safe as you can. If your Border Collie experiences multiples seizures, your Border Collie needs to go to the vet to check out what is going on.

How quickly does Epilepsy progress or spread?

There is nothing predictable about epilepsy. Some Border Collies have occasional seizures others have multiple seizures a week. Others have seizures that increase in severity and others respond so well to treatment the seizures disappear altogether. These seizures seem to be triggered by events such as a change in the weather and stress, and sometimes illness or trauma. But there are many factors about trigger points still not understood scientifically.
While your vet will try to find patterns and trigger points for your border collie’s epilepsy, it is hard to predict even when using past observations when the next seizure will happen.

What is the prognosis for Epilepsy once it is detected?

The prognosis for Border Collies diagnosed with epilepsy is good to serious. But the prognosis depends on the individual Border Collie and how the disease manifests, and whether there are secondary causes behind the seizures.

General epilepsy is usually managed well with anticonvulsant medication. The severity and frequency of seizures, and how well medication controls them, affects quality of life and is taken into account when making a prognosis. When seizures reduce and the animal tolerates the medication with few or no side effects, the prognosis for a long, relatively normal life is good. In Border Collies that continue to have regular seizures, or if they elevate, regardless treatment, their quality of life will be poor, and issues with brain damage or death could be the outcome.

Border Collies diagnosed with secondary causes will have seizures cease once the underlying causes are removed. But in cases where there are brain lesions or an inoperable brain tumour the prognosis is serious.

Most anticonvulsant drugs cause sleepiness in the beginning but will soon adjust if they require long-term treatment. If the groggy state continues, your vet may use a combination of drugs to lessen the side effects. Consider that these drugs may cause kidney and liver problems, so you may have to weigh up the costs and benefits against treating your Border Collie if it only rarely has a seizure. Staying away from known triggers and changing to a natural diet can help to avoid or minimise drug intervention. The goal is to support your border collie so it is healthy, vital and full of life so you can have the best life of all together regardless of any problems. Scientists are discovering new things about epilepsy all the time in a bid to understand its make-up and genetic structure, and to discover new ways to control and diagnose it.

What alternative treatments are available?

Many people turn to alternative treatments when their Border collie is diagnosed with epilepsy. This is a frustrating disease. Finding causes, solutions and medications to control the seizures, and what works best for your Border Collie, can take time and sometimes several adjustments.

Alternative therapies can include magnets, herbal remedies, acupuncture or homeopathic remedies. It is pointless discounting any therapy that will help your Border Collie if it works. And sometimes you gave to try to find out if some of these therapies will work for your Border Collie.

Some alternative therapies work well for some Border Collies and others will not. And should be used as part of a holistic plan working only with specialist vets experienced in these areas. Be prepared to adjust your treatment plan to find a balance between alternate and conventional treatment.

Something to keep in mind when trying out alternate remedies is the variability of epilepsy. Sometimes a Border Collie that has struggled to get epilepsy under control, suddenly has long periods where it is unaffected. And other Border Collies with their epilepsy under control can suddenly start having seizures regularly again. These sorts of variations can trick you into thinking the epilepsy under or out of control. This can be a false flag. Always talk to your vet if you have concerns about changes in your Border Collie’s condition.

While there may be some merit to alternative therapies, but there are so many people out there making claims about all sorts of things it can be difficult to see the truth. Do your research and be careful who you listen to and what you try. The results could be disastrous. Most alternative therapies rely on customer testimonials. While this is fantastic, there are some questions you probably need to ask before you believe their claims:

Negatives of natural therapy

Many people assume that “if it’s natural, it’s safe” when it comes to giving alternative or herbal medicines to their Border Collie. This can be a deadly assumption. So often we think of chemicals and poisons as toxins, but many of these were derived from the properties of plants. Hence, we have no way of knowing (except through scientific research) how these will affect us or our Border Collie, or a Border Collie diagnosed with seizures.

Digitalis, from the foxglove, was the main treatment for heart problems before modern medications were created. The problem doctors had with digitalis was that too much of the drug could cause death and too little would do nothing to help.

Massage and acupuncture will do no harm, and may even help your Border Collie. The danger with these is you can become complacent and reject all conventional medicine in favour of natural remedies. Unless you are sure it is the alternative therapy rather than the conventional that is helping your Border Collie, do not stop drug therapy before talking to your vet.

Also ask yourself:

Positives of Natural Therapy

The positive side of natural medicines is that they do not usually cause side effects and the Border Collie does not have to be subjected to constant monitoring and evaluation.

There have been good results with phosphatidylcholine supplements. Phosphatidylcholines are readily available and extracted from sources that include soybeans and egg yolks. They work on the patient by stabilising the membranes of the brain cells to prevent and reduce the frequency of seizures and simultaneously supports detoxification of the liver.

Phosphatidylcholine supplements can also be used in the treatment of cognitive disorder (similar to Alzheimer’s in people).

Dimethylglycine supplements are also useful for controlling seizures by supporting the Border Collie’s nervous system to energise the cells in the body. Small amounts of dimethylglycine naturally occurs in the body for mere seconds at a time. Sources of this supplement include liver and beans.

Herbs can also play a useful role in the treatment of your border collie’s epilepsy. Be careful with them as they are powerful and can interfere negatively with prescription medications and each other. Only use them under specialist veterinary supervision.

Herbs and natural remedies that can help control your Border Collie’s seizures include:

The use of homeopathic remedies using plants such as belladonna and stramonium (from the Daytura plant) are often used as part of your Border Collie’s overall treatment. Also a mix of nux vomica (from the strychnine tree), berberis (from the barberry bush) and lymphomyosot (active ingredients include Geranium robertianum and Nasturtium aquaticum) given twice a day is a good detoxification treatment for your Border Collie.

If you are going to use alternative treatments for your border collie’s epilepsy, make sure you are working with a professional who specialises in natural remedies but has wide knowledge and experience with epilepsy and other medical conditions.

There has been a lot of success using herbal remedies to replace anticonvulsant medications which gives your Border Collie better health and a better quality of life.

And you more control over your Border Collie’s treatment and lower vet bills. As long as your Border Collie is under the care of a god holistic vet, there can be very good outcomes using natural remedies.

Living with an Epileptic Border Collie

Just because your border collie has epilepsy does not mean you cannot live a full life together. Do not change your active lifestyle to suit your Border Collie’s condition unless it is physically unable to cope. Live a life together full of the dreams you held before you found out it had an epileptic condition. Do not dwell on the problems. Epilepsy makes up such a small percentage of the relationship with your Border Collie. You can learn to manage the seizures and get on with just living life together.

Epilepsy is controllable in the majority of patients so most Border Collies live normal lives. While your Border Collie may need medication every day, they have not lost their will to live, to play or to be part of your life. Only if your Border Collie’s seizures are caused by heart disease or low blood sugar should you limit exercise. Limit swimming unless you can keep an eye on your Border Collie because if it has a fit in the water it could drown.

While there are side effects from the drugs, the incidence is small with modern medications though there can be liver damage from the long-term use of some drugs.

Good quality diet is important to control weight and maximise your Border Collie’s nutrient intake to help balance their system for optimum health. I prefer an all raw diet but consult your vet for further advice about the best diet for your Border Collie.

Keep records

Get a calendar or notebook to keep close by so you can document your border collie’s seizures when they happen. This will help your Border Collie’s treatment as you can take these records to your vet to help pinpoint the right medications and, even, help find the cause or trigger points.

Relying on your memory is less than reliable so remember to write things down when they happen. Better still, grab your mobile phone or camera, and video the seizures as they happen. After all, there is no better evidence than being able to show your vet a video of each event you are trying to describe.

Do not forget to treat consistently

It is important for your Border Collie’s health that you are consistent in treating its seizures. Unlike other medications where missing a dose or two may not matter, missing epilepsy treatment can trigger dangerous reactions. Here are some things that will help you stay organised:

Follow up vet visits

Your Border Collie will need regular vet checks as part of its ongoing treatment. These could be at least once a year, but usually twice, depending on how the treatment is working. Here are some things you can do to help prepare for these visits:

How do I get in touch with others who are going through the same thing?

First get in touch with your border collie’s breeder and your breed club for support. Join your breed club, if not already a member, and get involved with any research it is doing on epilepsy in border collies.

And, if you have trouble finding anyone local for support, use the internet. There is a lot of support out there.

Here are some websites to help you:

Glossary of Epilepsy Terminology

anoxia - loss of oxygen
complex partial - psychomotor seizure
grand mal - generalised or primary seizure
idiopathic epilepsy - epilepsy that has no cause
petit mal - partial seizure
phosphatidylcholines - these are readily available and extracted from sources that include soybeans and egg yolks
postictal period - the period after the seizure and can last up to several days
pre-ictal period - the period before a seizure starts
simple focal - minor motor or focal motor seizures
status epilepticus - convulsions that continue for several minutes

Links to lists of veterinary specialists

Melbourne Veterinary Specialist Centre http://www.melbvet.com.au/html/s01_home/home.asp
South Australia
Adelaide Animal Hospitals http://adelaidevet.com.au/pet-library/seizures-in-Border Collies
Small Animal Hospital http://www.uq.edu.au/vetschool/services-sah
New South Wales
Small Animal Specialist Hospital http://www.sashvets.com/services/neurology.shtml
Western Australia
Wembley Veterinary Hospital http://www.wembleyvet.com.au/category/about_us/2
Tasmanian Animal Hospitals http://www.tasanimalhospitals.com.au/
Northern Territory
Parap Veterinary Hospital http://www.parapvet.com.au/


United States
VetGen Veterinary Genetic Services https://www.vetgen.com/canine.html
Paws and Claws Animal Hospital - Texas http://petcarenaturally.com/
Chicago Veterinary Specialty Group - Illinois http://chicagovetspecialists.com/specialties/neurology-and-neurosurgery/
VCA Aurora Animal Hospital - Illinois http://www.vcaspecialtyvets.com/aurora/departments-doctors/departments/neurology
Powers Pet Emergency and Speciality - Colorado http://powerspetemergency.com/specialties/neurology-neurosurgery/
Critical Vet Care Veterinary Speciality and Emergency Center - Florida http://www.criticalvetcare.com/
List of American specialists http://www.canine-epilepsy.net/links.html
Bush Veterinary Neurology Service - Virginia http://bvns.net/
European Society of Veterinary Neurology http://www.ecvn.org/
List of European Specialists http://www.vetcontact.com/en/vet.php?k=91&d2=&d=4
Royal Veterinary College - University of London http://www.rvc.ac.uk/small-animal-referrals/neurology-and-neurosurgery
University of Glasgow http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/vet/smallanimalhospital/services/neurology/


A diagnosis of epilepsy in your Border collie is devastating news. Armed with information and support from your breeder, vet and specialists, there is a good chance you will have a happy, relatively normal, long life together.

No one wants to buy or breed a Border Collie with health problems. No matter how careful you are, there are still no guarantees that health issues will not arise for any number of reasons.

Epilepsy in Border Collies is a hard one to predict as there are no tests for genetic carriers so there is no way to accurately isolate breeding animals to avoid breeding with a carrier.

We need to rely on those people we buy Border Collies from to keep accurate records and pass that knowledge on to their puppy buyers and other breeders. Always ask a breeder if the puppy has a history of epilepsy in its lines, and get the answer in writing.

Research is being done all the time into how epilepsy is inherited with the aim to develop a genetic test so breeders can choose their breeding stock accordingly.

There is a lot of help out there if your Border Collie is diagnosed with epilepsy, whether it has occasional seizures or severe ones, generalised or secondary epilepsy. Look to your breeder, breed club and vet for assistance and support throughout your Border Collie’s life.

If your breed club has a registry recording the incidence of epilepsy in Border collies, join it to help further research to help eradicate into this disease.

Work closely with your vet and do not change medications or try alternative therapies without consulting your trusted professionals first. Be prepared to experiment with different drugs and combinations for the best results.

Above all, you will need patience.

There is a high incidence of success in controlling epilepsy. You and your Border Collie can have a happy, long life together once you learn how to manage its health problems.