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Seizures in dogs: Causes, symptoms, types, Treatments

Seizures in dogs: what you need to know as a dog guardian.

Seizures in dogs can arise due to a number of underlying disorders the dog might be suffering from. As a dog guardian, it is your responsibility to understand what might be the causes, symptoms and treatment for such a disorder. The purpose of this article is to make you aware of everything that you must be aware so you can detect the seizure at its earliest and get your pup the help he or she needs.

Seizures in dogs have been observed to be the most common neurological issues. This generally occurs when the cerebral cortex of the dog’s brain starts to function abnormally. However, as I mentioned before, there may be other diseases which can lead to seizures. Seizure in dogs and humans are also referred to as epilepsy. If the dog is suffering from a case of idiopathic epilepsy, the underlying cause is generally inherited and not known. As a part of the dog care process, it is imperative that you understand what is seizures in dogs, how to tell if your dog has seizure, what can trigger seizure in dogs, and how to cure seizures in dogs?

Seizures in dogs


Seizures in dogs, causes:

Seizures in dogs can either be due to exposure to a trauma or toxin which causes neurological issues in dogs, presence of a brain tumor or genetic abnormalities, underlying problems with the dog’s organs or blood etc. In some cases, seizures occur but the causes may not be identified or might be unknown. In such cases, the seizure is referred to as idiopathic seizure.

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Seizures are also referred to in lay man terms as convulsions or fit. It is a temporary disturbance of the dog’s normal brain activity. In most cases, these abnormal brain activities are accompanied by an uncontrolled muscle activity.

One of the most common seizures in dogs, causes is the presence of idiopathic epilepsy. This condition is generally inherited and the causes are unknown. Other seizures in dogs causes are the presence of liver failure, liver disease, infections, brain trauma, brain tumor or reaction of the dog’s body to ingesting something toxic.

Seizures do not have a definitive time occurrence. They may occur at any time of the night or dat. It has been observed that seizures happen most often during the times when the brain activity is changing. For example, when the dog is excited, falling asleep, just waking up etc. Almost all dogs appear to be completely normal in between the period of occurrence of the seizures.


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Types of seizures observed in dogs

So far, researchers have been able to identify three different types of dog seizures. These have been classified as Focal seizures, generalized seizures and finally focal seizures with secondary generalization.

Focal seizures or partial seizures are the kind of seizures which affect a small region of the brain. These can manifest in a few different ways but have been observed to generally progress to generalized seizures during the dog’s lifetime. If the dog is suffering from partial seizure, the effect would be observed on one side of the body, one limb, or only the face.

Grand mal or generalized seizures are the ones which affect both side of the dog’s brain as well as the entire body. The seizures generally look like twitching or jerking of the animal. The dog loses control of his or her limbs and may even lose consciousness.

Stages of seizures in dogs

Seizures generally occur in three stages. The dogs will suffer through all three stages of seizure but there is no way to know the exact duration of each phase. As a dog guardian, you need to understand that every phase of the seizure is different from the previous one and once your dog reaches phase 3, the seizure will stop. Let’s go through each of the stages one by one

Pre-ictal or aura phase:

During this time, your dog may show altered behavior. It may seem like he or she is looking for the guardian. The dog may whine, shake or appear very restless. This first phase of the seizure is observed to last from a few seconds to a few hours.

The ictal phase:

This is the duration during which the actual seizure occurs. This phase may last from a few seconds to a period of about five minutes. During this phase, it may seem that the dog is mentally absent. The dog might even lose consciousness. In case your dog is suffering from a grand mal seizure, he or she may lose complete consciousness, fall over and move their limbs erratically. 

It is also possible that during this period the dog may vomit, urinate or defecate. In case the seizure continues beyond the period of five minutes, it will be referred to as prolonged seizure. Prolonged seizure is an emergency situation and the assistance of a veterinarian or a medical professional should be taken immediately.

Post-ictal phase:

This is the time immediately following the end of the seizure. During this time the dog would seem restless, disoriented, confused or even blind. This is the time when the dog’s brain is recovering from what just happened and is trying to get back on track.

What do seizures in dogs look like?

If the dog is suffering from seizure, the dog will fall to one side, his or her body will become very stiff. The dog will chomp his or her jaw and started to profusely salivate. During the period of seizures, the dog may defecate, urinate, vocalize or even start to paddle with all four limbs. 

In case of dogs, the seizures have been observed to last usually from a period of 30 to 90 seconds. After the seizure ends, the dog may seem to wander aimlessly, disoriented, confused etc.

A few other symptoms observed at the end of the seizure are increased appetite, increased thirst and constant pacing. The recovery period post seizure may occur immediately or it may require up to 24 hours duration.

The younger the dog, the most severe will be the epilepsy. However, the fortunate part is that younger dogs respond better to medication. If the onset of seizure is before the age of two, the dogs have been observed to respond well to medication.

Types of epilepsy in dogs

Epilepsy is a general term that describes brain disorders which include seizures as a symptom. There are many different types of epilepsy’s which may affect dogs.

Idiopathic epilepsy

As I mentioned before idiopathic epilepsy means epilepsy which does not have a known cause. This type of epilepsy has often been observed to be associated with brain lesions and is more often seen in male dogs. If this type of seizure is left untreated these can become severe as well as frequent.

Symptomatic epilepsy

This epilepsy occurs due to damage to the structure of the brain or due to the presence of structural lesions in the brain.

Probably symptomatic epilepsy

This type of epilepsy is used to describe a condition where the dog suffers from recurrent seizures but no brain damage or brain lesions are observed on scans.

Cluster seizure

This describes a situation when the dog has suffered from more than one seizure in a 24-hour period. Dogs who have been diagnosed with established epilepsy can have episodes of cluster seizures for a period of 1 to 4 weeks at regular intervals. Cluster seizures is more evident in case of large breed dogs.

Status epilepticus

This type of conditioning involves the occurrence of constant seizures or periods involving brief activity, but the dog is never completely free from the seizures.

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What can you do if your dog is having a seizure?

If you notice that your dog is suffering from seizure, leave him or her alone unless he or she is in location where the seizure can have your dog bump into things and get injured. If you must move the dog, gently pull the dog by the hind legs and move him or her to a safer location. 

It is all right to comfort or pet your dog when he or she is suffering from seizure. However, remember to keep your hand away from the jaws. The seizure can cause your dog’s jaws to clamp shut and your hand might get injured if it is in the vicinity.

Although it may seem that it is an emergency and you must contact the vet if your dog is suffering from seizure, according to the guidelines, an emergency veterinary care is only essential if the seizure lasts for a period longer than five minutes or in case two or more seizures occur in a 24-hour period. If your dog suffered from one seizure and is fine after that, you can make a normal non-emergency appointment to have your dog checked out as early as possible

Diagnosis of seizures

There are two major factors which enable the veterinarian to diagnose the case of epilepsy the dog might be suffering from. These are the seizure pattern (frequency and type) and the age of onset.

If the dog has suffered from more than two seizures in the first week of onset itself, the diagnosis will most likely lean towards idiopathic epilepsy. If the dog is younger than six months or older than five years of age and is suffering from seizures, the underlying cause might be intracranial (within the dog’s skull) or metabolic in origin. Focal seizures primarily occur due to the presence of some kind of neurologic deficits.

The primary physical symptoms which the vet might look out for are:

  • compulsive behavior
  • swelling the brain
  • maintain
  • weak pulse
  • low blood pressure
  • difficulty in breathing
  • muscle contraction
  • tachycardia
  • seizures
  • twitching and shaking
  • trembling

Your vet will conduct a few biochemical and laboriously tests to understand the nature of the seizures like

  • kidney and liver tests to check for kidney and liver failure.
  • Blood sugar tests to identify low blood sugar
  • liver tests to verify fatty liver
  • check for infectious disease in the blood
  • check for the presence of fungal or viral diseases
  • check for any kind of systemic disease

Treatment options

Epilepsy in dogs is mostly treated as outpatient case. Hospitalization is not required unless the case is extreme. It is advised that the dog should not be allowed to go for swimming since occurrence of a seizure episode can cause drowning of the dog. 

Dogs who are kept on a long-term antiepileptic treatment tend to start gaining weight. Therefore, keep your dog’s diet in check and monitor his or her weight very closely. You can also consult your veterinarian about a diet plan in case you feel the need.

If the diagnosis shows the presence of a tumor, surgery may be performed to remove the tumor. There are also drugs available which may help to reduce the seizure frequency. Antiepileptic, anticonvulsant and corticosteroid medications may be used to reduce the frequency of occurrence of seizures. The medication given to the dog will depend on the underlying health conditions of the dog has as well as the type of epilepsy he or she is suffering from.

Living and managing epilepsy

Treatment at the earliest is of utmost importance. As I mentioned before, younger dogs are at higher risk to developing the severe forms of epilepsy. In case you suspect your dog might be suffering from epilepsy, take him or her to the vet immediately. You and your veterinarian together can determine the best course of treatment for your pup.

If your dog is living with a condition like epilepsy, you must stay on top of the treatment. Never miss a dose of the medicine and never miss a blood test.

In case your dog is being treated with phenobarbital, your dog’s serum and blood profile must be monitored after starting therapy. Every 6 to 12 months, depending on the serum levels, the doses of the drugs will be changed.

If you have an older dog who suffers from kidney insufficiency and epilepsy and is being administered a potassium bromide treatment, your vet might recommend a diet change.


Frequently asked questions about seizures in dogs:


What is seizures in case of dogs?

Seizure is the sudden and uncontrolled twitching of the muscles in a dog's body due to an exposure to a trauma or toxin.

What can trigger seizures in dogs?

Different types of plants like sago palm, mushrooms, food items like caffeine, xylitol, dark chocolate, insecticides like bifenthrin, zinc phosphide, metaldehyde, strychine, some common veterinary medications like Amphetamines, Ibuprofen, Isoniazid, Viladozone etc. can cause seizures in canines.

How to tell if your dog has seizures?

Your dog will get a far away look in their eyes. Following this, you will notice twitching, barking clenching and unclenching of teeth, defecating, urinating and maybe paddling on all 4 limbs.

How to cure seizures in dogs?

Treatment for seizures is only advised if the dog has one or more seizures within a span of six weeks. The most common drugs used to control epilepsy are potassium bromide and phenobarbital. However, these should be administered only on prescription of a veterinarian.

Are seizures painful for dogs?

Even though they look painful, seizures are not painful to the dog who is suffering from them. However, during seizure your dog may bump into something and get hurt.

What to do when your dog is having seizure?

Stay close and prevent your dog from getting hurt by bumping into things. Try to put him or her where he wont get physically hurt by the surroundings. Do not put your hand in your dog's mouth.

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Conclusion

In case your dog has idiopathic epilepsy, there is practically nothing you can do to prevent it. However, what you can do to prevent seizure in your dog is to keep your kids away from salty treats especially if the treats contain potassium bromide since fleas can cause seizures. If your dog is on seizure medication, do not discontinue it without talking to your veterinarian, as sudden stopping of the medication may aggravate the problem.

Seeing our boy or girl in the middle of the seizure can be absolutely heartbreaking. But, seizures in dogs are preventable and can be brought under control with the right medications. Therefore, do not delay in consulting your vet and do not discontinue the medications. When your dog is having seizure, he or she needs your support not panic. Therefore, do not panic and just provided all the love and comfort you can to your pup. 

Once your pup has been started on medications, keep a close eye on your pooch. In case you observe any behavioral or physical changes, have a discussion with your vet about the same. If you found this article informative, subscribe to my blog so I can send you regular tips and tricks directly to your inbox.

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Shruti