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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some other pages you may be interested in:
What is the best dog food for your dog's health, vitality and longevity?
Dog training for obedience step-by-step.
Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.