What to do if your dog has a seizure by Dr Claire Stevens
First thing is not to panic. Seizures and convulsions cause a dog’s muscles to repeatedly contract and relax in rapid succession. While seizures are not normally life-threatening, the sight of your dog losing control over its body can be quite distressing, and it may also be frightening for your dog. However, seizures that persist for several minutes or recur frequently (often diagnosed as epilepsy), can become life-threatening. If your dog suffers from multiple recurring seizures, you should get him examined by your veterinarian immediately. The vet will need to run some diagnostic tests to pin-point the cause of the seizures and may prescribe medication to manage the condition.
Very often there are warning signs indicating that your dog may be about to have a seizure. Knowing what to look out for can help you prepare for the impending episode. Some warning signs include a change in the mental state of your pet, who may appear anxious, dazed, frightened or stressed. A dog that is about to suffer a seizure may look for its owner in an attempt to find comfort or help, or it may hide away. Your pet’s muscles or limbs may appear to twitch, or experience contractions and your dog may lose control over its bowel and urination functions.
Signs Indicating your Dog is Having a Seizure
Because seizures are a neurological disorder, common symptoms include aimless pacing, twitching, loss of muscle control, accidental urination or defecation, excessive salivation, vomiting, stiff limbs, and dizziness or inability to remain upright. Seizures typically last between thirty and ninety seconds (although it feels much longer for the owner). After the seizure, your pet may appear confused and disorientated, and may pace up and down or wander aimlessly about. He may also appear to be blind or may be extremely thirsty or hungry following the episode. Your dog may recover from the seizure immediately, but in some cases, recovery may take as long as twenty-four hours.
Primary Causes of Seizures in Dogs
Seizures and convulsions in dogs can be caused by a number of factors, including mineral deficiencies, low blood sugar levels, liver disease, brain tumours, poor blood circulation (to the brain), brain trauma, ingesting toxins or genetic abnormalities.
While it can be difficult to identify the cause of seizures in dogs, seizures in younger dogs (8 years and younger) is often caused by epilepsy. While the underlying cause may not be clear, epileptic seizures can be effectively treated with medication.
What to do if your Dog is Having a Seizure
In most cases it is safe to assist a dog suffering a seizure. Here’s what to do if you notice your dog is having a seizure:
✓ Remain calm and softly reassure your pet.
✓ Make a note of what the dog was doing prior to the seizure, what time the seizure occurred, and how long it lasts for.
✓ Try to keep your hands away from the dog’s mouth unless you need to prevent it from choking on its tongue (which is rare).
✓ Keep your pet away from potentially hazardous household items, such as stairs, furniture with sharp corners, open fireplaces, swimming pools, etc.
✓ Once the seizure stops, keep your pet in a quiet, darkened room with curtains drawn or lights dimmed.
✓ Keep other pets away and softly reassure your dog, who may still be dazed and confused at this stage.
✓ If the seizure continues for more than a minute, get your dog to a veterinary clinic. Use a blanket to provide a soft cushion for your pet to lie on, but do not wrap your pet in a blanket as this could raise its body temperature, which may already be elevated due to the seizure.
There are several tests that vets can use to help determine the cause of seizures in dogs. These include x-ray, ultrasound and brain scans, liver function tests, urine tests, a complete blood count and blood chemistry profile. Having a record of when the seizure occurred, how long it lasted, and what your pet was doing prior to the episode will also be very helpful.
Treating Seizures in Dogs
The type of treatment your veterinarian recommends will depend largely on the underlying cause of your dog’s seizures. In the case of epilepsy, a vet will prescribe anti-epileptic medication to manage the seizures and may also provide advice on how to care for your pet during, as well as after, a seizure. To prevent accidental drowning, your vet may recommend that your dog refrains from swimming while undergoing treatment. Because medication used to treat epileptic seizures in dogs can cause weight gain, your vet may also recommend a diet plan to prevent your pet from becoming overweight.
In certain cases, for example if your pet has a brain tumour that is causing the seizures, you vet may recommend surgery. This is rare and would be performed at a veterinary specialist center.
What to do if your Dog has Frequently Recurring Seizures
If your dog suffers from frequent seizures, take it to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a medical checkup. Your vet can advise the best form of treatment for your dog’s condition. If your dog is diagnosed with epilepsy and is prescribed a course of medication to manage its condition, it is important that you keep up with the recommended treatment and that you don’t suddenly discontinue it, which could aggravate or bring on seizures. It is also important that you stick to any scheduled follow-up medical evaluations and blood tests so that your vet can monitor your fur babies health and if necessary adjust his medication accordingly.
Seizures are common in dogs, and although distressing for both owner and the affected dog, are not normally life-threatening and can be managed. However, as there a many different causes of seizures in dogs, it is important to get your dog examined by a veterinarian, who can advise the best plan of action.