Seizures have been reported to occur in only a tiny percentage of dogs but when it happens it can be a frightening event for the dog owner. But, what is a seizure in a dog? Would you be able to recognize one? If your dog had a seizure would you know what to do ? Let’s take a brief look a what dogs seizures are, what they look like, what causes them, and what you should do if your dog has a seizure.
What is a Seizure?
A seizure, convulsion, or fit is described by veterinarians as a sudden, uncoordinated firing of nerves in the brain, causing involuntary muscle contractions.
What Does a Seizure Look Like?
No two seizures look the same. Seizure activity may range from a blank, un-seeing look in the eyes to mild localized twitching to collapsing, thrashing, losing bowel and bladder control, vocalizing, and gnashing teeth. Many seizures are triggered during excitement or activity but can also begin during sleep. Dogs sometimes vocalize, twitch, or paddle their legs while dreaming and this should not be confused with seizure activity.
Occurring in stages, some seizures last only a few seconds while others last much longer. In the pre-ictus or aura phase, the dog may wander and whine, shake, drool, or hide. This stage can last from several seconds to days.
In the ictus phase the dog may appear uncoordinated, collapse, thrash his limbs, drool, or vomit. This stage usually lasts less than 5 minutes but can go on for more than 20 minutes.
In the post-ictus phase, the dog will begin to recover but may still seem disoriented, uncoordinated and be temporarily blind. This stage can last from a few minutes to days.
What Causes a Seizure?
Seizures are not entirely understood by veterinary medicine. Some occur with no known cause and may be genetically linked. These are called idiopathic. Others are acquired and brought on by underlying health issues such as the following:
- Blood sugar levels too low or too high
- Blood calcium levels too low (sometimes in nursing females)
- High fever
- Poisons such as lead or anti-freeze
- Head trauma or poor blood circulation to the brain
- Heart problems
- Respiratory problems
- Liver and kidney disorders
- Some infections
- Some medications
What to Do if Your Dog Has a Seizure
The dog should see a veterinarian immediately if:
- It is an unhealthy dog
- It is an injured dog
- It is a young puppy
- It is a nursing female
- The seizure is recurring
- The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
- If abnormal behavior lasts longer than 30 minutes
Prolonged and multiple seizures can cause brain damage and death. A single mild seizure in a healthy dog is usually not an emergency but veterinary follow up is STRONGLY recommended.
While the dog is in seizure, the dog owner should:
- Refrain from restraining the dog
- Clear the area of other pets, children, and any sharp or hard objects to prevent injury
- Protect the dog from stairs
- Place something soft under the dog if possible
- Keep hands and other objects out of the dog’s mouth (dogs do not swallow their tongue)
- Time the seizure with a watch
- Closely observe any abnormal behavior so that it can be accurately described to the veterinarian
- Keep noise to a minimum as this can prolong the seizure
- Gently comfort the dog as seizure activity subsides
Prognosis for a Dog Who Has Seizures
It’s not uncommon for a dog to have one seizure without apparent reason and never have another. In these cases, long-term medication is usually not required. However, multiple or prolonged seizures can usually be managed with lifelong medication such as Phenobarbital, which is relatively inexpensive. It is important to strictly follow veterinarian instructions when giving seizure medication. Treatment for any underlying health conditions may help to control seizure activity as well.