Seizures in dogs, also known as convulsions, are a common, yet frightening neurological issue. It was a recent Saturday night that I received a phone call from a frantic neighbor telling me her dog was having a seizure, asking me what to do. With a background in the medical field, I can tell you exactly what to do if this were a human circumstance and I felt like this was something I should have been able to confidently answer. Therefore, as the owner of five fur babies, I decided it was my responsibility to research and discover how to recognize seizures in dogs, triggers, emergency identifiers, and treatment options.
What is a seizure?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a seizure is defined as a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. The electrical activity is caused by complex chemical changes that either excite or inhibit brain cell activity. These disruptions can happen in only one side of the brain, or both sides at the same time. This can cause changes in behavior, movements or feelings, and in your pet’s level of consciousness.
Types of Seizures in Dogs:
- Idiopathic Epilepsy: This refers to recurring seizures in dogs with no known cause. Canna-pet.com also refers to this type of seizure as “congenital” or “genetic”
- Petit Mal: A Petit Mal seizure, often referred to as an absence seizure, causes a dog to tremble, arch their back or shake their head, experience difficulty standing and possible drooling.
- Tonic: This is described as an increase in muscle contractions lasting from minutes to seconds.
- Tonic-Clonic: This is often referred to as a mild or Grand Mal seizure and is one of the most common seizures in dogs. These seizures typically last around a minute and are associated with low levels of blood sugar and salt.
- Clonic: These seizures in dogs are rare and generally present in dogs with elevated temperatures. The dog may lose consciousness suddenly and jerk/spasm for up to a minute.
- Atonic: These are also called ‘drop attacks’, often accompanying a tonic seizure. A dog may go limp for 1-2 seconds losing consciousness and then recover rapidly.
- Myoclonic: This causes a dog’s muscles to contract rapidly with the dog retaining consciousness throughout the seizure.
- Cluster: A dog will experience a series of seizures over a short period of time while regaining full consciousness between each seizure
- Status Epilepticus: A dog may suffer a number of seizures over a short period of time, however, does not regain full consciousness between each seizure. These seizures can last longer than five minutes. If that is the case, a veterinarian must be contacted immediately as this is a life-threatening situation.
Causes of Seizures in Dogs:
- Environmental Factors: These causes include your canine eating something poisonous or sustaining a head injury. A few things considered poisonous to dogs are chocolate, caffeine, some plants, rat poisoning, cleaning products and more.
- Genetics: Some dogs are more prone due to their genetic make-up. A list of these dogs includes Beagle, Keeshond, Belgian Tervuren, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Vizsla, and Shetland Sheepdog.
- Illness: Some illnesses that can cause seizures in dogs include high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, encephalitis, brain cancer, and more.
Symptoms of Seizures in Dogs:
- Loss of consciousness
- Foaming at the mouth
- Tongue chewing
- “Paddling” motions with their legs
- Dilated pupils
What to do if your dog is having a seizure:
- Most importantly, stay calm. Most dogs do not experience pain during a seizure and most seizures are brief.
- Keep you and your dog safe. Make sure there are no sharp objects or furniture close to your dog that may cause injury.
- Notate the length of time the seizure lasts as this will help the veterinarian in determining the type of seizure your dog has experienced. Also, take note in the sort of movements your pet is exhibiting.
- Do not place anything in your dog’s mouth, including your hands.
- Dogs can overheat if they have a long seizure so put cold water on their paws and turn on a fan to lower their temperature. After a seizure, the dog may experience confusion and restlessness, with possible temporary blindness.
Phases of Seizures in Dogs:
- Prodromal Phase: This phase can occur hours or days before a seizure episode with changes noticed in your dog’s behavior and mood. They may hide, become clingy, appear nervous with restlessness, shaking, whining or salivating.
- Aura or Pre-ictal Phase: Changes in your dog’s activity, emotions, hearing, smelling, taste and visual perception are noticed in this phase. This is the point just before the convulsions begin.
- Ictal Phase: This is the seizure itself. What happens during this phase depends on where the neural disruption in the brain is taking place. Most dogs will fall on their side and are either rigid or “paddle” their legs while uncontrollably convulsing.
- Post-Ictal State: This is the phase after the seizure has ended. During this phase, your dog may appear to be drugged with possible frantic running in circles, or bumping into walls. This phase can last for several minutes to several days.
Treatment of Seizures in Dogs:
A veterinarian may prescribe ‘emergency medication’ to reduce the length of time a seizure lasts. Antiepileptic drug treatment is common and considered to be successful in controlling the frequency and duration of your dog’s seizures. It is important to create a diary and log your dog’s seizure activity to monitor the effects of the dosage they have been prescribed. Also, document any medication side effects that seem abnormal from your dog’s baseline health and behaviors. These side-effects can include weight gain, weakness of their back legs, restlessness, vomiting, drooling and any other odd responses. The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has created an app ( RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker) which allows owners to electronically track seizures on their smartphone.
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