Would you know what to do if your dog had a seizure?

For pet owners, seizures caused by epilepsy or other medical conditions can be a frightening problem. Demystifying seizures can not only help your pet, but can also help your veterinarian in diagnosing the cause of your pet’s seizures and developing an appropriate treatment plan.

Seizures can take many different forms, ranging from focal seizures, such as facial twitching, to generalized seizures, which involve the entire brain and multiple areas of the body. When most people think of seizures, they usually think of generalized seizures.

What causes seizures?

Idiopathic epilepsy

Seizures with no identifiable cause are common in dogs and cats. Originally thought to be most prevalent in young animals, we now know it can affect older animals as well. With treatment, many pets with idiopathic epilepsy live long, healthy and happy lives.

Structural epilepsy

Caused by an identified problem, such as a brain tumor, infections or trauma. It is important to rule out all causes of structural seizures before making a diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy.

Other neurologic diseases, orthopedic problems, and heart disease can cause collapse episodes that may appear to be a seizure, but are not.

What are the stages of seizure?

A seizure has two or three phases:

1. Prodrome ‚Äď a long-term (hours to days) change in behavior that precedes a seizure but is rarely identified in animals

2. Ictus ‚Äď the seizure activity itself

3. Postictal phase ‚Äď the period where the brain restores normal function

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What should I do if I think my pet is having a seizure?

If you suspect your pet is having a seizure, don’t try to restrain your pet. Move furniture and other objects out of the way that could cause injury.

Using your smartphone to record the event can be very helpful in establishing a diagnosis. If you can, also take note of the following clues to help your veterinarian determine if your pet is having seizures or another medical problem:

1. Timing of seizure activity

2. How long the seizure lasts

3. Whether or not your pet appears conscious

4. If your pet urinates or defecates involuntarily

How are seizures treated?

Treatment of any underlying problems often resolves seizure disorders. For treatment of idiopathic epilepsy, many treatment options exist, including medication and diet changes.

Other factors to consider when choosing the best treatment strategy include cost, severity of seizure activity, frequency of seizure activity, and the emotional challenges of caring for an epileptic pet. Having pet insurance can mitigate the cost of caring for a pet with seizures, so if you have a dog breed that is prone to seizure disorders, consider protecting them before issues arise.  

If your pet is diagnosed with a seizure disorder, work with your family veterinarian to decide what diagnostic tests and treatment options are best for you and your pet.

Updated November 8, 2019

Feb 24, 2017
Pet Health

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