Today I examined two dogs which experienced a seizure last night. Both owners were worried with furrowed brows. Both dogs were happy with wagging tails. Therein lies the truth….seizures are usually harder for the owner to observe than for the dog to endure. In other words, most seizures are harder on us than on our pets.
What is a dog seizure?
A seizure in dogs and people is the physical manifestation of abnormal brain activity. The brain works through the constant transfer of neurological signals between cells. Sometimes, the signals go “haywire” and a seizure occurs.
Imagine a spark in the brain that grows to a fire, then burns down to glowing embers before finally going out. The spark is beginning of abnormal brain activity, the fire is the seizure, and the embers are the remnants of the seizure. These represent the 3 stages of a
- In the first stage called the pre-ictal stage (spark), a dog feels a bit odd. He feels like something is about to happen, but doesn’t know what. Some dogs become agitated in this stage; some run to their owners for comfort; others seek a quiet place.
- During the seizure (fire), the dog’s response depends on the severity of the seizure (size of the fire). Some dogs become quiet and dazed (absence seizures). Others may twitch a little or bite at imaginary objects, but remain mostly in control of their movements (partial seizures). Still others may fall over and convulse violently thrashing their legs and losing control of bowel and bladder functions (generalized seizures).
- In the post-ictal phase (embers), the dog may be confused and dis-oriented for several minutes. He may be wobbly or stumble as he tries to walk. As the “embers” die out, the dog returns to normal mental status.
What should you do if your dog has a seizure?
If your dog has a seizure of any sort, try to remain calm. Speak to your dog in a reassuring voice. He may hear you even if he can’t respond. Keep your hands away from his mouth to prevent unintentional bites. Remember that your dog may not have control of his body movements and he may snap unintentionally. Place a towel or blanket over the dog to provide comfort and to absorb urine/feces. Remain with your dog until he regains full composure.
Keep a journal of all seizures. Record the date, time, what the dog was doing prior to the seizure, how long the seizure lasted and what it looked like. This information will help your veterinarian determine how best to deal with the seizure.
Most seizures are over before the pet owner can dial the veterinary emergency number. Even though it seems like they go on forever in the heat of the moment, seizures often last only a couple of minutes. If the dog loses consciousness or if the seizure lasts more than 5-10 minutes (status epilepticous), he needs to see a veterinarian immediately. Severe seizures may affect brain function permanently.
What causes a dog seizure?
Dogs have seizures for many reasons.
- Very rarely, dogs have brain tumors.
- Less rare are bacterial or viral infections of the nervous system such as encephalitis or meningitis.
- More common causes include metabolic problems involving liver or kidney mal-function. Some dogs have a seizure when they become hypo-glycemic (low blood sugar). Other causes include exposure to toxins (pesticides, poisonous plants, chemicals). But the vast majority of seizures are characterized as epileptic seizures.
Dog epilepsy is the term used to categorize repeated seizures of unknown origin. Some breeds are prone to epilepsy such as beagles, cocker spaniels, boxers, collies, dachshunds, and Irish setters to name a few. Dogs with open fontanels (soft spots on the skull that don’t close) such as Chihuahuas and Pekingese may be more apt to have seizures related to hydrocephalus.
How are dog seizures diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will run a series of tests including blood work, urine tests, and a sampling of cerebro-spinal fluid may indicate kidney failure, liver disease, nervous system infection, or hypo-glycemia.
Can dog seizures be treated with medication?
When the frequency or severity of the seizures becomes uncomfortable or dangerous for the pet, it may be necessary to give anti-seizure medications. It is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully by giving the medicine in the proper dosage at the recommended time. Missing doses may result in another seizure.
Sometimes, even with medication, dogs may have an occasional seizure. Usually these episodes are not as severe and don’t occur as often as they did before treatment. Once on seizure medication, dogs usually have to take it for the duration of their lives. Read our dog seizure article on MyPetED.com for more information.
Seizures are so scary…but most of the time they aren’t as bad as they seem. My two patients from this morning went home happy. Their owners went home relieved to learn that their dogs were fine. These owners will know how to handle any future seizures safely. And they will remember that the seizure is worse for them than for their dogs. Isn’t that a comfort?