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For the Love of the Dog

Dog Siezures – What You Should Know and What You Should Do

A seizing dog is very scary for a pet parent but here’s some advise to follow for your safety and your canine companion.

Don’t interfere, follow up with vet if your dog has seizure

June 1, 2007 – 10:53PM

Just a moment ago your dog was nosing around the backyard. Then, suddenly, he is lying on his side, jerking and twitching for what seems like an eternity.

Seeing your pet having a seizure can be terrifying, leaving you to wonder what you should do to help him. The answer is simple: Resist the urge to hold or comfort your pet and just wait for the seizure to end.

One thing you don’t need to do is worry about your pet swallowing its tongue or injuring itself. Fortunately, it is not physically possible to swallow a tongue, and I have never actually seen an animal that has injured itself during a seizure. Keep in mind that during a seizure, the muscle contractions in your pet’s jaw are powerful enough to amputate any fingers you might decide to poke in his mouth to protect his tongue. If your dog bites his tongue, it will heal just fine. If he bites off your fingers, they will probably never work quite the same, even if they can be reattached.

As horrible as it looks, it might be small consolation that an animal is unconscious during a seizure, so he will have no memory of it.

Afterward, there is a period of time called the post-ictal phase, when the animal is conscious and almost back to normal, but the brain is rebooting and some systems may be a little out of whack for a while. This phase may last five minutes or five hours.

Isolated seizures of a few minutes duration do not cause measurable brain damage, but a prolonged series of closely spaced seizures, or a seizure that lasts more than 10 minutes (as measured by the clock, not just by how long it seems) starts becoming a risk for permanent problems. Those pets need immediate medical intervention at a veterinary hospital.

The reasons for seizures in dogs and cats fall into two general categories. The first is known as extracranial, or outside the brain. Examples would be metabolic problems such as a buildup of toxins from the liver or ill-functioning kidneys, low blood calcium in a nursing mother, or very low blood sugar in a diabetic being treated with insulin or a ferret with a blood sugar-lowering tumor. When presented with an animal that has had a seizure for the first time, a veterinarian will usually run blood work to rule out systemic problems that could lead to seizures.

Often the lab work will come back normal, which suggests that the seizures are being caused by the other category: intracranial problems, or problems originating inside the brain itself. Animals that have their first seizures when they are older than 10 are more likely to have something such as a brain tumor triggering the problem. Animals that have repeated seizures at younger ages are more likely to have epilepsy.

Finding out exactly what is causing intracranial seizures usually requires advanced diagnostics, such as a CT scan of the brain. Although that multimillion dollar piece of equipment is not generally available to the average veterinarian, we can refer to specialists. When the expense of a CT scan makes that procedure impractical, we must use our best judgment to choose a treatment plan.

Epilepsy can usually be controlled with antiseizure medications such as phenobarbitol and potassium bromide. Once we start an animal on seizure control medications, it is a lifetime commitment. For that reason, veterinarians will often have an owner note when seizures occur until they reach a frequency that requires treatment. Sometimes an animal will have an isolated seizure and will never have another one; in those situations it would be unfortunate to start them on medication for the rest of their lives without a real need for it.

Some owners are reluctant to control their pets’ seizures with medication because they fear it’s “toxic.” All seizure medications can have side effects, but they tend to be minor and easily dealt with. If I had the choice of having my pet live a normal, happy, seizure-free life with side effects that include weight gain and drinking and urinating more, I would cheerfully choose that over having him eventually seizure to death because I was afraid of the medication that would solve the problem.

Anne Pierce is a veterinarian with North Academy Veterinary Hospital. Contact her at anneepierce@hotmail.com.

From Colorado Springs Gazette 

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