Dogs With Seizures: Understanding and Caring for Them

WHAT IS A SEIZURE?

Surprisingly, seizures in dogs are more common than most pet owners are aware. A seizure is an uncontrollable reaction to a sudden neurological burst of activity occurring in the brain. In some instances, this excessive concentration of firing neurons remains localized, and other times spreads throughout the entire body. One of the key elements in distinguishing a seizure from some other conditions which may produce similar symptoms is the state of consciousness of your dog. During an actual seizure, your dog will not be conscious, or his state of consciousness will be wavering or abnormal.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF SEIZURES

In order to give your dog the best care during a seizure, it helps to understand which type your dog is experiencing. There is more than one type of seizure:

  1. Focal seizure – may appear as a small twitch in a limb, or some part of your dog’s face, such as an eye, his mouth or other part of his muzzle.
  2. Generalized seizure – more obvious than a focal seizure and generally of a greater scale and longer duration. This type of seizure generally involves the entire body becoming rigid or stiff with some involuntary movement (uncontrollable by your dog), and also uncontrolled whining or barking.

Every seizure is different; no two are alike. Although seizures occur randomly, your dog may be able to sense when his body is about to experience one. Signs that your dog may be about to experience a seizure are:

  • Dog suddenly becomes nervous and agitated for no reason
  • Dog actively seeks out his owner, as if looking for comfort and help because he feels uneasy
  • Dog may begin to tremble
  • Dog’s eyes become fixed almost as though he is blind and cannot see what is around him
  • Dog does not respond to his owner’s voice or touch

You will know when the seizure has actually begun as your dog’s body will stiffen and may become rigid or twitch, his teeth become clenched and he may salivate excessively. Your dog may also appear not to be breathing properly, or not at all, and may even lose consciousness.
Although the signs of a seizure are fairly easy to recognize, there are some conditions that may produce similar symptoms, but are not seizures:

  • A middle ear disease in which the inner ear responsible for balance is affected can produce symptoms suddenly that are similar to dog seizure symptoms
  • A cardiac and respiratory condition (diagnosed or undiagnosed) which causes a canine to faint suddenly, or fall abruptly, with the additional symptom of panting rapidly is often confused with a seizure
  • A condition known as “reverse sneezing” which produces a series of rapid, violent and noisy convulsive movements in the abdomen and chest muscles (occurs more in small breed dogs), resembles a seizure

WHAT CAUSES SEIZURES IN DOGS?

There are a number of possible factors which may contribute to the onset of seizures. Metabolic disorders, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hypocalcemia (low calcium level), may increase the risk of seizures.  Higher than normal levels of blood ammonia (a metabolic liver disease) may also lead to seizures. A tumor in the pancreas which may be producing excesses of insulin in a diabetic dog, trauma to the brain, or a breed-related genetic disorder may also contribute to the onset of seizures.
Excessive amounts of toxins may also trigger seizures. For instance, it has also been found that unusually high levels of uremic (waste compounds eliminated by kidneys) toxins, although less common, may also cause seizures in some dogs. The most common toxic cause of seizures is thought to be lead poisoning. Ingesting toxic substances, such as insecticides or rat poisons, may produce seizure-like symptoms too.
Medical conditions, such as congenital (present from birth) malformations of the central nervous system in the brain, are contributing factors to the onset of seizures. Idiopathic epilepsy, hydrocephalus (a condition where brain fluid does not drain properly) or lissencephaly (rare formation disorder of defective neuron migration which results in lack of normal brain folds) prevalent in the Lhasa Apsos breed are some examples.

WHAT TO DO FOR DOG SEIZURES

The first time you witness your dog experiencing a seizure, it may be frightening and difficult to watch. The best way to help your dog during an attack is to remain very calm and do what you can to make sure he does not get injured by nearby objects.

  1. During a seizure, keep a safe distance from your dog so you do not become injured accidentally by his nails or teeth while his movements are uncontrolled and sporadic.
  2. Allow your dog to choose where he wants to be during the seizure, but make sure you can observe him during the whole episode. If your dog is in a high place or near stairs, attempt to block those areas so that he will not fall and injure himself.
  3. Move any nearby objects that are sharp or breakable and which may cause serious injury away from your dog.
  4. Make note of the duration of the seizure and any onset symptoms you may have noticed, as well as how long it took your dog to be free of the disorientation and all symptoms of the seizure, after the attack. Being able to provide a complete and accurate description with as much information as possible will help your veterinarian diagnose the specific type of seizure, which will aid him in choosing an effective and appropriate treatment protocol.
  5. Talk to your dog in a calm, quiet manner to help reassure him you are nearby and that he is okay (even if it seems like he does not hear you).

TREATMENT

Your veterinarian will use your feedback about the seizures (duration, onset symptoms, etc.) to help diagnose the type of seizure and possible causes. The primary method of treatment will be to first treat any underlying condition or disorder that may be triggering the seizures. Even if the cause of the seizures is determined and treated, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-convulsive drug, such as Primidone, to control the seizures until the underlying condition is resolved. Dilantin is another effective drug therapy for controlling seizures in dogs. The goal of any treatment or therapy is to reduce the frequency and the severity of seizures to a safe, comfortable level that is easiest for both the dog and your family to handle.

Did your dog ever have a seizure? Did your veterinarian uncover the underlying cause? Share the story with us in the comments!

2 comments on “Dogs With Seizures: Understanding and Caring for Them

  1. Our beagle mix, Hunter, has frequent seizures. Our vetrinarian believes it's genetic: epilepsy. He is on medication; however, the frequency has not changed much since beginning his meds (about 4 months). It's scary, and I wish he did not have to go through that – but it's surprises me how quickly he bounces back and wants to play (usually within about 10 minutes after the attack ceases). It should also be mentioned that dogs can lose control of their bladders and bowels before or during a seizure if they have not been taken outside recently.

    We picked Hunter up the day before Easter from a woman who posted a 'Free to good home' ad on a local group, for a local rescue group – but ended up fostering and adopting him ourselves due to the severity and frequency of seizures (which was not disclosed to us upon picking the dog up). One thing I can say is that caring for a dog with seizures is not a horrible thing, and nothing to be frightened about. Keep a notebook outlining dates, times, durations, and symptoms leading up to the seizure – this has helped me become better prepared and more aware when one is coming on.

  2. My dog has had localized seizures only. They dealt with his head and jaw. They were off and on for about 1 week only. He has not had any seizures since. He also had an ear infection that turned out to be a yeast infection at the same time as the seizures. He has an underactive thyroid which was diagnosed about a year after his seizures. He was close to 2 years old when he had his seizures. He is a black lab, dalmation, shepherd mix. His mom had her first and only litter when she was 13 years old. She was the dalmation shepherd mix. The dad was supposedly pure black lab.

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