Seizures in dogs can be scary to watch and seem to last forever. Seizures cause involuntary contractions of muscles due to the sudden and excessive firing of nerves in the brain. How a seizure looks in dogs 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.
There are 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 some dogs will seek affection. 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 his side and begins paddling and chomping his jaws. Some owners will notice dog teeth chattering. They may drool, foam at the mouth, urinate and move their bowels. They may bark or vocalize. Dogs are unaware of their surroundings during this time.
- Post-ictial 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 post ictal 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.
What To Do and NOT to Do if Your Dog Has a Seizure
Clients commonly want to know what do and what not to do if a dog has a seizure. Seizures can be really scary and often seem to last forever when it is only a few minutes. Clients commonly ask if their dog will die from a seizure. Learn more about the risk of death in Can a Dog Die From a Seizure?
In general, the recommendations on what to do when your pet is having a seizure are:
- Don’t panic. Even though it is really scary, understand that your dog is unconscious and not in pain. He is not aware that he is seizing. He is not aware you are there and may react in fear, including to bite.
- Be safe. Pets do not swallow their tongues. Do NOT put your hand or any other object in your dogs’ 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. Seizuring 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 his/her mouth. You may calm your dog by speaking softly and petting your dog.
- 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 Seizures
The period after the seizure is called the post-ictal period. This can last from minutes to hours. Typically dogs are disoriented, often lethargic, with inappropriate behavior such as stumbling, walking into walls, overdrinking at the water bowl.
What do you do after a dog seizure?
- The best thing you can do is after a seizure is protect your pet. Block access to stairs and water such as swimming pools, ponds, and lakes. Because your dog is unsteady on his feet, he can easily fall down stairs. Allow access only to a room with no sharp objects.
- If your dog will lie still, comfort them with soothing words and a petting. If your dog is anxious, he may not want to lay still. Do not hold him down as this can create more stress.
- Take your dog out only on a leash for the next several hours to monitor for additional abnormalities such as additional 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 he is acting normal, you can allow access to stairs, food and the outdoors. If your dog continues to seizures, has a second seizure, please contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic.
When Your Seizure Dog Should See Your Veterinarian
Your dog should see a veterinarian if any of the following occur:
- Any Seizures that lasts longer than 5 minutes
- When there are more than three seizures in a 24 hour time period
- Seizures that begin before your pet has completely recovered from the previous seizure
- Your dog does not recover from the seizure within 6 hours
- If your dog also has additional symptoms such as not eating, vomiting, lethargy, trouble breathing, weakness, any sign of bleeding or diarrhea