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seize the day, part 1: petplan pet insurance explains epilepsy in pets

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


I’m sure you’ve all witnessed some kind of seizure activity before, whether it be in person or on TV, so you’re probably aware of what a seizure in a human can look like.  Dogs and cats can experience seizures, and we’ll talk about one reason for animal seizures today when we discuss epilepsy.

Seizures occur in our pets for a variety of reasons, but we can narrow down the list of potential causes based on the age at which seizures first start.  Below you’ll find a quick list of why seizures typically occur in specific life stages of our pets (of course, these aren’t the reasons 100% of the time, but most often why seizures occur).

Less than one year of age: congenital brain lesions, encephalitis (infection of the brain), liver shunts, low blood sugar, toxins.

Ages 1-5 years: toxins, infection, idiopathic (no known cause).

Older than 5 years: primary or metastatic brain tumors.

Today, it is the idiopathic type of seizures that occur in young to middle aged pets that we’ll discuss.  When there is no known cause to seizure activity, we use the term epilepsy.

Seizures are involuntary behaviors, and in the case of epilepsy, the result is whole body stiffness, sometimes with muscle contraction cycles. Pets are unconscious during a seizure and may lose control of their bowels or bladder. Seizures can occur with no warning, though many owners report that their pets are unusually clingy in the hours preceding a seizure. 

Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, but when you’re witnessing one, it can seem like hours.  It is important to try to remain calm and know that your pet is not in any pain.  Avoid approaching your pet until the seizure is over to prevent accidental injuries such as inadvertent bites.

Immediately after the seizure as your pet is recovering, he or she may remain in an altered state of consciousness, called the postictal state. During this time, your pet may act disoriented, have behavior changes, and may even be blind. Postictal phases can last from a few minutes up to a few hours.

If your pet is previously undiagnosed with a seizure disorder and he has a seizure, it’s best to get to the vet to have him or her checked out. Tomorrow I will talk more about how seizure disorders are diagnosed and the treatments available to help pets cope.

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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