Seizures in Dogs

Seizures are basically abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can be very mild “focal” seizures – causing uncontrolled, rhythmic contractions of just the jaw muscles (“fly biting seizures”) to full out Grand Mal seizures in which the entire body is involved in uncontrolled muscle contraction – urine or feces may leak and the dog may vocalize. There are 3 phases to each seizure:

1. Pre-ictal phase – occurs just prior to initiation of seizure activity, this phase is usually very short – only a few seconds long. If you know a person who has seizures, they may describe it as an aura that signals the onset of a seizure.

2. Ictal phase – this is the actual seizure itself. It may last 5-90 seconds.

3. Post-ictal phase – occurs immediately after the seizure. Your dog may act crazy, blind, disoriented. They may not recognize you or their surroundings, they will stumble and fall and possibly run into things. This phase can last up to an hour.

*If your pet continues to have back-to-back seizures without fully recovering, please contact your veterinarian or nearest emergency clinic right away! This is called “status epilepticus” and can lead to severe brain damage.

What causes seizures? Good question! Metabolic problems ranging from liver and kidney failure to disorders such as hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar) can be the cause. Other factors such as a brain tumor or epilepsy may be at fault. Still other causes that are very difficult to diagnose – such as aberrant migration of parasites, odd infections, toxin ingestion, or head trauma could also be to blame. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to diagnose the exact cause of multiple seizures in dogs without CT scans and MRI’s, even then, diagnosis is challenging. Your pet’s history is very important when attempting to find a cause of the seizures. For instance, if a 2-4 yr old dog has a few seizures, Epilepsy, toxin ingestion and head trauma are higher on the list of potential causes than if a 12 yr old dog has it’s first seizure. Older dogs tend to have a higher risk of organ failure and brain tumors than young dogs. Epilepsy is an inherited condition in which the first signs of seizure activity usually begin in the 2-5 year old range. Very young (4-10 week old) toy-breed puppies often suffer from hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar) which can reach the point of seizures.

Diagnosis will always involve a thorough examination and usually blood tests to rule out organ failure. Other than that, veterinarians usually give their best educated “guess” as to what is causing the seizures. Your pet may be referred to a specialist for CT or MRI testing to rule out a brain tumor or other intracranial cause of the seizures. More often than not, in a young otherwise healthy dog, a diagnosis of Epilepsy is made based on ruling out of common metabolic causes and lack of head trauma or toxin ingestion.

Treatment is warranted if your pet is having seizures with a frequency that is affecting quality of life. For instance if your dog only has 1 seizure every 6-8 months, treatment is usually not necessary for your pet to live a normal life. However, if your pet is having multiple seizures in a day, week or month, treatment is definitely recommended. There are several medications available for use as anti-seizure medication including (but not limited to) Phenobarbitol, Levitiracetam, Zonisamide, Gabapentin, Potassium Bromide or a combination of these medications. These medications are life-long and periodic monitoring of blood parameters and medication levels is necessary to ensure the medication is within therapeutic levels and is not causing any harm to vital organs. If your tiny puppy is hypoglycemic, a simple injection of glucose can perk them right up – they may need to be kept for monitoring and treatment of other issues that go along with hypoglycemia, but they can return to normal quickly.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about seizures in dogs!

Stay Happy, Stay Healthy

Dr. Daisy

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