Dogs and cats can have seizures or convulsions, just like
people. Witnessing your pet having a seizure can be a
frightening experience. This article discusses some of the
possible causes of seizures and what you can do to provide the
best care for your pet during these episodes.
What causes seizures?
Seizures in pets can be caused by a number of different
conditions. Brain tumors are a common cause in older pets,
who often have other signs such as walking in circles or
stumbling. In certain conditions of the liver or kidneys,
toxins which build up in the blood, may also cause
seizures. Seizures can also be caused by encephalitis,
which is an inflammation of the brain that often results from an
untreated infection. In addition, if a blow to the head is severe
enough to result in unconsciousness (eg, being hit by a car), it
can create a scarred or irritated area of the brain, as a result
seizures could develop weeks or months later.
An important thing to remember if your pet has a seizure is
not to panic. Your pet is
unconscious and not in any pain. (People that have
seizures describe feeling dazed, tired, or confused after having
a seizure, but that the seizure itself is not
painful.) Make sure that your pet is on the floor on a
soft surface so that it cannot injure itself by falling off
furniture or down a flight of stairs. Do not try to open your
pet's mouth or put your fingers in it. It is not possible for
your pet to "swallow its tongue." During a seizure, you may see
muscle spasms, and your pet may "paddle" their legs or extend
them in a rigid fashion. Many pets also lose control of their
bladder or bowel.
If you have never seen a seizure before, you may think it is
going on and on, but in reality most seizures last for less than
a minute. However, if the seizure does stop with a minute or two
(check your watch to be sure!), or if several seizures occur
within a few minutes of each other, the situation is definitely
an emergency and medical help should be sought. In this case, you
should get your pet to your veterinarian or a veterinary
emergency service immediately.
The cause of a seizure in your pet can be difficult to
determine, and many times is never known. When the cause of
the seizures cannot be found, the condition is called epilepsy.
Providing your vet with a complete history can be very helpful in
trying to determine the cause. Be sure to report any other
physical problems your pet is currently experiencing. Your vet
will do a thorough physical examination, and blood tests will be
needed to look for underlying problems. In some cases, more
extensive testing such as a spinal tap or a CT scan or MRI may
also be recommended. Your vet may refer you to a specialist if
they are unable to determine the cause of the seizures.
If an underlying cause for the seizures is found, treatment is
directed at correcting the source of the problem in your cat or
dog. If no specific cause can be found, but your pet has a
short seizure only every few weeks or so, no specific treatment
may be needed. If your pet has seizures more frequently, your
veterinarian will likely recommend medication to decrease the
severity and frequency of the seizures. Sometimes, different
drugs need to be tried, as well as different dosages, depending
on how your pet responds to the prescribed medication. It is
important and very helpful to keep a good record of your pet's
seizures, including when (the time of day), the length of the
seizure and how often your pet has a seizure, when monitoring
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Some Questions You May Have:
- Are seizures painful for my pet?
Your pet is unconscious during the seizure, and there is no
- How long do seizures last in pets?
The actual seizure usually lasts less than a minute, but it
may take many more minutes for your pet to return to normal
awareness. If the intense spasms do not stop within a minute or
two, or if several seizures occur within a few minutes of each
other, the situation is an emergency that should be seen by a
- How are seizures treated in pets?
Treatment involves addressing the underlying cause and (if
needed) using anticonvulsant drugs to control the
- My pet just had a seizure, what should I do?
a. Seizures are frightening to witness. Stay calm.
b. Try to time how long the seizure lasts.
c. First thing to do is to stay clear of your pet so he doesn't
Seizing animals may bite without even
realizing it; trying to hold
them down may cause injury to
themselves or you.
d. Animals will not 'swallow their tongue' as you may have
make sure you keep fingers away from
your pet's mouth.
e. Quickly and carefully remove any objects in the area that
f. Call your vet. With the first seizure, the patient receives
physical exam, blood work, and is monitored
( seizure control
medications usually wait at this point.
UNLESS the first seizure is a
severe cluster seizure (several
happening at once) or a continual
seizure called Status Epilepticus, this
is a medical emergency. If
anything is found on physical or blood
work that may cause
seizures, the underlying conditions
will be addressed and treated.
- At what age do seizures first occur?
Idiopathic epilepsy (seizures of unknown origin) is most
seen in otherwise healthy animals, between the ages of 1 and 5
years, and may be inherited in certain breeds. Beagles,
Keeshonden, Irish Setters, Belgian Tervurens, Siberian Huskies,
Springer Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds may
be genetically predisposed to idiopathic epilepsy. Idiopathic
epilepsy is diagnosed when other causes of seizures have been
ruled out by a physical
exam, blood work, and any other necessary procedures.
- What should I do if my pet experiences seizures?
While "observing a seizure", the owner should keep a diary of
when/where the seizures occur, how long they last, was the
animal acting strangely/doing any activity in particular before
the seizure occurred, and how long after the seizure did it
take for the animal to return to normal. This information may
provide helpful clues to your
vet in diagnosing the cause, if a pattern is observed.
There are definite seizure triggers for some animals, and
if they can be identified, the number of seizures can be
reduced if the trigger (activity, excitement, etc.) can be
- When does a pet need medication to control seizures?
The general rule of thumb is more than one seizure every one or
two months. The duration and severity of each seizure will also
Seizures have 3 phases:
The 3 phases of seizures are Pre-ictal, ictal, post-ictal.
"Ictal" means seizure.
Pre-ictal - the "pre" phase often goes
unnoticed, but you may notice an altered state of consciousness
or restlessness, lasting for a few seconds or
Ictus - the seizure itself, and it may
last a few seconds or minutes. As mentioned above, a continual
seizure, Status Epilepticus, is a medical emergency, and the
pet should be rushed to the vet for medication to break the
seizure and prevent brain and organ damage from hyperthermia
(increased body temperature), acidosis (metabolic imbalance),
hypoperfusion (reduced blood flow), and hypoxia (reduced oxygen
to tissues). All of the above possibilities occur on a much
reduced scale for small seizures, too, so control is
Post-ictal - this phase is the time
after the seizure where the animal appears dazed, confused,
depressed. The animal may even appear blind - running into
walls, etc. Some animals sleep a lot. This typically lasts
several minutes, but can last hours, depending on the seizure
duration and frequency.