Watching your dog have a seizure can be a terrifying experience. But what is a seizure exactly? How concerned should you be if your dog has one? Is there any cure? What should you do if your dog has another seizure, or several?
According to Registered Veterinary Technician, Jenna Stregowski:
“A seizure is a sudden episode of abnormal brain activity that often involves some loss of body control. Seizures can look like full body convulsions or small, localized spasms. There are various types of seizures in dogs as well as several reasons for these seizures.”
Here’s what you need to know about seizures.
#1 – Seizures don’t hurt
Watching a seizure is terrifying. As you watch your dog’s muscles contract repeatedly, all you can think about is how much it must hurt. The good news is that your dog is in a state of altered consciousness during a seizure and isn’t aware of what’s happening. They aren’t in pain because they aren’t really conscious during the event. They will wake up dazed and confused and probably a little shaky, but there are not usually any painful aftereffects. The only thing that might cause pain is if your dog hits something, like a piece of furniture, during the seizure. When your dog starts having a seizure, you’ll want to try to clear a space around them to avoid injury.
#2 – Seizures have many different causes
The first time your dog has a seizure, you will want to take him to the vet as soon as possible to try to determine the cause of the seizure. According to Stregowski, these are some of the most common causes for canine seizures:
-Structural or developmental abnormality
-Reaction to toxin or allergen
-Systemic disorder, such as liver shunt or thyroid disease
-Bacterial or viral infection
-Brain tumor (malignant or benign)
As you can imagine, different causes of seizures require different types of treatments. A dog who has been poisoned will require different care than one who has epilepsy or one who has a brain tumor.
#3 – There are different kinds of seizures
-Generalized seizures are the canine equivalent of a grand mal seizure in a human. This type of seizure affects the entire body with stiffness and spastic movements. Some dogs lose control of their bladder or bowels, and some dogs will whine or make other noises. Generalized seizures are also called tonic/clonic seizures and are the most common type of seizure in dogs.
-Focal seizures are also called partial seizures and only affect one part of the brain and body. These seizures are milder than general seizures and may involve facial twitching, compulsively snapping at the air, a fainting spell, or a period of appearing disoriented.
-Cluster seizures involve a dog experiencing more than one seizure in a 24-hour period and is a very serious condition. A dog who suffers from more than 3 seizures in 24 hours should be taken to the vet immediately.
-Canine status epilepticus involves a very long seizure or repeated seizures and is an emergency situation. Any dog who suffers a seizure lasting more than 5 minutes should be taken to the vet IMMEDIATELY as they may suffer from hyperthermia (overheating) or brain damage. They will typically require hospitalization and constant infusions of medication to control the seizures.
-Canine idiopathic epilepsy is a disease involving recurring seizures where the cause is unknown. Tests such as MRIs, CT scans, or spinal taps may be done to rule out other causes of the seizures, but there is no test for epilepsy itself. Epilepsy typically appears in dogs who are 1-5 years old. Most dogs respond well to medication, but they must take it for life, as symptoms of stopping the medication can include life-threatening seizures.
#4 – There are 3 different phases of a seizure
-The pre-ictal phase is something that some, but not all dogs, will experience in the minutes preceding a seizure and may involve signs of anxiety or nervousness such as whining, pacing, or panting. If your dog experiences these symptoms, you have the opportunity to take them to a safe location away from hard floors or nearby furniture before the seizure strikes.
-The ictal or ictus phase is the seizure itself.
-The post-ictal phase may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after the seizure and may include stupor, disorientation, or blindness. This is not part of the seizure itself, but the dog regaining full consciousness and function after the seizure.
#5 – Your dog won’t swallow his tongue
There is an old wives’ tale that a person having a seizure may swallow their tongue and choke to death during a seizure, but this is not true for either humans or canines. Your dog may bite his tongue during a seizure, but you should NEVER reach inside your dog’s mouth while he is having a seizure as you are likely to be bitten. The best course of action is to clear a space around your dog and leave him be while timing the seizure, since a seizure lasting more than 5 minutes is an emergency situation.