Imagine having to look on as a beloved family pet stares with glossy, unseeing eyes; his body wracked with unrelenting spasms and muscle twitches. When a dog owner witnesses their pet in the grip of a true seizure, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and fear takes over.
Whether it is the first or one of many, a dog seizure is a traumatic event for both you and your canine. The first thing to remember is to not panic. Seizures can last a few seconds up to around five minutes. Your job is to recognize symptoms and keep your dog safe.
The primary concerns are finding out the potential causes behind canine seizures and handling the situation with care and efficiency. The following information will help dog owners understand the possible causes of canine seizures, the events that could unfold during an “attack,” how to deal with the situation, and treatment options.
What Causes Dog Seizures?
There are a number of conditions that can cause a seizure to occur. Some conditions are long-lived, such as epilepsy, brain tumor, or brain damage caused by a stroke. Other conditions are short-lived, but severe nonetheless, such as trauma to the head, heat stroke, toxicity, poisoning, liver issues, and kidney problems.
Seizures may also affect female dogs shortly after whelping a litter which is caused by a drastic drop in blood calcium levels. Exposure to pesticides, particularly organophosphates, can also cause dog seizures.
Like humans, dogs can be diagnosed with epilepsy. While some forms of epilepsy are idiopathic, which means that they occur for unknown reasons, it is sometimes the result of genetics. If possible, ask your dog’s breeder if your dog’s breeding stock has a history of epilepsy.
What Happens During A Seizure?
There are three stages that a dog will experience during a seizure attack. The first stage is a pre-seizure phase in which the dog experiences odd behavior as a result of sensing the oncoming physical change.
Examples of the behavior exhibited during this phase include hiding, seeking out the presence of a family member, restlessness, drooling, and whining. This phase can last as long as a few hours and may vary from episode to episode.
The second phase is the period in which the actual seizure takes place. It is marked by spastic or erratic muscle movements and contractions that the dog has no control over, which may include defecation and urination. One or more of the following may also occur: hallucinations (including biting at things that are not present), staring with an obvious mental absence, and loss of consciousness.
The last stage follows directly after the seizure takes place. During this time the dog may feel restless, nervous, disorientated, and confused. They may also experience a case of temporary blindness.
Did You Know?
Potassium bromide was once used as a secondary treatment for canine epilepsy, mostly employed as an anticonvulsant. Recent studies now show that it can be very effective at reducing the frequency of seizures, so much so that it is now often recommended as an alternative to primary medications like phenobarbital.
This is good news for dog owners who are concerned about the side effects of anti-seizure medication as potassium bromide has very few side effects.
How Should A Canine Seizure Be Handled?
One major worry that a dog owner may have during this situation is how to care for a dog in the throes of a seizure. After confirming the symptoms of a seizure, check the surrounding area to identify nearby objects that may harm the dog if he were to accidentally knock into them. Sharp items, stools, and other similar items should be moved away.
If the dog is near a stairway, on the edge of a piece of furniture, or near the edge of a deck, then gently grab the dog by the “scruff” of the neck and drag him to a safer place where he may wait out the remainder of the seizure. If the dog is not in a dangerous spot then he should be left untouched.
If the dog is convulsing heavily then a heavy blanket or coat may be used to gently pin down the dog to restrain his movements and decrease his chances of becoming injured.
After the dog’s seizure seems to have ended he will likely be confused and scared. Try to keep him still and talk calmly and reassuringly to him until he seems back to normal. Your dog may want to eat or drink excessively. Pacing is also common. After you have calmed down, write down what you observed and make a vet appointment. The vet will assess the dog for health problems and there are medications to help control seizures.
What Treatments Are Available For Canine Seizures?
Treatment may not be necessary for a one-off experience that is followed by several months without a repeat occurrence. For dogs that have recurring seizures, the primary treatment is regularly administered medication to reduce both the frequency and the severity of seizures.
The most common medication given to dogs for this purpose is phenobarbital. It may be given in conjunction with other medications, such as clorazepate or potassium bromide. When a seizure is in progress one may administer Valium or Keppra to the dog. These medications are sedatives that are used as an anticonvulsant. They help to shorten a seizure episode and reduce spasmodic activity.
Can Dog Seizures Be Prevented?
Some dogs respond very well to medications while others simply may not respond as well. One dog may have a seizure, be given medication, and then never have another seizure again; whereas another dog may have at least one seizure a month even with the help of medication.
The effectiveness of medication as a preventative measure really depends on each individual dog and the cause behind the seizures. In instances where a tumor may be causing the episodes, it may be possible to surgically remove the tumor which should prevent future seizures. Resolving kidney and liver issues may also prevent seizures from occurring.
Seizures should certainly be taken seriously even on the first occurrence. After seeing a dog safely through a seizure the next step that should be taken is to call his veterinarian. A careful look at the dog’s medical history, as well as information about the dog’s recent activities, will be taken into account.
Most veterinarians prefer to do a physical exam of the dog and sometimes a blood test to help look for evidence of toxicity, organ damage, and other conditions that may have brought on the seizure. After the cause is pinpointed an effective course of treatment will be devised and the dog will hopefully be able to carry on with fewer incidents