seizures in dogs - causes & treatments

Seizures in Dogs: Causes and Treatment

All pet owners want to do is know their babies are safe, happy, and comfortable; so it can be scary if they suddenly don’t seem okay. If your pup has started to exhibit signs of seizure activity, it’s best that you try to understand the cause. Seizures in dogs, just like in humans, are characterized by uncontrollable, unexpected, physical responses to misaligned neural activity. Depending on the type of seizure, the clinical manifestations of symptoms can be so pronounced that you can work out whether or not your dog appears to be having a fit, otherwise known as a convulsion. In other cases, the contractions or symptoms can be so mild that you hardly notice it except that your pet may seem to lose its focus and become glassy-eyed.

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seizure in dogs

What is the Difference Between a Seizure, Epilepsy, Fits, and Convulsions?

They’re actually all the same thing! So many different words for the same event can be quite confusing. However, epilepsy, fitting, convulsing, and having a seizure are all the same – sudden physical manifestations of symptoms as a result of neurological events triggered by misfiring neurons in the brain. It is worth noting that seizures in themselves are not a disease, however, it is possible for them to be triggered by one. They can be characterized by a wide range of potential symptoms such as:

  • A glassy-eyed stare
  • Twitching
  • Falling over
  • Abnormal motor activity
  • Gnashing of the teeth
  • Defecating
  • Urinating
  • Unprovoked aggression

The sooner you recognize that something isn’t right, the sooner you can look to assist your dog with getting through their fit until the symptoms subside. You can then seek whatever veterinary attention you feel is necessary – especially if this is your dog’s first fit.

What Causes Canine Seizures?

Understanding the underlying cause of your dog’s seizures can certainly help you to figure out how best to respond. A typical seizure episode may only last a few minutes (though it is possible for a dog to experience prolonged seizures). It is also worth noting that each episode can vary in severity. Seizures in dogs are just as complicated as they are in humans. Perhaps more so, as dogs are not capable of explaining what seems to be bothering them.

A seizure is the result of the abnormal firing of nerve impulses originating from the neurons of the brain. Misfiring nerve impulses can be caused by an unfortunately large amount of factors, ranging from something bad being ingested, to much more severe health complications such as cancer. For the most part, you would have to work by a process of elimination to understand what could be causing the seizure episodes. We have put together a list of potential causes for you to look out for:

  • Ingesting poisonous or toxic substances
  • Head injuries
  • Stroke
  • Brain cancer
  • Inflammation of the brain
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Anemia
  • High or low blood sugar levels
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney failure
  • idiopathic epilepsy

What Types of Canine Seizures Are There?

There are a number of forms seizures take on dogs that are have been divided into subcategories for better categorization, such as:

Refractory Epilepsy

Refractory epilepsy means your dog’s life is still being moderately impacted by regular seizures, even though they are being given the appropriate treatment. This does not necessarily mean your dog has reached the end of its life. It simply means you may need to seek other forms of treatment, and consider your pup’s quality of life.

Focal Seizure

Focal seizures can be either complex or simple. A simple focal seizure tends to last less than a minute. Your dog will be conscious throughout the episode. A complex focal seizure can last over a minute and will result in loss of consciousness.

Partial Seizure and Generalized Seizure

Partial seizures affect a single area of the brain or one hemisphere. whereas generalized seizures can affect any area of the brain or both hemispheres. These are broader terms used when treating seizures, which encompass more than one seizure type.

Cluster Seizures

If you are new to your dog experiencing seizures, then you should always seek veterinary advice as quickly as possible. This is especially true if your dog seems to be experiencing cluster seizures, which are when multiple seizures occur (three or more) within a 24-hour period.

Prolonged Seizure

Much like cluster seizures, prolonged seizures are when there is a lot of seizure activity. However, where a cluster seizure can take place over 24-hours, prolonged seizures are when your dog has three or more seizures in a 1-hour time span. Or if they appear to be fitting constantly for 5 minutes or more.

Psychomotor Seizure

Psychomotor seizures, also known as temporal lobe epilepsy or complex partial seizures, tend to result in loss or partial loss of consciousness. Your dog will also be unable to respond to its environment and may exhibit automatisms (unusual, repetitious movements) called during a psychomotor seizure.

Idiopathic Epilepsy

In cases where the cause of your dog’s seizures is unknown, it is typically called idiopathic epilepsy (otherwise known as genetic epilepsy or congenital epilepsy). This is possibly the most frustrating diagnosis a pet owner can get, but rest assured your vet will be doing everything they can to find the cause.

Are There Dogs That are More Prone to Seizures?

There are certain breeds of dogs that are more predisposed to the occurrence of seizure disorders. This underscores the possibility of genetic transmission in the development of the disorder. Unfortunately, scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact gene that codes for such a disorder. These mostly appear between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. The following breeds are typically affected:

In addition to these breeds, male dogs are also affected more commonly than females. Exactly why this occurs still baffles members of the scientific community.

How Do You Know if Your Dog Will Have/is Having/Has Had a Seizure?

Just like with humans, there are 3 phases to seizures in dogs. If you are very observant about your dog, you may have a chance at catching it during one of these phases. The signs you need to look out for are:

The Pre-ictal Phase – Before The Seizure

The pre-ictal phase takes place immediately before your dogs seizures begin. It is highly likely that your pup’s behavior will alter, and they will likely show signs of fear, anxiety, or stress. You might notice them being very clingy as if they find comfort in staying at your feet. This ‘warning’ phase can also be characterized by your dog appearing dazed or confused, seeming to stare into space or lose focus.

Additionally, muscle contractions or even visual disturbances can start to occur, which could result in accidental bowel movements or urination. The pre-ictal phase typically lasts anywhere between a few seconds and several hours.

The Ictal Phase – During The Seizure

The ictal phase is the most recognisable point in a seizure, in which the active seizure starts. If the seizure involves the entire body of the dog, it is known as grand mal seizure which is characterized by foaming at the mouth, drooling, twitching, and possible collapse. Many dogs also exhibit the ‘water-treading behavior wherein your dog will begin to act as though it is paddling in water. If your dog did not defecate and/or urinate during the pre-ictal phase, it is possible for them to have an accident at this stage instead, as is common with most seizures.

Grand mal seizures often last from a few seconds to 5 minutes. If it goes beyond 5 minutes it would become known as status epilepticus. In such cases, it is imperative that you contact your vet immediately, as they are fully trained in knowing how to treat seizures. They are also trained in the best way to respond to status epilepticus and can guide you until you can get your pup into the care of a professional.

The Post-Ictal Phase – After The Siezure

Immediately after the seizure ends comes the post-ictal phase in which your dog will be confused and disoriented. They may also have increased salivation and become restless, or begin pacing. Some dogs have even been known to show temporary blindness right after the seizure. Stay with them during this time and try your best to soothe them and keep them calm.

What Should You Do if Your Pet is Having a Seizure?

If you see your dog is having a seizure, as difficult as it may be, it is important to remain calm. It will not help their stress levels if you are panicking or acting frantic. There is certain information you need to make a note of in order to help your veterinarian get a better understanding of what happened and provide an accurate diagnosis:

  • Recent Activity: Did it happen right after they woke up? After they’d eaten? Whilst on a walk?
  • Date & Time: If this is not a single seizure event, make a note of the date and time so that you know how frequently they are occurring.
  • Seizure Length: You need to monitor the length of the seizure closely. Did it last for 10-30 seconds or over 5 minutes? This information will help your veterinarian to classify the seizure.
  • Behavior Changes: Did you notice behavioral changes during the pre-ictal phase that could potentially help your veterinarian to determine an exact cause.

There are several things you should also do during the seizure to keep your dog safe whilst they are fitting:

  • Remove all items that your dog could hit while it is having a seizure.
  • Steer clear of your dog’s head and mouth as they are at a high risk of lashing out.
  • Make sure to time the seizure. Your cutoff is 5 minutes. Prolonged seizures can overheat the body leading to respiratory problems and increase the risk of brain damage and other serious side effects.
  • Turn on an electric fan to help cool off your dog as muscle contractions generate heat and spike your dog’s body temperature.
  • Try to reassure your dog without touching it. Talk to them softly and let them know you’re there.
  • Once the seizure has stopped get your pup a drink of water and soothe them. They will feel shaken and disoriented after such an ordeal.

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What Treatments are Available for a Dog With Seizure Disorders?

Before any medications or treatments can be implemented your pup may need to have a couple of blood tests or diagnostic tests to check for deficiencies or irregularities that could raise a red flag. Additionally, if your veterinarian feels it is necessary they may need to go through a CT scan to monitor electrical activity in the brain and check for anything that could indicate a problem. Once the possible cause is recognized, they can begin treatment.

Seizure control is difficult to obtain quickly. Dogs that have fitting disorders are usually given different treatments depending on the cause of the disorder. Treating seizures often calls for the use of anticonvulsant medications like phenobarbital as well as potassium bromide. Diazepam can also be given for status epilepticus to rapidly halt the fit. Dogs given phenobarbital require frequent liver tests because this drug is especially toxic to their liver.

It is very important to understand that once anticonvulsant therapy has been initiated, it should be maintained for life. If the treatment is discontinued at any time, the risk for more severe seizures is usually greater. It is for this reason that the treatment for seizures is only initiated in the following circumstances.

  • There are at least two seizure episodes in one month
  • Cluster seizures – characterized by one following the other in rapid succession
  • Severe grand mal seizure – affecting the entire body with the potential for severe side effects
  • There is status epilepticus – characterized by a continuous seizure over a minimum of 5 minute.

There are also some homeopathic treatments available for seizures in dogs. However, given that many of these plant-based natural remedies have been proven to contain several toxic and poisonous substances, their use in the management of canine seizures is not really advised.

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What Causes Seizures in Dogs?

The causes of seizures can be any number of things ranging from something they have ingested to disease. The most common causes of seizures in dogs are listed below:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Liver disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthermia
  • Hypocalcemia
  • Toxoplasma
  • Poisoning
  • Inherited disorder
  • metabolic diseases
  • Brain trauma
  • Degenerative brain conditions
  • Brain tumors
  • Cerebral infarction
  • Nutritional imbalances
  • Infectious diseases
  • Congenital diseases

Though it is not worth stressing yourself over until you know more. They always say not to google symptoms as the result can make you fear the worst. So trust the professional experience and advice of your veterinarian. They will provide you with the best information owing to their direct contact with your dog, as well as putting together the best course of treatment for them.

dog seizure

Seizures are a frightening thing for dogs and owners alike. Nothing worries pet parents more than seeing their otherwise healthy and rambunctious dog has a seizure and starts suddenly acting jarringly different, or falling to the ground twitching and twisting their body uncharacteristically. By increasing your knowledge about canine seizures, you can help to protect your dog, should they experience a seizure later down the line. Additionally, it helps you to better understand what could have been the underlying cause and when to seek the help of veterinary medicine or treatment.

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Sources:

  1. Ernest Ward, DVM, Seizures in Dogs, VCA
  2. Seizures and Convulsions in Dogs, PetMD
  3. Seizures in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & What to Do, Pets WebMD

guidance

Eloise Hands

Eloise is the owner of a Malamute/Akita cross, a first-time mum, and an animal enthusiast from England. She comes from a family which has never gone a day without a pet (or 3!), and over the years has learned all the best tips and tricks to raising a difficult pet. A knowledge that she has put to good use, to help others navigate the limitless world of pet care.

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