Overview of Seizure Disorders in Dogs
A seizure or convulsion in a dog is a sudden excessive firing of nerves in the brain. It results in a series of involuntary contractions of the voluntary muscles, abnormal sensations, abnormal behaviors, or some combination of these events. A seizure can last from seconds to minutes.
The severity of the seizure can vary between a far-away look or twitching in one part of the face to your dog falling on his side, barking, gnashing his teeth, urinating, defecating and paddling his limbs.
Seizures are symptoms of some neurological disorder – they are not in themselves a disease. Some underlying causes include:
- Low blood glucose (sugar)
- Liver disease (called “hepatic encephalopathy”)
- Inflammatory or infectious diseases that affect the nervous system
- Poisons or toxins
- Brain tumor
- Head trauma
- Blood vessel disorders that affect circulation to the brain
- Congenital problems – those present at birth – such as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”).
Seizures frequently are idiopathic , which means the cause cannot be determined. A diagnosis of seizure disorder does not mean nothing can be done for your pet.
There is no current accurate estimate of the incidence of seizure episodes in dogs. Seizures occur in both males and females with equal frequency, and many pets have one seizure and never have another.
Components of a Seizure
There are three components of a seizure:
- Aura. Certain signs of an impending seizure may be evident, such as restlessness, whining, shaking, salivation, affection, wandering or hiding. These signs may persist from seconds to days in duration and may or may not be apparent to you.
- Ictus. During ictus, the seizure occurs. The attack may last seconds or minutes. Your dog may fall on his side and may look like he is kicking or paddling. He will salivate, lose control of his bladder, and be unaware of his surroundings.
- Postictial stage. This stage occurs immediately after the seizure. Your dog will appear confused and disoriented and may wander or pace. He may still exhibit salivation and may be unresponsive to you. Or he may come to you for comfort. The period may be short or it may last for days.
Warning signs that require emergency veterinary attention:
- Seizures that last longer than 10 minutes
- Seizures that occur more than twice in a 24 hour time period
- Seizures that begin before your pet has completely recovered from the previous seizure
What to do if your pet has a seizure
- Do not panic. If your pet is having a seizure, he is unconscious and he is not suffering. Your pet may seem like he is not breathing, but he is.
- Time the seizure. Actually look at a clock or watch and note the time; although it may seem like forever, it may only be 30 seconds.
- Keep your pet from hurting himself by moving furniture away from the immediate area. Also protect him from water, stairs, and other sharp objects. If possible, place a pillow under his head to prevent head trauma.
- Note what type of muscular activity or abnormal behavior does your pet exhibits during the seizures? Your veterinarian may want you to keep a record of the date and length of time of each seizure.
- If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, call your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic immediately.
- Pets do not swallow their tongues. Do not put your hand in your dog’s mouth – you may get bit. Do not put spoons or any other object into your pet’s mouth.
- Keep children and other pets away from your seizing animal.
- Remain by your pet’s side; stroke and comfort your animal so when he comes out of the seizure you are there to calm him.
What to Do After a Dog Seizures
- Observe your pet’s post-seizure behavior. Do not allow your pet access to the stairs until he is fully recovered. Offer water if he wishes to drink.
- Be prepared for vocalization and stumbling after the seizure ends. You need to be strong and offer support and comfort to your pet. He will be confused and may feel as though he did something wrong. Speak softly and with a soothing voice.
- If your pet has not fully recovered within 30 minutes, contact your veterinarian or local emergency facility.
Diagnosis of Seizures in Dogs
Diagnostic tests are needed to determine the presence of an underlying disease or cause for the seizure disorder. Seizures for which an underlying cause cannot be determined after thorough diagnostic evaluation are called idiopathic. Tests may include:
- Complete medical history
- Thorough physical exam, including a complete neurologic examination and complete examination of the back of the eyes ( “fundiscopic” examination)
- Blood tests to determine your pet’s general health and the presence of an underlying disease that may be causing the seizures.
- Fecal examination
- Other diagnostic tests as needed based on the results of the history, physical examination and initial laboratory tests.
Treatment of Seizures in Dogs
Results of the history, physical examination and initial laboratory tests will determine the need for further diagnostic tests and will help determine the appropriate treatment for your pet’s seizure disorder. Treatment will be dictated by the underlying cause. When possible, the specific underlying cause of the seizure disorder should be treated.
Home Care of Dogs with Seizures
If your pet has a seizure, call your veterinarian promptly.