Seizures in dogs can be scary to watch and seem to last forever. They cause involuntary contractions of muscles due to the sudden and excessive firing of nerves in the brain.
How a seizure looks can vary from dog to dog. Signs can range from falling over to one side, padding of all limbs, teeth chattering, foaming at the mouth, barking or vocalizations, urinating, and/or defecating. Some dogs will have focal seizures that cause abnormal muscle movements in one group of muscles, such as facial twitching. Clients commonly call veterinary hospitals wondering about dog seizures and what to do after.
First, let’s talk about the components of a seizure. This will help you understand what to expect and what to do after a seizure.
The Three Phases of a Dog Seizure
- Aura Phase. The first phase of a seizure is the Aura phase. Some dogs have this, and others don’t. Certain signs of an impending seizure may be evident, such as restlessness, whining, shaking, salivation, wandering, hiding, or affection seeking. These signs may persist from seconds to days in duration and may or may not be apparent to you. Some dogs will run to you or seem “needy” just prior to a seizure.
- Ictal Phase. During the ictal phase of a seizure, the actual seizure occurs. The seizure may last from seconds or minutes. The typical generalized seizure looks like this: your dog falls on their side and begins paddling and chomping their jaws. Some owners will notice their dog’s teeth chattering. They may drool, foam at the mouth, urinate, bark or vocalize, and move their bowels. Dogs are unaware of their surroundings during this period.
- Postictal Phase. This phase of a seizure occurs immediately after the seizure. Dogs will appear confused and disoriented and may wander or pace. Some dogs will be temporarily blind and may run into objects. The typical postictal dog will wander around aimlessly, be unsteady on their feet, may stumble over to their water dish and overdrink and/or overeat, drool, and seem generally confused. This phase may last a few minutes to hours.
Dos and Don’ts If Your Dog Has a Seizure
Clients commonly want to know what do and what not to do if their dog has a seizure. Seizures can be really scary and often seem to last forever, despite only being minutes in length. Most pet owners even worry about the potential for death. Learn more about the risk of death in Can a Dog Die from a Seizure?
In general, here are recommendations for what to do when your dog has a seizure:
- Don’t panic. Even though it is really scary, understand that your dog is unconscious and not in pain. They are not aware that they are seizing. They are also not aware that you are there and may react in fear, including biting.
- Be safe. Pets do not swallow their tongues. Do NOT put your hand or any other object in your dog’s mouth. This is how many pet owners get bit.
- Remove kids and pets. Keep children and other pets (both cats and dogs) away from seizing pets. They are often scared, and their reactions can be unpredictable. There have been reports of attacks to both seizing dogs and people during this stressful and confusing time to the other household pets.
- Time the seizure. Look at your watch and time the seizure. Seizures often seem like they are taking forever, but may only be seconds.
- Protect your pet. Seizing pets can thrash and hurt themselves. Protect your dog from water, stairs, and sharp objects. We generally recommend pulling your dog gently toward the center of the room by the back legs. Many dogs may urinate or defecate. If you have a towel handy, place this under their back end.
- Observe the seizure. Notice how your pet behaves and moves during the seizure. Is there padding of all legs or just the front? Is there chomping? Foaming? Does your dog urinate or defecate?
- Comfort your pet. Stay with your dog, but away from their mouth. You may calm your dog by speaking softly and petting them.
- Be ready to go. If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, call your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic immediately. If you have any questions – call your vet. They can help guide you on if you should come in or if any treatments are recommended.
What to Do After a Dog Has a Seizure
The period after the seizure is called the postictal period. This can last from minutes to hours. Typically, dogs are disoriented, often lethargic, with inappropriate behavior such as stumbling, walking into walls, and overdrinking at the water bowl.
Here’s what to do after a seizure in 4 steps:
- Protect your pet. Block access to stairs and water such as swimming pools, ponds, and lakes. Because your dog is unsteady on their feet, they can easily fall downstairs. Allow access only to a room with no sharp objects.
- Provide Comfort. If your dog will lie still, comfort them with soothing words and a petting. If your dog is anxious, they may not want to lay still. Do not hold them down, as this can create more stress.
- Monitor Behavior. Take your dog out only on a leash for the next several hours to monitor for additional abnormalities, such as more seizures, stumbling, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or lethargy.
- Start a seizure log. Document the seizure, including the time of day and length of seizure. This will help your vet eventually determine if seizure medications are recommended.
Your dog should slowly go back to normal over minutes to hours. Once they are acting like themselves, you can allow access to stairs, food, and the outdoors. If your dog continues to seize or has a second seizure, please contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic.
When Your Dog Should See Their Veterinarian
Your dog should see a veterinarian if any of the following occur:
- A seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes
- More than three seizures in a 24-hour time period
- Seizures that begin before your pet has completely recovered from the previous seizure
- No recovery from the seizure within 6 hours
- Additional symptoms, such as not inappetance, vomiting, lethargy, trouble breathing, weakness, any sign of bleeding or diarrhea
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