Seizures in dogs
Seizures are common in dogs, especially in certain breeds where there is a genetic susceptibility to epilepsy. A seizure is essentially a disturbance of normal brain function. This leads to involuntary muscle contraction. Seizures can be accompanied by vocalisation, urination or defecation. During a seizure the dog is not consciously aware of their surroundings. They may also be disorientated before and after a seizure. PLEASE BEWARE – dogs can show non-characteristic aggression following seizures. Read more about seizures in dogs in this article.
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Causes of seizures in dogs
Our understanding of the brain is still in some ways in its infancy. Epilepsy can be passed from one generation to the other. However, in humans and in dogs we still don’t understand the exact mechanism behind the disease. Bear in mind that almost any disease state can lead to a seizure, including a fever, toxins, or damage to organs such as the kidney, liver, heart and the brain. Epilepsy where no cause is identified is termed idiopathic epilepsy.
Symptoms of seizures in dogs
Many owners living with epileptic dogs will be very used to seeing the three phases of a seizure. These can be summarised as:
Pre-seizure or pre-ictal phase: often their behaviour will change; the dog will become less aware of their surroundings or show signs of nervousness and become more restless. They sometimes have difficulty moving without losing balance and/or trembling. This typically lasts for only a few seconds to minutes before the seizure begins, but it is not always present
The seizure: this may involve different centres of the brain and therefore can be present in different forms. A full seizure involves loss of consciousness with muscle movement (tonic-clonic seizures) and can last from a few seconds to minutes. The dog may injure itself at this stage, for example, biting their tongue, or hitting their legs
Recovery or post-ictal phase: as the dog recovers there is often a period where the brain is unable to fully comprehend the surroundings and carry out normal functions. Disorientation is common as well as a period of restlessness and confusion. This should resolve within a few minutes and the dog should return to normal
What can you do if your dog has a seizure?
Seizures are not painful. It is more distressing for the owner to observe a seizure than it is for the dog, who is unaware of what is happening. If your dog has a seizure:
Try to remain quiet and calm
Try to reduce external stimuli: turn off the lights, radio and television
Ensure there are no objects on which the dog could injure itself
Try to time the seizure from the start until it stops to help you and your vet to keep track of seizure activity
Status epilepticus in dogs
Status epilepticus is a life threatening situation which occurs when a dog has a seizure for more than 3-5 minutes. This is an emergency situation; you must not delay seeking veterinary attention. Intravenous drugs are required to try to halt the seizure and time is of the essence as it can lead to brain damage. Visit a vet immediately.
Treatment of seizures in dogs
Not all seizures require treatment; they must be either frequent enough or of a more complex nature to control (cluster seizures) in order to need medication. This is because all medications have side effects. Once started, the dog will need to continue medical treatment for life.
Anticonvulsants are used either alone or in combination therapy and they are usually administered orally at home. Periodic blood samples are required to ensure that the drug level stays within the therapeutic range.
Owners of epileptic dogs are encouraged to keep a diary to track seizure activity. The Royal Veterinary College in London has launched a free seizure tracker app to make this easier.
When to see your physical vet
If your dog has had a seizure that lasts up to 3-5 minutes, you should see a vet the same day so that a full physical examination can be done and, if necessary, further investigations to try to identify the cause.
If your pet has a seizure that lasts for more than 3-5 minutes, you should seek emergency veterinary treatment for status epilepticus at your nearest veterinary clinic.
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