Help! My Dog is Having a Seizure!

Grand Mal, petite mal, convulsions, prodromal, aura, ictus, postictal and interictal. What do all these terms have in common? They are all descriptive words associated with seizures. Seizures can occur in dogs and cats and are a scary and emotional event for both the pet and the owners. If you have ever witnessed a “full blown” seizure, you will agree it is a very stressful time. Seizures tend to occur with less frequency in cats than in dogs. Hooray for cats on this problem.

There are many causes for seizure activity in our furry family members including extracranial (outside the head/brain proper), intracranial (inside the head/brain) and idiopathic epilepsy. Extracranial causes can include toxins, metabolic diseases and heat stroke as some examples. Intracranial causes may include infectious and fungal diseases, neoplasia (tumors), congenital malformations, degenerative diseases, hemorrhage/infarcts from other problems such as trauma, kidney failure, low thyroid levels, hypertension, heartworm disease, high thyroid levels, sepsis, and clotting disorders just to name a few. Then there is epilepsy which tends to be a diagnosis by exclusion and history. This also tends to be the most common cause for seizure activity in our pets.

Seizures can be very mild or very intense. If you have ever witnessed a severe seizure in your pet  it is not a fun experience. Your pet may vocalize, twitch, urinate, defecate, fall on their sides and “paddle,” hypersalivate and bite at unknown objects. If you witness this activity, protect yourself first and your pet secondly. They do not know what is going on and if you get near their mouths there is a possibility of getting bitten. Just as in people they don’t “swallow their tongue” so stay away from their mouth. However, if they are at the top of the stairs for example, carefully move your pet away so that they don’t take a tumble down to cause more serious injury. Stay close and offer comfort. Take note of how long the seizure lasts and what was your pet doing before the seizure occurred.

If your pet has a stressed personality, sometimes an overly stimulating event can cause a seizure. Sergeant’s Vetscription Calming Collars or Diffusers can help to reduce stress. However, it is not recommended the you use a collar on yourself. Take a deep breath or two and try to stay calm. Typically, a seizure will only last from a minute or so (though at the time it will seem like an eternity), up to a couple of minutes. When the seizure is over, often your pet will act tired and disoriented. This period can last minutes to hours. When the seizure is over and everyone is calmer, contact your veterinarian. However, if a seizure episode is lasting more than five to six minutes, this may be more of an emergency and your veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

Depending upon the history or your pet,  a thorough examination and laboratory tests done by your veterinarian (which may include blood samples, radiographs and other imaging techniques) the prognosis in most cases of seizures is quite good. This is especially true if your pet seemed to be otherwise healthy prior to their seizure and it is an isolated episode of short duration.

After your veterinarian’s evaluation, anti-seizure medications may or may not be prescribed. When treatment is indicated the goal is to eliminate any further seizure activity with limited to no side effects. However, this may not be easily achieved and, more realistically, the outcome will be to reduce severity and frequency of seizures maintaining the best quality of life possible. While there are many anti-seizure medications, Phenobarbital is often the first drug of choice. It may take a few weeks before adequate levels of the medication are obtained to prevent seizure activity. Your veterinarian will discuss with you what to expect and how to monitor your pet’s status at home. Periodic evaluations will need to occur to monitor drug levels in your pet along with organ function. The good news is that in most cases your pet can live a normal and healthy life.

While it would be my hope that your pet would never experience a seizure, if they do remember to stay calm, protect yourself and then your pet. Though traumatic to all involved, typically everything will be OK. If you would like to read further on seizures in pets, here are some links to additional information: Dog Seizure Disorders, Seizure in Pets, or Pet Seizures.

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