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Dog Seizures

An Overview of Seizures in Dogs

It's so frightening to see a dog having a seizure. They thrash around, salivate and may injure themselves, and we often have no idea how to help.

A dog seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The result is involuntary activity in the part of the body controlled by that part of the brain. A dog's muscles may contract, or he may show some odd behaviors, or become vague and unresponsive.


Different Types of Seizures in Dogs

Dogs can show signs that a seizure is just about to happen. They may be restless, whine, or become more affectionate and in need of reassurance.

Continuous seizures lasting up to half an hour are known as status epilepticus and are a medical emergency. These dogs must be taken to a veterinarian immediately for treatment.

We're more familiar with the generalized dog seizure. Dogs often lose consciousness, have convulsions with salivation, paddling of their legs, and they may urinate or defecate. They can, however, have a generalized non-convulsive seizure where they show the signs of an imminent seizure, and appear to pass out, without any of the violent movements we usually see with a generalized seizure.

Dogs can also have a focal seizure, where only a small localized part of the brain is affected. Often a part of their face twitches, or they blink their eye repeatedly. It is thought that fly catching behavior where a dog repeatedly bites at the air is actually a focal seizure. A focal seizure may or may not extend into a generalized dog seizure.

After his seizure, a dog will often appear confused and dazed, and this may last for several days.

Why Do Dogs Develop Seizures?

Seizures in dogs can be congenital or acquired. If they're congenital, it means the dog has been born with the disorder. This can be because of a genetic problem in the breed, or it could be because of some head trauma during the birth. Acquired seizure disorders occur due to changes in the brain later in life.

In some animals, there is a structural brain disease that is causing the abnormal electrical activity. A common symptom of a brain tumor in dogs is seizures. Young pups can be born with excessive fluid on the brain, a condition called congenital hydrocephalus. They usually have seizures because of the increased pressure on sensitive brain tissue.

Seizures can also be caused by a metabolic abnormality. For example, low blood glucose can lead to seizures in diabetic animals, and dogs with liver disease can have convulsions due to increased blood ammonium levels.

Dog seizures may also occur if a dog has been poisoned - metaldehyde (snail bait) poisoning causes severe seizures in dogs.

Viral or bacterial infections can cause inflammation of the brain and the membranes around it, and may also cause seizures, as well as general symptoms of illness such as lethargy, loss of appetite and possibly a fever. Distemper is an example of a virus that may lead to seizures during and after infection.

In many cases, vets can't identify a specific cause of a dog's seizures. It's important that they rule out any potential cause of a dog's seizures, and if there is no obvious reason for the condition, the diagnosis is idiopathic epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy is considered to be a congenital condition.

It has been proven to be genetic in some breeds, including Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, and Poodles, but it can occur randomly in any breed.

dog seizures

Diagnosis Of Seizures In Dogs

It can be difficult and costly to diagnose the cause of your dog's seizures.

Firstly, your vet should take a thorough history of your dog. Are his vaccinations up to date? Has he had any exposure to toxins? Is he as active as usual and eating normally? Taking a history will help differentiate seizures from other conditions which can appear similar. For example, dogs with syncope, or fainting disorders, may appear to have a generalized non convulsive seizure. Dogs can also have narcolepsy, which is a period of unconsciousness that often occurs after they've been playing hard.

A full physical examination is next. This will include blood tests, and urine and fecal exams to check for any metabolic diseases. A skull x-ray can give information on any structural abnormalities.

Depending on your vet's findings, she may recommend further testing, including a MRI or CAT scan, or examination of the cerebrospinal fluid which surrounds your dog's brain and spinal cord.

Treatment of Seizures In Dogs

If your dog is having a seizure, don't panic! Stay quiet, as screaming may worsen the seizure. Move any surrounding objects well out of the way, so your dog doesn't injure himself while he's convulsing. Don't put your hands anywhere near your dog's head; he's not able to control himself and you may get bitten. Most seizures are over within a few minutes, even though it may seem like a lot longer. If the seizure continues for longer than about 5 minutes, get in touch with your veterinarian. She may recommend you bring your dog into the clinic for sedation.

It's important that a dog with seizures is treated early. Each seizure reinforces the abnormal electrical pathway in the brain and makes it more likely that he will have more episodes as time goes on.

Ongoing treatment involves medication - diazepam (Valium), potassium bromide and phenobarbital are all useful in preventing further seizures. Each dog is different, and it can take some time to find the balance of drugs that works best in a particular dog. Some of these medications can have adverse effects on a dog's liver, so regular blood tests are important to keep an eye on his liver function.

dog seizures

Preventing Seizures In Dogs

Firstly, dogs who have a seizure disorder must not be bred. In fact, female dogs are more likely to have seizures when they're on heat, so they should be spayed. It is important if you own a dog who is at risk of breed related idiopathic epilepsy that you look closely at the medical history of his parents and grandparents. If your dog hasn't had any seizures before you want to breed him, this may give you an indication whether or not idiopathic epilepsy has previously occurred in his family.

All dogs should have basic preventative health care, including up to date vaccinations to prevent diseases which may cause seizures.

Be careful in your use and storage of chemicals such as snail bait and insecticides. Lock them away so your dog isn't accidentally exposed to these toxins. Keep your dog fenced, and when you take him for walks, keep him on a leash, so he doesn't eat anything he shouldn't.

Dog Seizures - Conclusion

Dogs can have seizures for many reasons. In some cases, such as poisonings, once the seizures are treated, they never occur again. In other cases, dogs (and their owners) have to deal with the possibility of seizures for the rest of their lives. Fortunately these dogs, with the appropriate medication, usually live a normal life, and enjoy the same activities as a normal dog - which is a great result for all involved.


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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.