Seizures in dogs, just like in humans, are characterized by uncontrollable muscle contractions that present as shaking or muscle twitching. Depending on the type of seizure, the clinical manifestations can be so pronounced that you are pretty certain your dog is having a “fit” or “convulsion”. In other cases, the contractions are so mild that you hardly notice it except that your pet may present with an unusual gaze.
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What Causes Canine Seizures?
The main issue in canine seizures, as well as any other type of seizure, is that there is an abnormal firing of nerve impulses originating from the neurons of the brain. Since these electrical impulses are generated in the neurons and are sent straight to target organs, the abnormal, uncontrollable, and uncoordinated firing of nerve impulses can be readily seen in the said organs.
Because the issue here is in the abnormal firing of nerve impulses from the brain, the cause can be any of the following.
- Ingesting poisonous or toxic substances
- Head injuries
- Brain cancer
- Inflammation of the brain
- Electrolyte imbalance
- High or low blood sugar levels
- Liver disease
- Kidney failure
In cases where the cause of the seizure is unknown, it is typically called idiopathic epilepsy. Epilepsy is characterized by frequent seizure episodes. So you can think of seizure in dogs as isolated cases of uncontrolled twitching. If the seizures occur frequently, then it is called epilepsy.
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:
- Australian shepherd
- Belgian Tervuren
- Bernese mountain dog
- Border collie
- English springer spaniel
- Finnish spitz
- German shepherd
- Golden retriever
- Irish wolfhound
- Labrador retriever
- Shetland sheepdog
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, or Already Had a Seizure?
Just like in humans, there are 3 phases of a seizure disorder in dogs. If you are very observant about your dog, you might actually catch it in any of these phases. Here are the things that you can watch for.
- Just before the start of the seizure
Known as the ‘pre-ictal’ phase of a seizure, your dog will show a very unusual behavior. It will appear stressed out, worried, or even scared. You might notice that it will be 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 as if it is staring into space. There may already be beginning muscle contractions or even visual disturbances. Some dogs may even have ‘fecal accident’. The pre-ictal phase typically lasts anywhere between a few seconds and several hours.
- During a dog’s seizure
This is known as the ‘ictal’ phase and is best described as active seizure. If the seizure involves the whole body of the dog, it is known as grand mal seizure and this is characterized by foaming at the mouth, drooling, twitching, and collapse. Many dogs also exhibit the characteristic water-treading behavior wherein your dog will be acting like it is paddling in water. It is also very common for canines to defecate and/or urinate. Grand mal seizures often last from a few seconds to 5 minutes. Beyond 5 minutes it is already called status epilepticus. In such cases, it is imperative that the dog be brought immediately to a vet.
- Right after the dog’s seizure
This is the ‘post-ictal’ phase of the seizure. Typically, your dog will be confused, disoriented, and may display increased salivation, restlessness, and pacing. Some dogs have been known to show temporary blindness right after the seizure.
What Should You do if Your Pet is Having a Seizure?
If you see your dog having a seizure, it is important to remain calm. Additionally, make sure to do the following things.
- Remove all items that your dog might hit while it is having seizure.
- Steer clear of your dog’s head and mouth.
- Make sure to time the seizure. Your cutoff is 5 minutes. If after 5 minutes your dog is still having seizure then you have to bring it to an emergency vet facility. Prolonged seizures can overheat the body leading to respiratory problems and increase the risk of brain damage.
- Turn on an electric fan to help cool off your dog as muscle contractions generate heat.
- Try to reassure your dog without touching it. Talk to it softly.
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What Treatments are Available for a Dog With Seizure Disorders?
Dogs that have seizure disorders are usually given different treatments depending on the cause of the disorder. Conventional treatment calls for the use of anticonvulsants like phenobarbital as well as potassium bromide, although a diazepam can be given for status epilepticus to rapidly halting the seizure. Dogs given phenobarbital require frequent liver tests because this drug is especially toxic to your dog’s liver.
It is very important to understand that once anticonvulsant therapy has been initiated, it should already 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 seizure disorders for dogs is only initiated in any of the following circumstances.
- There are at least two seizure episodes in one month
- There is a cluster of seizure characterized by one following the other in rapid succession
- There is severe grand mal seizure
- There is status epilepticus
There are also homeopathic treatments available for seizures in dogs. Unfortunately, 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.
Nothing worries pet parents more than seeing their otherwise healthy and rambunctious dog suddenly fall, twitch, and tread water like crazy even though it’s on solid ground. By increasing your knowledge about canine seizures, you’re now better equipped to handle such disorder in the future.
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- Ernest Ward, DVM, Seizures in Dogs, VCA
- Seizures and Convulsions in Dogs, PetMD
- Seizures in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & What to Do, Pets WebMD